Last week, on a conference call with a housing authority, the Deputy Executive Director asked a great question, “Is there a model of smoke alarm that is built to keep cockroaches from getting inside the unit?” I’ve been asked this question many times now by PHA staff and residents, so I sent an e-mail around to some colleagues to get a complete response.
In short—no. And I don’t know of any thermostats that are built to block out bugs. Cockroaches, ants, and other pests will set up shop in a smoke alarm when their friends and family fill up other good hiding spots in a home. The best solution is to get control of the infestation immediately using IPM and never let the infestation reach a high level again. I do wish I had a model to recommend that could function while control efforts were pursued, but the studies that have been done showed that by blocking the pests out, not enough smoke was let in to trigger the alarm.
Like most real-world problems, the issue is often more complex that it first appears. Ideally PHAs and residents would work together to:
- change the battery in 9-volt battery operated alarms twice a year (when (if) you change your clocks…THIS WEEKEND), or
- replace the battery in hard wired smoke alarms once a year and replace the unit every 8-10 years, or
- replace lithium battery-operated units according to manufacturer’s instructions.
In public housing, my experience is that smoke alarms are usually not working in a home because the resident has disconnected the unit or removed the unit’s battery.
Scary thought, huh? According to the National Fire Administration (http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/campaigns/smokealarms/alarms/index.shtm), between 2003-2006, more than 66 percent of home fire deaths occurred in homes without a working smoke alarm. We can’t afford to turn a blind eye to this issue.
Why would a resident purposefully make their smoke alarm not function? Usually because he or she creates smoke and gets annoyed by the alarm going off or the unit seems to go off randomly, which can be even more annoying.
What makes a smoke alarm to go off?
Smoke (obviously) or anything that might interfere with the sensor inside the unit or wiring.
Common culprits include high humidity, dust, cobwebs, and pests. Residents and staff usually blame cockroaches. If you want to know more about the two types of sensors, check out http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/household-safety/fire/smoke.htm.
Photoelectric types have a laser beam that gets deflected onto an alarm-triggering sensor when something like smoke gets in the way.
If you see that a resident has disconnected a smoke alarm or taken the battery out, ask why. Easy solutions may be to move the unit to an area with less humidity, dust the unit with a rag, vacuum out the unit, or blow compressed air in the unit to dust it out. And if the culprit is an infestation, use IPM and kill some pests! Your efforts could save lives.
See below for March’s newsletter article.
Smoke detectors save lives—change batteries & remove cobwebs today!
A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a deadly fire. Smoke alarms may malfunction due to problems with the battery or wiring, high humidity, dust, or pests. Make sure your smoke alarms are working to keep everyone safe.
Every six months check each of your smoke detectors:
- If the unit has a 9-volt battery, change it.
- Test the unit to make sure the alarm is working—try to do this monthly.
- Dust the outside of the unit with a dry rag and use a vacuum to suck around the smoke detector—dust, spider webs, and insects can cause a smoke detector to malfunction.
- If pests are living in your smoke alarm, call in a work order to XXX-XXXX and work with the exterminator to get rid of pests in your home—pest control is provided by the PHA. You should not have to live with pests!
Never disable a unit to quiet the alarm. Disabling a smoke alarm or removing the battery can be a deadly mistake.