Q: My husband and I will be retiring soon and we’ve decided to sell our house. We’ve heard that we may need to replace our smoke alarms before selling. Does California have a law about this?


A: Most people are aware of the obvious benefits of installing and maintaining smoke detectors throughout their homes, but many would be surprised to know that it’s mandatory. California law requires every single-family dwelling and factory-built housing to have operable smoke detectors in designated areas. Furthermore, the smoke detectors must be approved and listed by the State Fire Marshal and installed according to state regulations. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 13113.8.) Other types of residences, such as condos, apartment buildings, mobile homes, and hotels may be subject to different requirements as set forth in Section 13113.7 of the Health and Safety Code.

There are numerous laws and regulations concerning the installation, placement, and type of smoke detection devices, and the need to replace your current detectors before selling your home will depend on several factors. To help you determine whether you may need new or additional smoke detectors in your house, consider the following:

1) New Construction
If the house has undergone any major additions, renovations, or repairs since August 14, 1992 that exceeds $1,000 in cost and for which a permit is required, a smoke detector must be installed in each bedroom in addition to being centrally located in the corridor or area outside the bedroom. In newly constructed areas, the smoke detector must be hardwired with a battery backup. (California Building Code § 907.

2) Wiring or Batteries
For homes built before 1992, smoke detectors may be battery operated. Newer homes or homes that have undergone major construction require hardwired smoke detectors with a battery backup, as stated in the California Building Code.

3) Sleeping Areas
In homes built before 1992, smoke detectors must be centrally located outside each sleeping area. Depending on the floor plan, one or several smoke detectors may be needed. For instance, a two-story house with bedrooms upstairs and downstairs will need two smoke detectors, one centrally located outside each area. On the other hand, a two-story house with bedrooms on the second floor will need only one smoke detector if the bedrooms are all in the same area. If the home was built after 1992 or has undergone major repairs or construction, the California Building Code requires the installation of smoke detectors in each bedroom, and in each corridor or hallway near each sleeping area.

4) Local Ordinances
Depending on the region, factors like climate and population can vary dramatically in California. Local municipalities may impose further requirements regarding smoke detectors. It is important to check with the local department of building and safety to determine the requirements in your region.

When selling your home, you will also need to provide documentation to the buyer of the property’s compliance with California’s laws and regulations concerning smoke detectors. For more information on this process, consult Health and Safety Code § 13113.8 or this guide published by the California Association of Realtors.

Because of the many variables involved in California’s smoke detector laws, regulations, and local ordinances, you’ll want to conduct your own research before taking action. You can visit the Law Library for print and online access to the state code and regulations; they are also available online at www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw and www.calregs.com. To research local rules or ordinances, try contacting the local department of building and safety. In Sacramento, the Community Development Department is the best source of information on local requirements and inspections.

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday's column. Even if your question isn't selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian