5 Essential Things to Know About Smoke Detectors

When it comes to reducing the risk of fire in your home, prevention is the first line of defense. It’s also essential to have early warning systems, in case a fire does break out. That means smoke detectors!

Even if your house is already outfitted with smoke alarms, it may be time for an update. Smoke detectors don’t last forever, and there have been substantial improvements.

For the best results, consider these five factors.

1. Shopping for smoke detectors.

Hard-wired, interconnected devices are the best choice. If one detector is triggered in the basement, for example, all the other alarms in your home will simultaneously go off, including the one in your bedroom where you’re sound asleep.

Hard-wired devices are connected to your home’s electric grid for “always-on” functionality. They also have a battery back-up, in case your home power service is interrupted.

When choosing devices:

  • Be sure the detectors are approved by a recognized testing laboratory.
  • If you can’t install hard-wired alarms, consider using wirelessly connected devices, so you’ll still have the benefit of simultaneous alerts.
  • Purchase interconnected devices from the same manufacturer to ensure compatibility.
  • For the best coverage, select dual-sensor units, which include both ionization (heat) alarms and photoelectric (smoke) alarms.
  • For added protection, consider purchasing combination units that also monitor carbon monoxide levels and can alert you to this potential silent killer.

2. How many alarms?

Many communities have zoning ordinances for smoke detectors. As a rule, they should be installed in every bedroom, in the hall outside of bedrooms, and on every floor of the home.

Recommended locations also include:

  • All other hallways in the home, with one at each end of long corridors.
  • Each living space—kitchen, living room, dining room, den, home office, etc.
  • In stairwells
  • Utility and storage rooms

3. Where to place smoke detectors.

For smoke detectors to work effectively, it’s essential to position them in the best locations. For example:  

  • Position wall-mounted alarms so the top edge of the unit is less than 12 inches from the ceiling.
  • For peaked ceilings, position the unit at least four inches and not more than three feet below the peak.
  • Basement smoke alarms should be mounted on the ceiling at the foot of the stairs leading up to the next level of your home.
  • In the kitchen, you can minimize false alarms while cooking if your smoke alarm is at least 10 feet from your cooking appliances.
  • Do not install smoke detectors near HVAC ducts, doors, or windows, where drafts may interfere with their proper operation.

4. Care and maintenance.

Well-maintained devices will help to keep your family safe. It’s best to test your detectors once a month. As a reminder, set a “first day of the month” schedule on your calendar.

Replace your batteries twice a year, ideally at the same time you change your clocks, in the spring and the fall, for daylight savings time. If you don’t live in an area that observes daylight savings time, set a calendar alert on January 1 and July 1 of each year.

The U.S. Fire Administration recommends replacing your smoke detectors every ten years.

Also, never paint or decorate your smoke alarms, since this may interfere with the operation of the device.

5. Exit plans.

If a fire alarm goes off, every member of your family should know exactly how to get out of the house. These tips from the National Fire Protection Association can help you draw up a plan for your home. 

Practice your own “fire drills,” so even sleepy and young family members can get outside safely.

Teach fire safety, so everyone knows how to check for fire before opening doors and alternative paths for exiting the house in case of fire.

Early warning and preparation will help keep your family safe, so put a plan in place and practice it! 

Fire Prevention Week

National Fire Prevention Week is the longest-running U.S. public health observance, starting in 1922. The observance commemorates the Great Chicago Fire, which began on October 8, 1871.

The damage from this fire was devastating. More than 250 people were killed, 17,400 structures were destroyed, over 2,000 acres were burned, and 100,000 people were left homeless.

In 2019, National Fire Prevention Week runs from October 6-12. Fire departments across the country host events to help raise awareness, preparation, and prevention throughout October.