Having properly placed and functioning smoke detectors is without a doubt one of the most important safety measures you can take to protect your home and family in the event of a fire. However, it is very common for homeowners and renters to overlook the importance of maintaining their home’s smoke detectors and ensuring they are in proper working order. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), when smoke detectors fail to properly alert homeowners to a fire, dead batteries were the cause in 1 out of 4 fires. By simply understanding how your home’s smoke detectors work, knowing where to place them, and properly maintaining them, you can significantly improve the safety of your home and your family.
While most smoke detectors look the same, different models may vary in the features they provide. For example, one extremely important feature that can vary between models is how your smoke detector is powered. Some smoke detectors require a battery in order to properly function, while others are wired into your home’s electrical system and use a battery as backup. Of course, it is important to know how your smoke detectors are powered so you can ensure they are all actually receiving power to them. You also should make sure all the smoke detectors in your home are connected through wiring or a wireless connection so that when one alarm goes off, the other ones do as well. Some smoke detectors also have carbon monoxide detectors built into them as well. If your home’s smoke detector can not detect this deadly gas, get separate carbon monoxide detectors for your home too.
So now that you understand all the features of your smoke detectors, where in your home should smoke detectors be placed? NFPA recommendations say you should have a smoke detector placed in each bedroom, outside of every sleeping area, and on each level of your home. Every smoke detector should be placed high on the wall, with 12 inches between the alarm and the ceiling. You also want to make sure your smoke detectors are placed far enough away from appliances such as the stove and oven (about 10 feet away) and at least 3 feet away from bathrooms, as these areas can accidentally set the alarms off.
As with any appliance, proper maintenance and care of your smoke detectors is essential to ensuring they are functioning well and will continue to function as long as possible. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends you stay on top of any potential problems with your smoke detectors by testing them once a month. To test your smoke detector, all you need to do is press the button that says “test” and make sure the alarm goes off when the button is pressed. If your smoke detector is battery operated, it will probably make a consistent chirping sound if the battery power is running low. When this happens, you should replace the batteries immediately, but you should also try to prevent this from happening by following a routine replacement schedule at least once a year unless your smoke detector is specifically equipped with nonreplaceable batteries.
Even the best smoke detectors will not last forever. Most smoke detectors need to be replaced about every 10 years, and if your smoke detector has a carbon monoxide detector including in it, you will need to replace it sooner as the carbon monoxide detectors often only last between 5 and 7 years. As long as you are keeping up with your routine maintenance and testing the effectiveness of your smoke detectors, you should have no problem recognizing when the time has come for it to be replaced.