3 Fast Tips About Smoke Alarms

by Susan Evans

Think you don’t need a smoke alarm? Think again!

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA):

  • Three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (38%) or no working smoke alarms (21%).
  • The death rate per 100 reported home fires was more than twice as high in homes that did not have any working smoke alarms compared to the rate in homes with working smoke alarms (1.18 deaths vs. 0.53 deaths per 100 fires).
  • In fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate, almost half (46%) of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries.
  • Dead batteries caused one-quarter (24%) of the smoke alarm failures.

Be safe and be smart and follow these smoke alarm guidelines from the NFPA.

WHN TIP – Check for Codes: Check with your fire department or building code official if there are code requirements for additional alarms.

What Type to Buy

  • Choose smoke alarms with the label of a recognized testing laboratory, such as the Underwriters Laboratories Inc (UL). UL is an independent, not-for-profit, product-safety testing and certification organization and has tested products for public safety for more than a century.
  • The two most common types of smoke alarms are ionization smoke alarms (more responsive to flaming fires) and photoelectric smoke alarms (more responsive to smoldering fires). The NFPA recommends having both types of alarms that combine both technologies.
  • Consider purchasing ‘wireless’ or ‘interconnected’ alarm systems: when one alarm goes off, it triggers the other alarms.
  • Voice warning systems or low-frequency alarms are a good choice for homes with children or elderly adults in your home who may sleep through a regular alarm. Use them together with regular smoke detectors.

WHN TIP – Buy Smart: Purchase your smoke alarm from a reputable retailer, not at a garage sale or flea market, for example. Smoke alarms can become outdated or subject to recalls.

Where to Install Them

WHN TIP – Painting. Changing your room’s paint color? Skip the detector! Smoke detectors should NOT be painted.

  • Levels with bedrooms: inside each bedroom and outside each sleeping area
  • Levels without bedrooms: in the living room (or den or family room) or near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations
  • Basement: on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level
  • Kitchen: at least 10 feet (3 meters) from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking
  • Wall-mounted: not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling (to the top of the alarm)
  • Pitched-ceiling mounted: within 3 feet of the peak but not within the apex of the peak (four inches down from the peak)

WHN TIP – Smoke Rises: Smoke alarms need to be high on walls or ceilings because smoke rises.  Also, place them away from air vents.

How to Test/Maintain Them

  • Every month, press the “test” button for a few seconds – this will activate the alarm.
  • Smoke alarms are particle-sensitive, and dust, lint or cobwebs can limit its ability to detect smoke. Keep smoke alarms clean by cleaning the surface and around the alarm with a vacuum attachment.
  • Replace the batteries twice a year, or earlier if necessary, such as spring and fall or along with the Daylight Saving Time change. (Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for the type of battery.)
  • Smoke alarms with non-replaceable 10-year batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm right away.

WHN TIP – Replace On Schedule: Smoke alarms should be replaced every eight to ten years. Write the purchase date on your alarm with a permanent marker so you’ll know when to replace it.

Fire Safety Tips

  • Burgers cooking set off the alarm? Don’t disconnect it! You may not remember to reconnect it again.
  • Conduct home fire drills monthly to test the condition of your equipment and ensure your family knows what to do in the event of a fire.
  • Periodically, test the smoke alarm when your children are sleeping: reports show that children often sleep too soundly to hear the alarm.
  • Make sure each family member knows and can recognize the sound of your smoke alarm.

WHN TIP – Fire Extinguishers: Have a fire extinguisher on each floor of your home and know how to use it.

Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures

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