Shaddup! City to mandate smoke alarms with silencing switches

Share this:
March 15, 2004 // UPDATED 9:50 am - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Got a smoke detector within 20 feet of the stove? The city is set to approve a housing code change that would require you to replace it with one that has a silencing switch or photoelectric detector.

The smoke detectors with silencers cost approximately $25, or $15 more than a regular $10 smoke detector, said Ricardo Cervantes, district manager for Housing Inspection Services. The increased cost is minimal compared to the safety improvements.

Smoke from burnt toast or boiling water can set off the alarm, creating all-too-familiar and incredibly irritating alarm.

"Tenants have a tendency to disable the smoke detector or take it down completely, whenever there is a nuisance alarm," Cervantes said. "Then they forget to put it back up. Then we have a disabled smoke alarm."

(The smoke detectors with photoelectric detection are less susceptible to false alarms, he said.)

The change is part of a broader overhaul of the housing code's smoke detector requirements to bring city ordinances in line with state requirements and update them. Among the other changes, the new code requires smoke detectors on every level of a building.

The code applies to owner-occupied homes as well as apartments. Enforcement mechanisms vary.

Cervantes said the city would enforce the new requirements in apartments through rental licensing inspections. For owner-occupied homes, the city could require compliance through presale Truth in Housing inspections.

More importantly, the city would launch a public information campaign to encourage voluntary compliance, he said.

The City Council's Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee approved the policy changes March 3. The full Council votes on it Friday, March 19.

No one opposed the changes at a public hearing.

City Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) supported them. He had worked as a handyperson for years and frequently noticed disconnected smoke alarms, he said. He recently realized he had not reconnected his own smoke alarm after it got disabled following a burnt bacon incident.

If people could push a button on the smoke detector and gain 20 minutes of silence, "they would have zero motivation to disable the detector," he said.

Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) authored the change. His ward includes the University of Minnesota and he said he heard disconnected smoke alarms were a common problem in student housing.

Zimmermann suggested the city work with hardware stores to promote the "silencing" smoke alarms, similar to how the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board worked with stores to encourage the sale of phosphorous-free fertilizer.