What Is the Building Code for a Bathroom Smoke Alarm?

Fire presents a significant hazard to any dwelling. Fires and the smoke they create are responsible for many injuries and deaths in the United States each year. That is why all 50 states require smoke alarms to be installed in any type of dwelling, whether it is a single-family home, a duplex or an apartment complex. The location of your smoke alarm is crucial, and the requirements for a bathroom smoke alarm are laid out in the building code of every state, county and city.

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Use heat-detecting alarms, not smoke detectors, in your bathroom.

Types of Bathroom Smoke Alarms

Bathroom smoke alarms in your home, most often in the form of smoke detectors, come in a variety of types. The ionization smoke detector is the oldest type, and is the one you commonly find in older dwellings. This type is activated when smoke activates ions contained within the housing of the detector and trips the alarm. Photoelectric smoke alarms are a second type, and are activated when smoke passes through a light beam created within the housing of the detector. Smoke alarms are also available that combine both technologies, and that also detect carbon monoxide.

Bathrooms and Building Code

Bathroom smoke alarms are covered in every building code in existence, regardless of where you live. The overriding fact covered in all building codes and fire codes is that smoke alarms and smoke detectors should not be installed in a bathroom, because steam from a hot shower or bath will trigger smoke alarms. A bathroom smoke alarm that is within 20 feet of a bathroom must be the photoelectric type. Smoke detectors that are farther than 20 feet away from a bathroom must be either a combination detector-ionization and photoelectric detector or one of each type installed next to each other. The building code applies to all dwellings, regardless of when they were built.

Alternatives to Bathroom Smoke Alarms

You are allowed to install a heat detector in your bathroom in many cities as an alternative to a smoke detector. The city of Burlington, Vermont allows the installation of heat detectors in bathrooms, attics and kitchens. A heat detector is acceptable in a bathroom because it will be activated only by the excessive heat of a fire rather than the steam from a shower or bath.

Hard-Wired Smoke Alarms

If you are installing new smoke detectors in your home you will probably be required to hard-wire them into the electrical circuitry of your house. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the organization that is responsible for establishing fire safety standards used in building codes, states that all new construction as of 2003 must have smoke alarms that are hard-wired to the primary electrical source of the dwelling. Although NFPA codes are the basis for U.S. building codes related to smoke alarms and detectors, they are not universal. Always check with your local building code agency to verify all codes that relate to bathroom smoke alarms in your home.