Massachusetts mandates that every home have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. The state requires that every home be inspected by the local fire department prior to the sale of the home to assure compliance.
If you as the home seller don’t get a smoke/CO detector certificate of compliance issued by your local fire department, you won’t be able to have your closing!
Inspection by fire department
The fire department will check to make sure you have the right detectors for your home and will test them to make sure they work properly. Massachusetts has imposed one set of rules for smoke detectors and a different set of rules for CO detectors. Your home must comply with both the rules pertaining to CO detectors and those for smoke detectors in order to pass the mandatory inspection.
The fire department will charge a fee for the inspection. This fee is typically paid by the home seller. The seller also usually covers the expense of installing any new detectors in the home that may be needed. Note that in some short sales and REO (post-foreclosure) sales, there may be an attempt to impose these expenses on the home buyer.
House numbers must be visible
As an aside, many fire departments use the CO/smoke detector inspection as the opportunity to enforce a state law (Massachusetts General Law: Chapter 148, Section 59) requiring your home to have clearly visible house numbers. So make sure your home has address numbers clearly visible from the street. If your home lacks visible numbers, no certificate of compliance!
CO detector requirements
The CO detector requirements aim to save lives. Regardless of whether you are selling or not, you should have a carbon monoxide detector on each finished living level of your home. There must also be a CO detector within ten feet of all bedrooms.
Follow the hotlink in the image above or at right to download a guide that explains the carbon monoxide detector rules in Massachusetts.
MA smoke detector rules
The Massachusetts smoke detector rules distinguish between single-family and two-family homes built before January 1, 1975 and homes built after that date. Note that the review of the smoke detector rules below has been simplified for brevity and that certain municipal fire departments have adopted their own requirements, so please check with your local fire department before scheduling your smoke detector inspection.
For single family and two family homes built before January 1, 1975
Smoke detectors must exist on every level of the premises that is habitable and also in the basement, even if the basement lacks habitable living area.
The detectors must be located on the ceiling at the base of every stairway leading to a higher floor and also outside each separate sleeping area.
(In addition to the above locations, two-family homes must have detectors in all common areas that are shared by all both dwellings.)
All smoke detectors must be less than ten years old. Units older than ten years old must be replaced, even if they still function properly.
All detectors must use photoelectric detection technology. (Detectors may also employ ionization detection technology, but cannot use ionization technology solely.) Detectors may also be “dual” in that they detect the presence of carbon monoxide in addition to smoke.
Detectors can be hardwired or battery operated, or a mix of both. Battery operated detectors must have sealed, ten-year batteries that cannot be removed or recharged.
All detectors must have a “hush” feature to stop nuisance false-alarms.
Download the pamphlet
The pamphlet below produced by the MA Department of Fire Services that does a good job explaining the rules for single-family and two-family homes built prior to Jan 1 1975:
Follow the hotlink in the image above or at right to download the pamphlet.
For homes built after January 1, 1975
The rules are very different for homes built after January 1, 1975 because all new homes were required after that date by then-applicable building codes to have hardwired detectors. The difficulty is that the building code requirements for hardwired detectors kept changing and evolving through the decades, so there is no one set of rules that apply to all homes built after January 1, 1975.
Follow the hotlink in the image above or at right to access a summary of the smoke detector rules governing homes built after January 1, 1975.
If you have questions
Speak with your local fire department if you have questions or concerns about your smoke detectors’ placement, functioning or technologies. It is better to be safe than sorry!
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