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Tim Corbett director of product management and marketing, Kidde
Mark Devine senior vice president of sales and marketing, BRK Brands Inc.

Manufacturers of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms share important updates on product standards as well as helpful tips for marketing and selling these critical, life-saving devices.

Did You Know?

  • An average of seven people per day die in U.S. home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
  • Some 20,000 to 30,000 Americans suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning every year, with nearly 500 people dying annually from exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
  • While carbon monoxide (CO) is colorless, odorless and tasteless and can’t be detected by humans without the help of a detector, both smoke and CO alarms are critical and mandatory devices that can help avoid dangerous exposure to these toxins and ultimately save lives.

Following, experts from two major manufacturers of smoke and CO detectors share important updates on new standards for these products, current product design trends and sales tips to help IMARK distributors capitalize on their share of this important and growing market.

Standards Updates

“UL 217, 8th Edition” is the current standard that applies to smoke alarms and has undergone some recent modifications. According to Mark Devine, senior vice president of sales and marketing at BRK Brands, “research from fire service professionals has identified that fire dynamics in homes have changed over the last several decades. Specifically, UL says that newer synthetic materials in the home in conjunction with more open layouts and lighter construction materials all create conditions for fires to burn hotter and faster, leading to reduced escape times,” he said.

In response to these changes, shared Tim Corbett, director of product management and marketing at Kidde, the significantly-revised UL standard now incorporates new tests related to cooking nuisance alarms and smoldering and flaming polyurethane. “These requirements are in addition to the standard’s wood and paper tests,” he explained. “The three new tests were added to better represent the smoke profiles and behavior of modern home fires to help ensure that the design of next-generation sensors gives residents more time to evacuate safely.”


With NFPA statistics confirming that the majority of Americans who die annually in residential fires live in homes with either no smoke alarms or non-working smoke alarms (often the result of being disabled by residents who are annoyed by nuisance alarms), Corbett said that products built to the new standard will enhance protection of people and property by minimizing nuisance alarms and providing residents with more time to react.

Corbett further confirmed that all UL-certified smoke alarms are required to meet the new standard by May 29, 2020. “This is a manufacturing requirement, so while all manufacturers can only build alarms which meet the new standard after this date, there’s no limitation regarding the sale of units built prior to May 29, 2020,” he said.

Devine agreed. “All alarms manufactured after May 29, 2020 must comply with the new requirements, but distributors aren’t directly impacted by this requirement and can continue to sell through any and all inventory in their or the manufacturer’s possession,” Devine said.

Codes and ‘Smart’ Capabilities

Devine confirmed that a variety of different legislative requirements at state, city or municipal levels nationwide can dictate the type and style of either the smoke or carbon monoxide alarms to be used. As a result, “it’s always best for distributors to confirm with the local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) or the manufacturer to ensure that they’re selling the appropriate alarm types that comply with legislative requirements,” he said.


For instance, Corbett concurred, “California code requires that all battery-operated smoke or combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarms sold in the state contain a sealed, non-removable/non-replaceable battery which can power the alarm for a period of 10 years. New York state has a similar requirement, though the neighboring state of New Jersey doesn’t have a retail requirement but rather a code which states that a home with only battery-operated alarms must, upon sale or transfer, have alarms with a sealed 10-year battery. Each of these codes is a way to ensure the installation of an alarm with a 10-year battery, but the implementation is different,” he said.

As for new smart features in today’s age of Alexa and Siri, both experts confirmed that product designs are increasingly incorporating a new level of connectivity. “It’s reasonable to expect that some of these capabilities will make their way into smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, but not at the expense of or in place of their life-saving features and mission,” said Corbett, who noted that capabilities like remote notification and wireless interconnection are already present and are logical extensions of the safety features offered by these devices. “I think that as ‘smart’ technologies mature and their reliability can be verified by testing agencies such as UL, they can certainly be leveraged by life safety devices to improve the overall customer experience,” he said.

Devine agreed. “Our BRK Brands product lines include a variety of alarms with varying features, such as alarms that have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as alarms with built-in Amazon Alexa capability,” Devine said.


Top Sales and Marketing Tips

Following, our experts share some of their top tips for IMARK distributors when it comes to marketing and selling smoke alarms and CO detectors:

  • Be Competent About Coverage: According to Corbett, “most people don’t have the recommended coverage, so it’s always wise to return to the NFPA’s recommendations—install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement.” On levels without bedrooms, the NFPA recommends installing alarms in the living room (or den or family room), near the stairway to the upper level or in both locations. CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, as well as in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. “For the best protection, interconnect all smoke and CO alarms throughout the home so that when one interconnected alarm sounds, the entire group sounds,” Corbett added. “And remember to select/sell a smoke or CO alarm that’s been tested and approved by a recognized third party like UL.”
  • Keep an Eye on End-of-Life: Devine advised IMARK members to be on the lookout for product communications discussing important end-of-life details in carbon monoxide and combination smoke and CO alarms. “End-of-life will affect every CO alarm or combination smoke and CO alarm installed seven years ago across the nation and these alarms will need to be replaced,” he said.
  • ‘10 is When’: “Because smoke spreads fast during a fire, working smoke alarms and combination smoke and CO alarms are a key part of a home fire escape plan, providing early warning so that residents can get outside quickly,” Devine said. “As such, replace all smoke alarms when they’re 10 years old.”
  • Identify Your Replacement Market: “Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years, and the new UL code will mandate an ‘end-of-life’ signal that will alert homeowners to the need to replace their current units,” Corbett said. “However, the best way to ensure this replacement currently is to sell units with 10-year sealed batteries, either as their primary source of power in battery-only units or as a back-up power source in hardwired/120V units.” Corbett said that, depending on the manufacturer and the year in which it was purchased, CO alarms must be replaced every five to 10 years. “Carbon monoxide alarms have always been required to feature an end-of-life signal, so one of the more effective ways to reach these markets is to attempt to ‘beat the beep’ in municipalities that have passed legislation requiring either CO alarms or 10-year sealed battery smoke alarms,” he said. “It’s about proactively identifying markets that passed legislation five to 10 years ago whose currently-installed units are about to reach their end of life and taking the initiative to update their units before the end-of-life signal.”
  • Tap Your Resources: Devine noted that trusted manufacturers will help support their distributor customers. For instance, “in addition to product communication flyers, BRK Brands has loaded five product capsules into the IMARK Gateway to Growth program and members are encouraged to visit these capsules, download the information and come to us with any questions,” Devine said.