Smoke Alarm, Sewer, and Termites

Dear Maintenance Men:

My tenants are complaining of too many false alarms from their smoke alarms. This often happens when they are cooking or there is a lot of steam present from a humid bathroom. How far away should a smoke alarm be from both a kitchen and bathroom?


Dear Lisa:

The general censuses is that a smoke detector should be place about 20 feet from the kitchen and stove area and about 10 feet from a bathroom door that contains a shower or bath.

However, all this might change soon. There is a new generation of smoke alarms on the horizon that will detect smoke signatures and determine a cooking or steam event from a fire event or smoldering synthetic material fire. The UL Laboratories are currently testing this new generation smoke detector and have rules in place that after 2020, they will only list and recommend the new “Smart” smoke detectors. Hopefully that will be the end of standing on a chair and fan ning your smoke detector to stop it from screaming.

Keep in mind, regardless of type of the detectors, they should be placed inside the bedrooms, in the hallway and in the living room – both up and downstairs including a basement if you have one. Keep wall mounted smoke detectors about 12 inches below the ceiling. If you have pitched ceilings, keep the detectors within three feet of the peak, but not in the peak.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I have a main sewer line that is causing me a lot of trouble. The plumber is suggesting I have the pipe replaced using a “trenchless” pipe replacement method. Is this a good idea? Will it work? It’s not cheap either!


Dear Ben:

It really depends on the pipe and where it is on the property. Keep in mind replacing a sewer line using the traditional method of digging it up and trenching is not easy and may cause major disruption to your property’s landscape. Not to mention if the pipe goes under driveways, walkways and other obstacles, it makes the job even more difficult.

Trenchless pipe replacement is now a tried and true method of pipe replacement. It typically involves a thorough cleaning of your existing pipe making sure there are no roots, breaks or disruptions along the pipe. The trenchless system involves the use of a flexible liner coated with resin that is blown or pulled into the damaged pipe and inflated. The resin then hardens, creating a pipe within a pipe that is jointless and corrosion resistant. From a cost point of view, trenching, the more traditional way of replacing the sewer pipe may be less expensive. However from a headache point of view, the slightly higher cost of using the trenchless pipe replacement method is well worth the extra expense of not tearing up the landscaping.

Dear Maintenance Men:

My property has dry wood termites. Do you recommend doing a spot treatment or fumigation tenting?


Dear Mike:

There are good arguments for both methods, depending on the extent of the infestation. If the termites are isolated to one or two areas of the structure with a high degree of certainty they have not spread, spot treatment is a great option. If the termites are found in many areas of the property, they may be in hidden areas where spot treatment is not effective. In that case tent fumigation will be the only way to ensure the termites are eradicated. If you are in a real estate transaction, we would almost always go with fumigation, just for peace of mind.


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If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., at 714-956-8371. Frank Alvarez is a licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer and educational instructor for the Apartment Association. Frank can also be reached at For more info please go to: Jerry L’Ecuyer is a real estate broker and has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.