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Time to Replace Your Smoke Detectors?


Philip J Freedenberg and Charles Boykin


According to the National Fire Protection Association, residential smoke detectors have a useful lifetime of about ten years, after which their reliability can decline. In an informal survey, the Board of Directors of the McLean Mews Homeowners’ Association found that the vast majority of the homes in our community still had the original smoke detectors, which were installed by the builder almost 30 years ago. We also found that few residents knew that their smoke detectors were overdue for replacement.


In 2004, the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a comprehensive report which concluded that "smoke alarms of either the ionization type or the photoelectric type consistently provided time for occupants to escape from most residential fires." In the interest of safety, therefore, our Board of Directors decided to spearhead efforts to educate our community as to the need to replace outdated smoke detectors, as well as to suggest a convenient and affordable upgrade pathway.


To accomplish these goals, the Board appointed a committee that looked into alternatives. This committee first investigated the possibility of replacing “like for like” line powered smoke detectors. This approach had several disadvantages: line powered detectors become inoperable if electrical power is interrupted; in addition, this approach would be fairly expensive, since installation could require the services of a licensed electrician.


The committee also investigated detector units powered by replaceable batteries. While these units are the least expensive to purchase, they are rendered ineffective if the homeowner neglects to replace the battery at least annually. The cost of the replacement batteries over ten years can also be considerable.


After a thorough search of available alternatives, the committee recommended supplementing the existing smoke detectors with new detectors equipped with a sealed lithium battery that has a ten year lifetime. These units are reasonable in initial cost, are easy to install, and require no annual maintenance. At the end of ten years, the entire detector is designed to be discarded and replaced.


Finally, we investigated competitive sources of supply. The unit which appears to best meet our needs is the Kidde i9010, which is available from as well as from several online vendor sites for under $20. This represents a considerable savings compared to the cost of ten replaced batteries.


At the same time that you are supplementing your old detectors, you may also want to add one or more new detectors to your home. Current standards call for at least one detector per level, as well as one in each bedroom.




Phil Freedenberg is the President of the McLean Mews HOA and Charles Boykin is a former Board member. McLean Mews is a 47-home owner managed townhouse development in the heart of McLean, Virginia.


This article is reproduced from November 2011 Quorum magazine.

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