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Editorial: Upgrade smoke alarms, upgrade your safety

Smoke alarms in our homes are something we should all have, but hope we never have to use.

At the start of 2018, a law that went into effect almost five years ago will require that all homes in Maryland with battery-only operated smoke alarms more than 10 years old instead have sealed battery-operated smoke alarms with long-life batteries and hush button features.

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For the average homeowner, this realistically doesn’t mean much. Deputies from the Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal aren’t going to knock on your door and demand to see your smoke detectors to make sure you’re up to code. Although if you’re doing a major renovation — more than 50 percent of your home — or are a developer building new homes, these new types of smoke alarms will be required.

By sealing the battery inside the alarm, the unit becomes tamper resistant and removes the burden from consumers to remember to change batteries, which in turn, will save lives.

However, we’d strongly encourage residents to check their existing alarms and consider making an upgrade, for both safety and convenience. If your current alarm is more than 10 years old — most have a manufacture date printed on the back — it’s time to replace it.

“The importance of ensuring the proper maintenance and use of smoke alarms is paramount,” said State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci in a prepared statement. “The materials used in products we keep in our homes tend to burn much more readily, thus giving us a very limited window of time to escape the effects of fire. These early warning devices can be the difference between life or death in an incident of an uncontrolled fire inside our homes.”

Smoke alarms that are hardwired to the electricity in the house with a battery backup are still the best and safest choice, and fire safety officials say wired smoke alarms should not be replaced with any type of battery-only device.

But for the roughly 800,000 homes in Maryland with alarms that require replacing batteries regularly, upgrading to a sealed battery alarm is a wise choice.

A working fire alarm can save a life. About two-thirds of all home fire deaths occur in homes where a smoke alarm either isn’t present or isn’t working. Typically, if a smoke alarm isn’t working, it’s because it was disconnected or missing batteries.

We’ve all been there, every few months the alarm starts chirping every minute or so in the middle of the night to let us know the battery is nearly dead. We get up, take out the battery and go back to bed, grumbling, “I’ll take care of it in the morning” or “this weekend.” Hopefully, we do. Sometimes, we don’t.

Having a long-lasting battery sealed inside the alarm makes it tamper proof, and the 10-year lifespan means you don’t have to remember to replace the batteries every six months or so, giving you around-the-clock protection for a decade.

And having a “hush” button feature means it’s easier to silence the alarm without taking out the battery when you burn something in the oven.

The alarms are also fairly inexpensive, roughly $20 a piece or even less if you buy multipacks available at hardware stores like Home Depot or Lowes and retailers like Walmart and Target.

Again, no one is going to be inspecting your home to make sure your smoke alarms are meeting the latest requirements, but there is no harm in upgrading smoke detectors, especially if your existing ones are getting old.

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