Massachusetts Real Estate


Massachusetts Smoke Detector Laws Changing as of January 2010

** Correction the Massachusetts smoke detector compliance has been extended from Jan 1st until April 5th 2010.

Whenever a home is sold in Massachusetts it is required that the home is inspected by the local fire department for properly working smoke detectors. This law has been in place for decades and is designed to save lives. A property can not change hands without a certificate issued by the fire department.

Effective April 5, 2010, a new regulation relating to the installation and maintenance of certain smoke detectors will be put in place. Staying up to speed on a change in the law like this is critical for landlords, home owners and Realtors alike.                                                                                                       

It goes without saying that it is imperative that home owners ensure that their properties comply with these laws, both from a public safety and liability stand point.  In order to know exactly how your property could be impacted it would be prudent to speak with the local fire Marshall or a lawyer that is well versed in this new amendment.                                                                             


There are two primary detection methods used in todays smoke detectors. They can be either ionization or photoelectric.

Ionization detectors typically have a constant current running between two electrodes. When smoke hits the device, it blocks the current which causes the alarm to trip.

Ionization detectors are usually faster to go off than photoelectric detectors.  The problem with ionization detectors though is that they are unable to differentiate between smoke and steam.

This makes them prone to false alarms when steam from a shower or other source interrupts the current. This is especially true when the ionization detector is placed near a kitchen or bathroom. 

Photoelectric detectors send a beam of light. This beam passes in front of the detector in a straight line. When smoke crosses the path of the light beam, some light is scattered by the smoke particles causing it to trigger the alarm.  Photoelectric detectors are less sensitive to false alarms from steam or cooking fumes but can take longer than ionization detectors to work.

Another major concern was that ionization detectors do not offer the best protection in smoldering fires which are some of the deadliest blazes across the country. Photoelectric smoke alarms are more sensitive to smoldering smokey fires. Most of the homes across the country have ionization detectors which are more sensitive to flames.

In 2007, WBZ News in Boston tested both types of smoke alarms. In a smoky fire the photoelectric detector sounded the warning first. While took almost 17 minutes into the fire before the ionization alarm finally went off!

The debate in Massachusetts has been whether to require property owners to replace their ionization detectors with photoelectric detectors.

Home owners have raised concerns about the cost of replacing smoke detectors that still function properly. Fire departments have suggested that the elimination of false alarms outweighs the additional expense that home owners will need to deal with.



Since there are strengths and weaknesses of photoelectric versus ionization smoke detectors, the Board of Fire Prevention Regulation has passed a new regulation (527 CMR 32.00 et seq).

According to the new regulation, owners of certain residential buildings will be required to install and maintain both the ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors.

  While the new regulation does not change the locations where smoke detectors are required, it does allow the installation of both technologies in certain locations. 

Under the new regulation, an ionization dectector can not be placed within 20 feet of a kitchen or a bathroom containing a shower or a tub. In these locations only a photoelectronic detector is allowed. 

All property owners should determine what type of smoke detectors they are currently have installed. In order to comply with the law you can either install two separate detectors that have both technologies or by installing one that utilizes both.





In order to determine if your property is affected by this change in the law it would be prudent to check with your local fire department or a local Real Estate attorney who up to speed on the changes in the law. According to to the new amendment the following types of properties are impacted by the new regulation:

  • Residential buildings under 70 feet tall and containing less than six dwelling units.

  • Residential buildings not substantially altered since January 1, 1975, and containing less than 6 residential units.

  • All residential buildings sold or transferred after April 5, 2010, which are less then 70 feet tall, have less than six units, or have not been substantially altered since January 1, 1975.

For all properties in these categories, compliance is mandated by April 5, 2010.  It should be noted that the law does not apply to these larger buildings or those which were substantially altered since January, 1975, as these properties already were required to upgrade their fire safety systems under other existing laws.

If you are selling your home in Massachusetts one other law that you need to be aware of is what is known as Nicole's Law. As of March 2006 when a home is transferred you need to have working carbon monoxide detectors.

Carbon Monoxide detectors are required in any residence that has fossil-fuel burning equipment including, but not limited to, a furnace, boiler, water heater, fireplace or any other apparatus, appliance or device; or has enclosed parking within its structure.

Unfortunately, the law is named for 7-year-old Nicole Garofalo who died in January 2005 when a heating vent in her house was blocked by snow drifts, allowing carbon monoxide to accumulate in the home.

According to the carbon monoxide regulations, you need to have a detector on each finished level of the home. Further there must be a detector placed within ten feet of all the bedroom doors. The detectors do not need to be hard wired. A plug-in or battery operated detector meets the requirements.

The inspection for both the smoke and carbon detectors are done by the local fire department prior to closing.


About the Author: The above Real Estate information on Massachusetts smoke detector laws was providedRE/MAX Executive Realty Hopkinton MA by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at or by phone at 508-435-5356. 

Have a home to sell in Metrowest Mass? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise! 

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I service the following towns in Metrowest Massachusetts: Hopkinton, Milford, Upton, Southboro, Westboro, Ashland, Holliston, Mendon, Hopedale, Medway, Grafton, Northbridge, Uxbridge, Franklin, Douglas, and Framingham MA.

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Comment balloon 54 commentsBill Gassett • February 09 2009 02:08PM


We haven't had mandatory inspections of existing home when a sale occurs yet. It sound like a good idea.

Posted by Terry & Bonnie Westbrook, Westbrook Realty - Grand Rapids Forest Hills MI Re (Westbrook Realty Broker-Owner) over 9 years ago

Terry - Wow that is amazing. I guess I thought getting smoke detectors inspected was more of a uniform law across the country.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Sounds good to me.  Fire defectors do save lives.  So do carbon monoxide detectors. 

In fact, I don't even want a home with gas in it.  But, I know that's a minority view.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 9 years ago

Lenn - Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are both important safety features. It is suprising how often when doing an inspection we find them not working or disconnected by the home owner.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Bill, this is definitely different in Georgia and Florida. Both the homes did not have to pass a fire inspection.

Posted by Danny Thornton, WordPress Guru (R & D Art) over 9 years ago

Danny it seems like Massachusetts has one of the more stringent laws in regards to fire safety.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Bill, I think that is great that Carbon Monoxide detectors are mandatory. It only makes sense! We have had several deaths locally because of this.

Posted by Kristi DeFazio, Colorado Springs Rea lEstate 719-459-5468 (RE/MAX Advantage) over 9 years ago

Kristi - I am surprised there is not more mandatory legislation for carbons and smoke detectors throughout the country. There would be a lot more lives saved if there was a uniform law.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Bill, we have nothing like that here in Tennessee. As a matter of fact, when an inspector finds faulty smoke detectors, our contracts do not require them to be fixed. Most sellers will, if they are aware of it but... Here it's Buyer Beware! What a great law!

Posted by Connie Harvey, Realtor - Nashville TN Real Estate (Pilkerton Realtors) over 9 years ago

Bill - The smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are mandatory in NY but not the certification by fire department at least for resale.  These laws really are life saving and so inexpensive.

Posted by Jennifer Fivelsdal, Mid Hudson Valley real estate connection ( JFIVE Home Realty LLC | 845-758-6842|162 Deer Run Rd Red Hook NY 12571) over 9 years ago

Connie it really is surprising how few states have regulations regarding smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Jennifer - So it sounds like the detectors are required when a home is built but not otherwise?

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Bill, I think having them certified is a great idea.  Here there is no real enforcement of the smoke detector laws.

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 9 years ago

Hi Bill-I think having both smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors should be mandatory. Both most definitely safe lives and you can't really put a price on that. Great post. Have a great week.

Posted by Sharon Lee, Retired and loving life (Sharon Lee's Virtual Assistance) over 9 years ago

Patricia one of the things I learned today is that there are many states that don't have any regulations regarding smoke detectors. It is very surprising as they do save lives.

Sharon - Agreed it is surprising that it is not mandatory in more states.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Thanks for the interesting reading.  Good info to know about the types of smoke detectors.  Always look forward to reading your posts, always learn about something.

Posted by Nelson Bermas, Your Lexington REALTORĀ® (EXIT Real Estate Consultants) over 9 years ago

Thanks Nelson I appreciate the compliments on my article about Massachusetts smoke detector laws.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Wow, after reading most of the comments, it seems that Massachusetts is a lot more strict about safety! Lucky us! Thanks for the heads up as always.

Posted by Samantha Nichols, Massachusetts Real Estate Specialist (ERA Belsito and Associates) over 9 years ago

Bill, I think this is a wonderful law.  In just the last few months I've seen more fires on TV news and the smoke detectors weren't working.  At least now in new homes and resale it will be mandatory--and save lives.

Posted by Laura Cerrano, Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher (Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island) over 9 years ago

Sam - We sure do! Before doing a little research on this subject I never realized just how different Massachusetts is when it comes to fire safety.

Carole - It looks like Massachusetts is really ahead of the curve when it come to fire prevention.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Hi Bill!  Very interesting--it's a shame that we couldn't combine the photoelectric and the ionization detectors to make one highly efficient detector--now that's something to work on for retirement!

We have those laws as well and I am often asked if the hard-wired ones are better than the battery--honestly, if you keep the batteries fresh they're just as good as the hard-wired ones--and frankly, any protection is better than none!

Debe in Charlotte

Posted by Debe Maxwell, CRS, Charlotte Homes for Sale - Charlotte Neighborhoods ( | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310) over 9 years ago


Every home is inspected by the fire department? I presume there is also a charge, correct? Just curious.

We're required to have workable smoke detectors, but that's it.

Posted by Lynda Eisenmann, Broker-Owner,CRS,CDPE,GRI,SRES, Brea,CA, Orange Co (Preferred Home Brokers) over 9 years ago

Like Lynda, I was wondering about a charge, too.  I'm also wondering if they have folks from the fire department assigned to the task of inspecting smoke detectors. 

Posted by Nancy Brenner, Roswell Georgia Real Estate Agent (Referral Associates of Georgia, Inc.) over 9 years ago

great info Bill - glad to hear your state is taking safety seriously

Posted by Randall Sandin, 843-209-9667 - Search for Charleston SC Real Estate (Carolina One Real Estate) over 9 years ago

Wow, wow, wow! What a 'smokin'' job of covering an important issue! Great work!

Posted by Kim Southern- "Sold" with Southern Hospitality, Greetings from the North Georgia Mountains! (Century 21 In the Mountains) over 9 years ago

Debe - That is a very good thought!

Lynda & Nancy - Yes the fire department inspects every home that is going to be sold and there is a charge for inspection. It is usually $25.

Randall - It sounds like Massachusetts really takes fire safety seriously in relation to other states.

Kim - Thanks for the compliments on my article.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Similar legislation is coming to New Hampshire, however, the public policy committee is trying to tone it down to keep the cost down for homeowners.  We will see what happens in the next few weeks.  Probably, the legislation will only apply to new construction.

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) over 9 years ago

Joan - When you think about how many lives smoke and carbon detectors save, it really is amazing that people would be concerned about that kind of money changing hands at the transfer of a property.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Bill - wow! our city/state doesn't require any of that... interesting...

Posted by Greg Nino, Houston, Texas (RE/MAX Compass, formerly RE/MAX WHP) over 9 years ago


With this life saving law, it certainly keeps the fire dept. busy to inspect all of these properties prior to closing.  Who pays for that? Tax payers or is there a fee built in to each transaction?

Posted by Gena Riede, Real Estate Broker - Sacramento CA Real Estate (916) 417-2699 (Riede Real Estate, Lic. 01310792) over 9 years ago

Greg - I have actually learned that Massachusetts has one of the toughest fire safety policies in the country.

Gena - The home owner or the Realtor will pay the fire department. The fee is only $25.00 so it is not that much money.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

You've got me to thinking on that one.  I'm actually not sure what the regulations are here, but I don't think the carbon monoxide detectors are manditory here, but wow should they ever be!   I'll check it out.  Great post as usual!   Thanks for your nice comment about my humble pie breakfast yesterday!

Posted by Anonymous over 9 years ago

Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors should be mandatory everywhere. It is so surprising to me that other states have such lax regulations.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Hi Bill - I sropped by to check out the new blog.  I am getting ready to set mine up.  Just trying to decide whether to kkeep the Charlottesville Real Estate Talk domain or use something else.

Posted by Pam Dent over 9 years ago

Bill - Those are intense regs.  Florida has got to be next!

Posted by Wendy Rulnick, "It's Wendy... It's Sold!" (Rulnick Realty, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Pam - Thanks for visiting my article about Massachusetts smoke detector legislation.

Wendy - Apparently Massachusetts is one of the few states that have these regulations.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

I love that your blog addresses everything.  It's such a great resource.  Your commitment to your communities knowledge is clear in your posts.  Working with a professional that truly cares such as yourself is a remarkable opportunity.

Posted by Jason & Amber Gardner, We're Committed to Your Success! (Hasson Company, Realtors) over 9 years ago

Amber - Thank you very much for your compliments on my article. After reading many of the comments it has been interesting to find out that many other states do not have laws in place regarding smoke and carbon monoxide detection.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

That's great information Bill. My security alarm company also told me that the smoke alarms should be cleaned, so they can detect the smoke. In a newly constructed home you may see the plastic "shower cap" looking things over the smoke detector. That's to keep the dust out during construction. It's a good idea to use the dust brush on a vacuum to clean the dust out of a smoke detector. I would suggest doing it at least twice a year, when changing the batteries.

Posted by Jen Bowman, Realtor - Anna Maria Island & Bradenton FL (Keller Williams on the Water) over 9 years ago

Thanks Jen. Most builders up here in Mass will put the covers on the smoke detectors until the new owner takes possesion. You are right about keeping the dust out...that is an important consideration.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Bill, this is a great informational post for your readers. Smoke alarms are required here as well. Even in our rentals, we make sure that each one has a good smoke alarm. ;-)


Posted by Mesa, Arizona Real Estate Mesa Arizona Realtor, AzLadyInRed (Homes Arizona Real Estate LLC) over 9 years ago

 Teri - It is good to hear that Arizona takes fire safety seriously as well.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Bill - We are not required to have the fire department check for smoke alarms...  I've really never heard of it before - I do think that it's a great idea though.

Posted by Debbie Summers (Charles Rutenberg Realty ) over 9 years ago

Debbie - There are so many states that don't require it. I am a firm believer that it really is important and does save lives to have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Sounds like a very important initiative; and it will hopefully save lives.

Posted by James Downing - Metro DC Houses Team REALTORSĀ®, CRS, GRI, ABR,MRP, MilRes, When Looking to Buy or Sell - Make the Right Move (Real Living | At Home) over 9 years ago

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are both important and they certainly do save lives. It is amazing how few other states have any regulations on them.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 9 years ago

Thanks for the info Bill.

Posted by Joshua Miller, REALTOR, Broker (YesWeCan Realty, Inc.) over 8 years ago

I think having the fire department inspect your smoke detectors when selling a home or condo is a great idea. My city charges a fee of $50.00 for this service. Would you tell me where this money goes and why they charge a fee. I would think this is part of their job and a service that is provided with the tax money that each resident pays each year toward their salarys.

Posted by Paul over 8 years ago

Wow that is a hefty fee Paul. I think that is the most I have heard! What town do you live in? Every town is different on the amount they charge. Like anything else in life it is a way for fire departments to make money. What they actually do with the money I am not sure.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 8 years ago

"My city charges a fee of $50.00 for this service." -- Hmm. Seems the law has more to do with boosting someone's bottom line than with safety. So what's new? Everytime Massachusetts passes a law intended to "protect" you, you can be sure you'll be paying for that protection.

Think of the law that won't allow you to use your 366 day old eyeglass prescription to replace your broken eyeglasses.

Think of the mandatory health insurance law that gives money to the insurance company but does nothing to reign in health care costs.

Posted by Rick Evans over 8 years ago

Rick I would have to agree with you. There is a reason why our state is named Taxachusetts:)

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 8 years ago

It would be nice if the the people at the fire department doing the inspection knew he laws..

Posted by Bill over 8 years ago

Bill you are not the 1st person that has mentioned this. It is funny that all fire departments across the state have not been updated with the exact laws. You would think if they did not follow the laws to a tee their could be lawsuits involved.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 8 years ago


We sold a two family in Lynn, MA to the City.  Their attorney, the city solicitor, told us that becuase of the fact this was a cash sale no fire inspection (certificate) was required.  We insited and prevailed.  What is your opinion.



Posted by Charles Arrigo, C & L Arrigo Realtors LLC about 8 years ago

Interesting question Chris. It is a requirement for a lender for sure but I would also suspect that without a smoke cert it would open up liability on the sellers part without it. I think it was a good move on your part.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) about 8 years ago

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