History of Home Smoke Detectors
Smoke detectors have saved millions of lives since they became a regular feature in people’s homes. What is the story behind them?
Early Days of Smoke Detectors
In the days before smoke alarms, people had to be vigilant about putting out fires and candles. Once electricity arrived, however, they had to be just as careful. Safety features weren’t what they are today, and electrical fires were sadly common.
People have always looked for ways to get early warning signs of danger, so it’s no wonder many people tried to invent smoke alarms and detectors. The first smoke detector, however, was invented almost by accident.
Walter Jaeger was a Swiss scientist and inventor who was trying to create a device that would detect poison gas. Frustrated by his repeated attempts to make the detector work, he lit a cigarette and tried to figure out what was wrong.
Just then, the detector went off, signaling that it had detected the smoke from his cigarette. Jaeger realized he had just created a smoke detector. His 1922 invention used the ionization technology we still use today.
In 1939, another Swiss scientist named Ernst Melli improved on Jaeger’s design by developing the technology that made the detector more sensitive. This was the precursor to the ionization smoke detector.
Ionization detectors are still used today. They are usually combined with photoelectric detectors, which are better at detecting smoldering fires.
Home Use Detectors
The first smoke detectors sold in the U.S. were strictly for commercial use. They were large, bulky and very expensive. During the 1950s, many businesses began buying them, but they were too large and costly to install in homes.
In the 1970s, Inventor Duane Pearsall and his partner Stanley Bennett Peterson created the small, single station unit that brought fire protection into people’s homes. These early units used batteries and looked remarkably like the units we use today.
Early Code Requirements
In 1974, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued its Life Safety Code. This code required the installation of fire detectors in every home. By 1984, 75% of all homes had smoke detectors. Today, more than 90% of homes in the U.S. have smoke detectors.
That figure sounds encouraging, but the NFPA also notes that an unacceptably high number of those alarms don’t work properly because they’re too old or their batteries haven’t been replaced.
Smoke Alarms Today
How many smoke alarms do you need to be safe?
Every state has its own laws regulating the number of fire alarms each home should have. According to Virginia fire codes, you must install a smoke alarm in:
- Each bedroom.
- The hallway close to bedrooms.
- Every additional floor, including basements and attics.
- Any room where someone regularly sleeps.
- Stairways of multi-unit buildings.
In rental properties, landlords or property managers must install and maintain smoke alarms, but tenants are responsible for replacing the batteries.
Stay Safe with New Smoke Detectors
Are your smoke detectors failing the NFPA test? If they’re old or otherwise defective, it is time to replace them. If you need to install new ones, we can help. Our trained technicians can test your detectors, check their wiring, and replace them if necessary. SESCOS is serious about your safety. Talk to us about smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and smart home security.