For nearly as long as I’ve been living on my own, I have had a fire extinguisher sitting there in my kitchen, just in case. Thankfully I have never needed to use it. A few weeks ago realized I’d had that extinguisher for quite a long time and wondered if it was still good. So for the first time I actually read the label, and in bold type it said “This unit must be removed from service 12 years after the date of manufacture stamped on the bottom of the cylinder per [some national fire code].” That date was 2003, so it was way beyond 12 years specified in that warning. That warning seemed pretty unambiguous, so I bought a new fire extinguisher.
I looked at the label on the new extinguisher, and the new one does not include the same warning. Nor do I see any sort of expiration date on it that I can see. But I can’t imagine the shelf life of the new one is truly indefinite. Should I plan on replacing this new one when 2033 rolls around? Or does the chemical in new fire extinguishers last longer than it did when my old one was made? The old and new one are both the dry chemical type. The new one appears to be rechargeable, since it has instructions for recharging on the label. The old one appears to be just single use, from what I can tell.
If you got one of those cheap all plastic ones, I’d probably replace it every few years. If there truly isn’t a date on it anywhere (sometimes they’re hard to see stamped into the plastic), maybe just write today’s date on it with a sharpie. Also, the manufacturers website likely has a FAQ that’ll give you an idea as to how long to keep it around.
If it’s a metal one with a removable top, you could bring it to a fire extinguisher place every few years to have it checked.
Just looking at my bills, we pay like $6 for an annual inspection and $12ish for an ‘internal inspection’ (every 6 years). I believe even for the annual inspection, they get opened up and checked and the internal inspection is a hydrostatic test.
It is a metal cylinder with a metal nozzle. There is what looks like a lot number or something printed on the bottom, but nothing that looks like a date.
The “maintenance” section on the label just says “Install, maintain, and test in accordance with the standard for portable fire extinguishers, NFPA no. 10”. I wonder if they just expect me to refer to that.
The actual instruction pamphlet has some stuff about inspecting for signs of damage, corrosion, obstructed nozzle, etc once a month, and that it should be serviced by a certified fire equipment dealer once a year, but nothing about an expiration date.
I think this is what you’re looking for:
“Fire extinguishers need to have an external maintenance examination conducted on a yearly basis”
This is different than a daily or monthly “inspection” which is little more than making sure it’s actually still there, at least appears to be in working condition and there isn’t a bunch of stuff in front of it preventing people from accessing it (what you mentioned in the last paragraph).
(Also, I didn’t mean to put “inspection” in quotes like I was being sarcastic. I was just pointing out the difference between “Inspection” and “maintenance”. Beyond that there’s also “hydrostatic testing”. Codes very rarely use interchangeable words.)
ETA, also, yes, they’d want to you to refer to that, just like a lot of electrical things say that they need to be installed in accordance with all state and local codes. Codes change and this way they don’t have to worry about out dated instructions. Also, your state/local codes can even trump the federal codes.
Well, sort of, although nothing in there says the fire extinguisher absolutely has to be replaced after X years, which is really what I was looking for. But I assume if I take it to someone for inspection a year from now, they would know that.
I mean, if you wanted to get really technical about it, and on the assumption that those codes apply to single family dwellings, you’d have to replace it every year if you don’t want to bring it in to be inspected.
I suppose the best place to get a good answer would be either your insurance agent (in writing/email) or call your local fire department. Someone at the fire department is likely your local AHJ and has the final say in all things regarding fire code. It’s up to them to interpret it. Depending on how busy (and how nice) your FD is, you can probably give them a call and get your questions answered or just bring one/them in and ask about it.
And, as I’m thinking about it, if it’s all metal and able to be taken apart and serviced, as long as it continues to pass it’s tests, I don’t know that it actually has to be replaced. But the vast majority of homeowners aren’t going to do that.
The sort of extinguisher you describe as your new one can sit there for decades before it rusts through and bursts. Unless you leave it sitting in a puddle or something.
And it will work when needed PROVIDED you take it to a fire extinguisher repairman once a year where they will drain the pressure, maybe replace the powder, and re-pressurize it. That process means that it’s functionally never more than one year old.
The kind that cannot be serviced are different. Like your old one. For those the manufacturer makes a guess on how long the pressure will hold up before it all leaks out. After that time you’ve just got a red-painted fire club.
Your old one guessed that’d be 12 years. It was probably dead long before then.
Look up “fire extinguisher service” in your nearest non-small town and you can talk to a pro who can explain all this per your state and local fire codes which may or may not exactly match the NFPA.
Ah, that’s the answer I was looking for. So the new one really should last indefinitely, as long as I get it serviced once a year like they instruct me to. The old one, being the kind that can’t be serviced, needed to be replaced after 12 years. Although the gauge on the old one is still in the green range, which would seem to indicate it is still pressurized. Maybe they were very conservative in their estimate.
Don’t forget the apocryphal story of the inspector that would reply to that question/comment by pulling an old extinguisher gauge out his pocket that was stuck on green.
Also, I’ve heard directly from fire fighters (buy seen debunked by “the internet”) that if you’re going to keep an extinguisher around for any length of time without getting it serviced, you should at least pull it off the wall once or twice a year and shake it up to make sure all the powder isn’t caked up in the bottom.
If you go back a while, we used to use soda/acid extinguishers, which you drained, and replaced the soda and acid every year, because that was much easier than draining and doing a laboratory test on the soda and on the acid every year. When we moved away from soda / acid, the conservative thing to do was to just continue monthly ‘inspection’ and annual ‘maintenance’.
Also, the world doesn’t have a strong independent bi-annual or triennial calendar that you can synchronize with stuff like fire-safety inspections.
I worked for a fire and safety company until I retired six months ago. I did not work for the extinguisher service dept, but One absorbs this stuff by osmosis.
The following are the required service and maintenance checks for a dry chemical fire extinguisher.
A fire extinguisher needs to be inspected annually. This is, in most jurisdictions, and external inspection where the gauge pressure is noted, the cylinder is inspected for external damage, the mechanical aspects of the handles are checked and the extinguisher is weighed. The full weight of the extinguisher is noted on the label. The extinguisher is then tagged with the type and date punched. Tags typically have a space for new, serviced and recharged.
At six years from the new date the extinguisher needs to be emptied. At that time the interior of the cylinder is tested. The valve is rebuilt and new “O” rings are installed. In my jurisdiction, the siphon tube connected to the valve also needs to be marked with the date, which serves as proof that the extinguisher has actually been emptied for the internal inspection. The extinguisher is then recharged. There is a sticker placed on the outside of the cylinder that is punched for the year and month of the internal inspection. The extinguisher is tagged with the weight marked with type and month punched. This is called a “Six Year Maintenance” in the trade.
Twelve years from the new date on the label the cylinder needs to be emptied. It is then filled with water and a dummy head is screwed on. The extinguisher is then pressurized to 5/3rds of its gauge pressure. after 10 minutes, the pressure is released and the extinguisher is recharged as above. There is a sticker for this that is placed on the outside punched for the month and year this service was done. This is called a “Hydro Static Test”. This is required by both the fire code and the Department of Transportation.
This restarts the clock with annual inspections and a six year maintenance and then another Hydo Static test.
Co2 and water pressure fire extinguishers require a hydro static test every five years.
Note: There are other State jurisdictions where the requirements are different. I think California requires an annual recharge for Dry Chems but I am not sure of that.
Here in CA, extinguishers are to be visually inspected monthly to confirm they still exist and the gage is in the green. Annually, they are to be depressurized and opened to examine the internal components then repressurized. At the six year check, dry chemical extinguishers are depressurized, examined, emptied, and refilled.
Instead of stickers, we use neck rings that can only be put on if the extinguisher has been opened, probably to prevent what was disparagingly called “Rag and Tag” inspections where the extinguisher would be wiped off and a new tag hung on it.
Those are the basic requirements for businesses but they’re optional for home extinguishers.
Since the OP has already replaced the old extinguisher, why not start a small fire outside (safely, like in a bucket) and use the old extinguisher on it? I assume you are tossing it away anyway, so may as well get some empirical data out of it for curiousity sake.
Actually not the worst idea if you have never or not recently used an extinguisher to put out a real fire. At work we train with obsoleted extinguishers during our annual training. Not the same when they went with the electronic indoor testing rig but it didn’t coat the full parking lots with powder.