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What You Need to Know About Massachusetts' Smoke Detector Laws

Selling a home is already a complex process, and it pays to have the help of an experienced real estate agent. There are a lot of rules to keep in mind on top of making your home appealing to buyers. One of the most important is the Massachusetts smoke detector law. Here are the details.
Selling a home is already a complex process, and it pays to have the help of an experienced real estate agent. There are a lot of rules to keep in mind on top of making your home appealing to buyers. One of the most important is the Massachusetts smoke detector law. Here are the details.

If you’re getting ready to sell a home in Massachusetts, you already have a lot on your mind. You want to find a high-quality listing agent that can help you market your home, but without costing you a fortune.

You also have to declutter and stage your home, determine the pricing, and handle the various legal and financial details involved in selling a home. But don’t forget about the smoke detector!

That might seem like the least of your worries, but Massachusetts' smoke detector laws are an essential legal requirement when you’re selling a home. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Are There Strict Smoke Detector Laws?

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security said that a significant portion of the fire-related deaths in the state occurred in homes without smoke alarms. In 2014, it was 25% of the fire-related fatalities. An additional 12% occurred in homes where smoke detectors were not functional.

As a result, Massachusetts expanded and strengthened their smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector laws. The laws impact the transfer of homes with five or lower units. The most recent update to the legislation was effective in May 2010.

These measures are designed to help homes be safer and reinforce the importance of smoke detectors and other safety devices. The laws vary depending on when the home was built.

Requirements for Homes Built Before January 1, 1975

If you have an older home, you are required to have smoke detectors on every habitable level of the home. They need to be on the ceiling at the base of each stairway and on the ceiling outside of each separate sleeping area.

You can have either battery-powered or hard-wired smoke detectors or a combination of the two. If the device is located within 20 feet of a kitchen or bathroom that has a tub or shower, it has to be a photoelectric detector rather than an ionization one.

For detectors over 20 feet from these areas, you can use either a duel detector that has both photoelectric and ionization technology or two separate detectors, one which is photoelectric and one that is ionization.

Photoelectric detectors are more reliable and efficient. They use light to detect smoke particles and sound. They can detect both slow smoldering fires and fast flames. Ionization systems relies on an interruption of air current and is doesn’t work as well for fast fires. They are also susceptible to false alarms from cooking or steam.

Carbon monoxide detectors must be installed on each level of the home and within 10 feet of each bedroom door. You can use combination photoelectric smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home. The carbon monoxide system can be battery powered, plug-in with battery backup, hard-wired with battery backup, or system type.

Requirements for Residences Permitted Between 1975 and August 27, 1997

The requirements for homes with permits issued between 1975 and August 1997 are slightly different. Besides the previous requirements, you need a minimum of one smoke detector installed for every 1,200 square feet of living space per level. Each smoke detector must be hard-wired and interconnected.

Carbon monoxide detector have the same requirements as older homes, except that you can use a combination ionization smoke and carbon monoxide detector if it’s within 20 feet of a kitchen or bathroom that has a tub or shower.

Smoke Detectors in Homes Permitted Between 1997 and 2008

For homes between 1997 and 2008, you must meet the previous requirements and have a smoke detector inside every bedroom.

If the smoke detector is within 20 feet of a kitchen or a bathroom with a bathtub or shower, it must be a photoelectric detector.

For carbon monoxide detectors, the requirements are the same as for homes after 1975.

Requirements for Homes Permitted Between January 1, 2008 and February 4, 2011

Another legal update affects homes that received a building permit between January 2008 and February 2011. The requirements are the same except that detectors must be hard-wired and interconnected with battery backup.

In addition, detectors more than 20 feet from a kitchen or a bathroom with a tub or shower is required to be either a photoelectric detector or a dual detector containing both ionization and photoelectric technologies.

Carbon monoxide detectors have all the previous requirements and are required to be hard-wired and interconnected with battery backup. They may be separately wired from the existing smoke detection.

Starting in 2008 homes, you also need a heat detection in any attached garage. It must be hard-wired and interconnected with or without battery backup to the existing smoke detection system.

Requirements for Homes Permitted After February 4, 2011

Starting for home permitted and built after February 4, 2011, the smoke detectors are all required to be photoelectric.

The heat detector requirements are the same, and carbon monoxide detectors that are combination must be photoelectric smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Staying in Compliance

As you can see, there have been a lot of changes as building codes are updated over time. To be compliant and able to sell your home, you need to contact your local fire department to schedule an inspection. You will pay a fee determined by the city or town. Once you pass, they will give you a certificate of compliance valid for 60 days.

The best way to ensure you meet all the requirements for selling your home in Massachusetts is to work with a qualified listing agent. That doesn’t mean you have to pay an arm and a leg. A Clever Partner Agent will give you the full-service experience you deserve at a fraction of the cost.

Contact us to connect with a top-rated agent in your area today.


Andrew Schmeerbauch

Andrew Schmeerbauch is the Director of Marketing at Clever Real Estate, the free online service that connects you top agents to save on commission. His focus is educating home buyers and sellers on navigating the complex world of real estate with confidence and ease. Andrew has worked on projects for the United Nations and USC and has a particular passion for investing and finance. Andrew's writing has been featured in Mashvisor, L&T, Ideal REI, and Rentometer.

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