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When shopping for security systems, many homeowners tend to focus on the security benefits of the burglar alarm components, but it’s equally important to consider monitored fire detection when deciding which system to select.
Building codes require smoke detectors in areas such as in bedrooms and hallways outside of bedrooms. However, these smoke detectors are generally not compatible with alarm monitoring systems, so many companies prefer installing their own components. Additionally, building codes do not require fire detection in areas such as crawlspaces, attics or garages as these areas tend to be dusty or, in the case of garages, have car exhaust, conditions that can cause smoke detectors to provide false alarms. Unfortunately, fires that start in these areas are often not quickly detected and can be devastating: 10,000 residential fires are estimated to originate in attics each year, resulting in 30 deaths, 125 injuries and $477 million in property damage, and 6,600 residential fires each year are estimated to start in garages, resulting in 30 deaths, 400 injuries and $457 million in property damage.
The Role of Heat Sensors
Heat sensors provide an alternative method for detecting fires in these dusty and difficult-to-access areas without providing false alarms. Heat sensors alarm when the temperature exceeds a fixed threshold, which is usually set around 135 degrees Fahrenheit for garages and unfinished basements and around 200 degrees Fahrenheit for unfinished spaces such as attics and crawlspaces. Some heat sensors are also designed to alarm when the temperature in an area increases rapidly in a short period of time, such as an increase of 15 degrees Fahrenheit in one minute.
Heat sensors are not designed as a substitute for smoke detectors but rather an alternative option for areas where smoke detectors are not feasible. Smoke detectors are designed to quickly detect smoke from a fire before flames grow and the temperature increases and should therefore always be used in conditioned living spaces.
When selecting an alarm monitoring company, make sure to inquire whether the provider offers both smoke detectors and heat sensors and whether heat sensors can be installed in any attic, garage or crawlspace areas in your home. If low-voltage wiring cannot be easily run to the areas where heat sensors should be installed, check to see if the company has wireless components that can be synced to the alarm panel via radio frequency transmitters.
If you’re planning to complete a renovation project in your home, you may also want to check with your alarm company to see if the monitored smoke detectors can be temporarily replaced with heat sensors in the areas under construction. Monitored heat sensors can provide early notification of any potential fire without producing false alarms from the construction debris.
Michael Thomas is a risk consultant with Chubb Personal Risk Services.
 “Attic Fires in Residential Buildings.” US Fire Administration National Fire Data Center. FEMA, Volume 11, Issue 6, January 2011. Web. 3 Apr 2019
 “Residential Building Garage Fires (2009-2011).” US Fire Administration National Fire Data Center. FEMA, Volume 14, Issue 12, November 2013. Web. 3 Apr 2019. Marty Ahrens, “Home Structure Fires.” National Fire Protection Association. NFPA, December 2018. Web. 2 Apr 2019.
The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.