Smoke detectors (smoke alarms) are one of the most important safety devices in your home. If your home has well-maintained smoke detectors, the chances of your family surviving a house fire are greatly increased. From 2003 to 2006, 66% of fatalities due to house fires occurred in homes without working detectors (National Fire Protection Association).
Most homes have smoke detectors, but many times they are not located properly or are not working due to lack of maintenance. Of course, a smoke detector in the wrong location or one that no longer works because it has a dead battery provides no protection for your family.
Your family will have maximum protection if:
- Your detectors are properly located.
- You replace batteries regularly (see below for schedule).
- You replace the entire detector every 8-10 years (or in the case of long-life lithium batteries, in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions).
- For any member of your family who is hearing-impaired, your home needs special detectors which shine lights or vibrate.
Can I install them myself?
You can purchase battery-operated smoke detectors from a hardware store and install them yourself. (If you decide to install your own smoke detectors, check your local building code for placing them.) For detectors that are wired into your electrical system, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends that detectors be installed by a qualified electrician.
Are they expensive?
Depending on the type of detector you decide on, they can run from $10-$40 each, not including installation costs.
How should they be maintained?
Most detectors start “chirping” when batteries have run down. In addition, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends testing them monthly. They recommend:
- Regular 9-volt batteries should be replaced at least annually.
- 10-year lithium (“long-life”) batteries are non-replaceable. Instead, when the battery dies, the entire detector should be replaced.
- Hard-wired detectors, meaning they’re wired into your electrical system, should have back-up batteries. Replace the back-up batteries annually.
- Replace regular battery-powered detectors and hard-wired detectors every 8-10 years. If you have a 10-year lithium battery, replace in accordance with manufacture instructions.
Are your detectors properly positioned?
The guidelines given here can help you determine if existing smoke detectors are properly positioned. If you are going to install battery-operated ones yourself, follow the placement requirements of your local building code. In general, it’s recommended that you have a smoke detector:
· At each level of your home
· In each bedroom
· Within 10-15 feet of the door to each bedroom
Within these general guidelines, detectors should be placed where smoke can be readily detected — high up on walls or on the ceiling (smoke rises) and at a distance from windows, fans, and vents that might blow smoke away from the detector.
If the smoke detector is wired into your electrical system, it should not be on a circuit that can be turned off with a wall switch.
If a smoke detector is placed too close to a kitchen stove or shower, it can be triggered unnecessarily by steam or normal cooking smoke. Better to move it to a different location that also meets general safety guidelines and your local building code.
If you are uncertain about placement or need help with installation or battery replacement, call a qualified electrician who is familiar with your local building code requirements for smoke detectors.