Time’s up: Maryland smoke alarm law phased in

WASHINGTON — A smoke alarm law that has been phased in gradually over the past five years in Maryland takes full effect Jan. 1.

Every residence is now required to have a 10-year tamper-proof smoke alarm with a hush feature.

“Three out of every five residential fire fatalities (in the U.S.) that occur, occur in homes not protected by a working smoke alarm,” said Mark Brady, spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

Brady said the long life, tamper-proof alarms should save lives. The hush feature allows alarms to be silenced temporarily when an active fire isn’t present without removing batteries. Also, regular replacement of batteries isn’t needed.

“There has been a lot of confusion about this law coming into play,” Brady said.

He added that authorities don’t want to great confusion or fear of enforcement. “We’re simply trying to save your life, should a fire occur.”

The following questions and answers may prove helpful:

Does Maryland’s smoke alarm law apply to all residences?
Yes. That includes single and multi-family homes, apartments, townhouses and condos.

Why is it okay for some homes not to have the new tamper-proof alarm?
The 9-volt battery smoke alarms that are younger than 10 years old are “grandfathered” in and comply with the law. The manufacturer’s date is clearly marked on the outside of the unit. Alarms older than 10 years need to be replaced with the new models.

How much do the new alarms cost?
The price is a little higher than standard alarms. Right now the price is in the $30-$50 range. Brady anticipates the cost will go down in time. Homeowners also will see savings long term from not having to replace batteries.

Will there be inspections or citations related to the new law?
No. The law is intended to inspire good practices. County firefighters performing door-to-door smoke alarm checks who find homes not in compliance will give you a free alarm and ask you to purchase however many more are needed to comply with the law.

How many smoke alarms are required by law in Maryland homes?
At least one smoke alarm should on every level of your home including the basement. The smoke alarms should be in hallways just outside sleeping areas. Brady also recommends having an alarm inside bedrooms, and to sleep with the door closed as a protective barrier in the event of fire and to impair the flow of heat and toxic gases.

Should I regularly test the new 10-year tamper proof alarm?
Yes. The old recommendation was to maintain smoke alarms twice a year during changes to Daylight Saving Time: “Change your clock, change your battery.” Now Brady recommends testing the new alarms on the first day of every month.

What about other fire protection methods?
Prince George’s County law requires homes built later than the 1990s to have sprinkler systems. All homes are required to have carbon monoxide detectors.

“These are laws we can live with,” Brady said. “There shouldn’t be any fear of inspections or civil citations or anything like that … just get them up and protect yourself, your loved ones and your property.”

Everyone everywhere should have and practice an escape plan from their homes in case of fire, Brady said. Identify two ways out of every room and establish a meeting place outside from where you can safely call 911.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up