Smoke Alarms

Why are smoke alarms so important?


When was the last time you tested the smoke alarms in your home? Was it last week? Last month? A year ago? If you’re like many people, you may not even remember. Smoke alarms have become such a common feature of U.S. households that they’re often taken for granted, and aren’t tested and maintained as they should.

However, working smoke alarms are a critical fire safety tool that can mean the difference between life and death in a home fire. According to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), smoke alarms can cut the chance of dying in a home fire in half. Meanwhile, NFPA data shows that home fires killed more than 2,300 people in 2012; many of these deaths could have been prevented with the proper smoke alarm protection.

Quick Tips:

  • Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement. 
  • Interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
  • Test alarms each month by pushing the test button.
  • Replace all smoke alarms, including alarms that use 10-year batteries and hard-wired alarms, when they are 10 year old or sooner if they do not respond properly.
  • Make sure everyone in the home knows the sound and understands what to do when they hear the smoke alarm.

Smoke Alarm Installation Tips


Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement, making sure that there is an alarm outside every separate sleeping area. Hard-wired smoke alarms operate on your household electrical current. They can be interconnected so that every alarm sounds regardless of the fire's location. This is an advantage in early warning, because it gives occupants extra time to escape if they are in one part of the home and a fire breaks out in another part. Alarms that are hard-wired should have battery backups in case of a power outage, and should be installed by a qualified electrician. When interconnected smoke alarms are installed, it is important that all of the alarms are from the same manufacturer. If the alarms are not compatible, they may not sound. On levels without bedrooms, install alarms in the living room (or den or family room) or near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations. Smoke alarms installed in the basement should be installed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level. Smoke alarms should be installed at least 10 feet (3 meters) from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking.

If you sleep with bedroom doors closed, have a qualified electrician install interconnected smoke alarms in each room so that when one alarm sounds, they all sound. If you or someone in your home is deaf or hard of hearing, consider installing an alarm that combines flashing lights, vibration and/or sound.

Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings (remember, smoke rises). Ceiling mounted alarms should be installed at least four inches away from the nearest wall; wall-mounted alarms should be installed four to 12 inches away from the ceiling. If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm within 3 feet of the peak but not within the apex of the peak (four inches down from the peak).

Don't install smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation. Choose smoke alarms that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Never paint smoke alarms. Paint, stickers, or other decorations could keep the alarms from working.

There are two types of smoke alarms – ionization and photoelectric. An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires, and a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, both types of alarms or combination ionization-photoelectric alarms, also known as dual sensor smoke alarms, are recommended.

Keep manufacturer’s instructions for reference.

Replacing your smoke alarms
Replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old. To determine the age of your smoke alarm, look at the back where you will find the date of manufacture. Smoke alarms should be replaced 10 years from the date of manufacture. Immediately replace any smoke alarm that does not respond properly when tested. Replace combination smoke-carbon monoxide alarms according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Making Sure your Home has the Right Number of Smoke Alarms


It’s important to have enough smoke alarms in your home. Fire research has demonstrated that w
ith today’s modern furnishings, fires can spread much more rapidly than in the pastwhen more natural materials were used. Because of this, having asufficient number of properly located smoke alarms is essential to maximize the amount of available escape time. For many years National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, has required as a minimum that smoke alarms be installed inside every sleep room (even for existing homes) in addition to requiring them outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. (Additional smoke alarms are required for larger homes.) Homes built to earlier standards often don’t meet these minimum requirements. Homeowners and enforcement authorities should recognize that detection needs have changed over the years and take proactive steps make sure that every home has a sufficient complement of smoke alarms.

Testing smoke alarms
Smoke alarms should be maintained according to manufacturer’s instructions. Test smoke alarms at least once a month using the test button. Make sure everyone in the home understands the sound of the smoke alarm and knows how to respond. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning to keep smoke alarms working well. The instructions are included in the package or can be found on the internet. 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. Smoke alarms with any other type of battery need a new battery at least once a year. If that alarm chirps, warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away. When replacing a battery, follow manufacturer’s list of batteries on the back of the alarm or manufacturer’s instructions. Manufacturer’s instructions are specific to the batteries (brand and model) that must be used. The smoke alarm may not work properly if a different kind of battery is used. 

Installing your smoke alarms correctly - and making sure they are in working order - is an important step to making your home and family safer from fire.

September 2014 Smoke alarm placement

It’s important to have enough smoke alarms in your home. Fire research has demonstrated that with today’s modern furnishings, fires can spread much more rapidly than in the past when more natural materials were used. Because of this, having a sufficient number of properly located smoke alarms is essential to maximize the amount of available escape time. For many years National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, has required as a minimum that smoke alarms be installed inside every sleep room (even for existing homes) in addition to requiring them outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. (Additional smoke alarms are required for larger homes.) Homes built to earlier standards often don’t meet these minimum requirements. Homeowners and enforcement authorities should recognize that detection needs have changed over the years and take proactive steps make sure that every home has a sufficient complement of smoke alarms.