There are four distinct requirements for Baltimore County Rental Inspection smoke detectors. This continues to be a topic of confusion for owners who are trying to comply with the law. Maryland code for residential properties has never been retro-active. This means that new code only applies to new construction. However, because you are re-purposing the property for rent the licensing laws in Baltimore County are in addition to and supersede the current code.
Section A of the inspection sheet details the specific requirements for smoke alarms. The first paragraph applies to all properties, while the subsequent categories define the locations for various property configurations.
The first requirement is that ALL smoke alarms in a rental property must be hardwired. That is, they are powered by the house wiring with a battery backup in case of a power failure. There are no exceptions!
The second requirement is interconnection of multiple smoke alarms. This is not to be confused with hardwiring. Interconnection of smoke alarms allows them to all respond simultaneously to smoke at a single location. Smoke that originates in the basement will set off all the alarms to alert you no matter where in the home you are. This has the advantage of allowing you more time to exit the property.
Interconnection of smoke alarms can be accomplished in two different ways. One is to simply connect a physical wire between each of the smoke alarms. This may not be practical in situations where the wire must traverse multiple floors such as a town house.
A newer method of interconnection is by radio signal. A coded signal is transmitted between smoke alarm stations by radio waves when a smoke alert is needed. Wiring is greatly simplified by this method and transmitted signals do not interfere with other devices in the home. Note that this method only accomplishes interconnection and does not replace the need to hardwire the smoke alarms for power.
The third requirement for smoke alarms in Baltimore County Rental properties is that they be less than ten years old. Testing has been done by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that shows that smoke alarm sensitivity is significantly reduced after ten years. Diminished sensitivity of smoke alarms will reduce the time you have to exit the premises and increase the risk of harmful smoke exposure or death. Smoke alarms ten years or older must be replaced.
Hardwired smoke alarms, as required by Baltimore County Rental licensing, can never be replaced by battery only alarms.
The final requirement for rental properties in Baltimore County is that all installed smoke alarms be from the same manufacturer to insure proper interconnectivity.
I hope this clarifies the Baltimore County Smoke alarm requirements. I have run into a few situations where the installer has complied with the new smoke alarm law, but not with the Baltimore County Rental regulations. Feel free to call Independent Home Inspection if you have any questions.
Baltimore City Rental Inspections
The long awaited Baltimore City Rental Inspection form has arrived. Along with it have been constant phone calls and endless emails as landlords and inspectors alike try to determine the easiest path through this inspection mess.
It’s obvious to me, and I’m sure my colleagues will agree, that no Home Inspectors were consulted when the Baltimore City Rental Inspection criteria was finalized.
I’m not going to waste any words about what’s right with the inspection sheet. It’s been long overdue, but the three pages of inspection items show that the City took little notice of its County neighbor whose successful inspection program has been running for the last 10 years with a single page.
One of the first oversights made by the city is simply that the properties involved are mostly occupied. Furnished homes provide obstacles to any Home Inspection as many areas are obscured by furnishings. Home Inspectors do not move furniture and tenants will have a legitimate concern that their property may be damaged during the inspection should that be necessary.
Some of the inspection items are vague and do not provide a standard. Home Inspectors are not ‘Code’ inspectors nor are they supposed to be. The City needs to specify the requirements for a ‘pass’ when needed.
All told the inspection sheet is a big ‘FAIL’ by itself. A landlord with no inspection background should be able to decipher what’s needed and make his/her property ready for inspection. Otherwise a great many landlords will be paying for TWO inspections.
The ultimate cost of inspections will be borne by the renter. While the intent may be to make Baltimore housing healthier and safer, the poor, who can barely make ends meet now, may just find themselves poorer as a result of these inspections.
Posted in Home Safety, Property Inspection
Tagged Baltimore City, city rentals, Home Inspection, landlord, real-estate, Rental Inspection, rental inspections, rental licensing, safety codes, tenants
A recent Home Inspection revealed what seems to be continuing confusion about Maryland’s new smoke alarm law. The law, passed in 2013, only took effect in January of this year. It strengthens the previous law and follows NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 72 guidelines.
Since 1975 new home construction code required installation of hardwired smoke alarms and in 1990 this was amended to require battery back-up.
The current law requires ten year batteries for installations that only require batteries (pre-1975) but require hard wired alarms be replaced with the same for hardwired installations.
The photo above shows a hard wired location and the battery only alarm that was installed as a replacement. The new law requires replacement for ten year old alarms and the date indicates this alarm as current. Lack of an electrical connector and the wording “SINGLE STATION” indicates that this alarm is battery operated only and not intended for interconnection which makes it unsuitable for this location.
In short you can never replace a hard-wired interconnected smoke alarm in Maryland with a battery only device.
Realtors should be aware of this and caution their clients. It is an item that is checked on every Independent Home Inspection.
Baltimore County has new regulations regarding safety equipment for your rental property. Beginning in February of this year changes have been made to the smoke alarm requirements and in April changes will take effect for the Carbon Monoxide alarms.
Hardwired interconnected smoke alarms are now required on every level of your dwelling excluding unoccupied spaces (attic, crawl, garage). This will still include basements if your home has one. Smoke alarms must all be from the same manufacturer to ensure proper operation and alarms 10 years or older must be replaced.
Beginning in April of this year Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms are now required on each level of your home if you have fuel burning devices or an attached garage. They must be audible from the sleeping areas and must have a 10 year battery.
While not required of the CO alarms, Interconnected alarms still provide the most safety by allowing more time to exit the home should that be necessary. This is easily demonstrated by CO occurring in the basement and setting off all alarms on each floor before the gasses have left the basement. Smoke and CO gasses that reach the upper floor sleeping areas before the alarm sounds may not provide adequate time to exit the premises before a fatality occurs.
Independent Home Inspection will check your alarms during inspection to make sure they comply with the new rules. As before re-inspections will be performed for no charge after the proper repairs have been made.
January is National Action Month for Radon Awareness. Do you know the Radon levels in your home? Do you know the effects of long term exposure to you and your children.
Independent Home Inspection is offering a 20% reduction in our fee for Radon tests with or without a home inspection. This includes testing those homes that already have a Radon mitigation system. Testing homes with mitigation systems installed insures their continued effectiveness at reducing Radon to safe levels.
You’re wise to check your new home for Radon before you buy. The EPA says all homes can have Radon. This includes new homes as well as older homes. No mitigation systems installed in your neighborhood may simply mean those homes haven’t been tested.
So, what results do you need to make a decision about Radon levels. The answer is simply the average concentration over the testing period. This includes short term tests, as in a Real Estate transaction, or long term tests that might be done to monitor the effectiveness of an installed mitigation system. The EPA has set 4.0 piCul as the action level for a single family home. At or above that level requires a mitigation system to reduce harmful Radon levels.
Independent Home Inspection uses an electret based Radon monitoring system to measure your homes Radon level. Electrets have an initial electrical charge that decays at a known rate in the presence of Radon. I use annually calibrated equipment to measure the electret charge before and after exposure and a computer generates the result on the basis of the measured differences.
Electret systems advantages are many. They require no power source during testing. They continuously respond to Radon exposure rather than sampling (other methods sample hourly or ½ hourly). Results do not require a lab and accurately indicate the Radon average over the testing period. In fact this method of Radon testing has been determined to be the most accurate system available today.
Independent Home Inspection is available to test your homes Radon either with a home inspection or alone. Call or text today for availability and cost: 410-504-3751
You may not have given your garage door much thought lately. You press a button and it opens, another and it closes. Have you ever lost power to your door and had to open it by hand? Do you know how to do that?
Your garage door could be quite heavy. Older overhead doors were made entirely of wood. Newer doors are usually aluminum or fiberglass.
There will be a way to disconnect your overhead door from the opening apparatus so you can open it manually. This is usually a short cord and handle hanging from the track about half way to the door. pulling it disengages the door chain or cable and the door is then free to be raised.
Overhead door remote operation should be checked occasionally to ensure safe operation. The ‘electric eye’ operation to prevent door closure is fairly obvious. Recommended height for this beam is 4-6 inches off the floor. Too low and it may shine under your car and allow operation when you are only partially in the garage.
Less obvious is the automatic reversing feature required of overhead doors. This will reverse the door when it strikes an object while descending. This will not prevent damage or injury but will prevent entrapment of the object or person.
The Garage Door Manufacturers Association recommends testing the reverse function with a 2×4 laid across the door opening. Adjustment is usually a simple operation, consult the manufacturers manual for detailed specific information.
Children should be cautioned or forbidden as necessary to prevent dangerous overhead door operation.
The idea behind smoke alarms is fairly simple. If you are alerted by the smoke before he flame reaches your location, you will have more time to escape.
Multiple smoke alarms that can signal each other can alert you even before the smoke reaches your location. These new alarms are ‘interconnected.’ This can be done either with an actual wire or with a dedicated RF (radio frequency) signal.
Many of the homes with fatal home fires were found to have smoke alarms with dead batteries. Either the batteries were simply to weak to operate the alarm or had been removed in anticipation of replacement and simply forgotten.
To resolve this problem newer smoke alarms are supplied with ten year batteries and can be hardwired to the homes electrical system.
Hardwiring and interconnection is a code requirement of new construction in most areas. This presents far more time to get your family safely away from the house in the event that becomes necessary.
A licensing requirement for Baltimore County rental properties requires hardwired and interconnected smoke alarms regardless of the age of the property. Since many of these properties will be retrofitted for smoke alarms the wiring requirement becomes much simpler by the use of ‘radio linked’ alarms.
Combination alarms that detect carbon monoxide (CO) gases as well as smoke are available to accommodate homes that require them. Interconnection provides the same advantage of time as do the smoke alarms.
Don’t become a statistic. Install a smoke alarm if your home does not already have one. Become familiar with how it works and how to test and service it.
October 12, 2016 in Home Inspection, Home Safety
Tagged building codes, Electrical, fire inspection, fire safety, Home Inspection, home safety, house wiring, interconnected, smoke alarms