Smoke Alarm Safety Guidelines

Over 90 percent of U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm, according to the United States Fire Administration (USFA). Here are some tips from their site.

Test your alarm and check or replace your batteries today, along with reading the following ‘starter list.’

  1. Make sure you have smoke alarms and fire extinguishers for each floor of your home. Check with your fire department or building code official if there are code requirements for additional alarms.
  2. Many hardware, home supply or general merchandise stores carry smoke alarms.
  3. Make sure the alarm you buy is UL-listed. The Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (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.
  4. There are two different types of smoke detectors available:
    • Ionization smoke detectors typically are better at detecting fast flaming fires, which consume combustible materials rapidly and spread quickly. Examples of fast flaming fires include paper burning in a wastebasket, or a grease fire in the kitchen.
    • Photoelectric smoke detectors generally are more effective on slow smoldering fires. These are fires that smolder for hours before bursting into flames, such as when a lighted cigarette is dropped onto a couch or bedding.
    • Some detectors have a dual sensor, which can detect both ionization (fast flames) and photoelectric (smoldering) fires.
  5. Consider purchasing ‘wireless’ or ‘interconnected’ alarm systems. This means when one alarm goes off, it will trigger the other alarms.
  6. Follow instructions for proper use and installation.
    • Generally speaking, the smoke alarms should be near bedrooms, either on the ceiling or six to twelve inches below the ceiling on the wall.
    • If on the ceiling, the smoke detector should be mounted away from corners and walls (at least 8-10 inches away).
    • In a room with a pitched ceiling, a smoke detector should be mounted at or near the ceiling’s highest point.
    • Locate smoke alarms away from air vents.
  7. Smoke alarms should be replaced every eight to ten years.
    • Consider writing the purchase date on your alarm with a permanent marker. That way, you'll know when to replace it.
  8. Smoke detectors should not be painted.
  9. Every month:
    • Test! Press the “test” button for a few seconds – this will activate the alarm.
    • WHN TIP: Recognize Your Smoke Alarm

      Make sure each family member knows and can recognize the sound of your smoke alarm.

    • Clean! Smoke alarms are particle-sensitive and dust, lint or cobwebs can limit its ability to detect smoke. Keep smoke alarms clean by vacuuming the surface and around the alarm with a vacuum attachment.
  10. Replace the batteries twice a year, or earlier if necessary.
  11. WHN TIP: Change Those Batteries

    Change batteries when you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time.

  12. Never disconnect a good smoke detector battery if it alarms due to cooking or to use the battery for other purposes. You may not remember to put the batteries back in after cooking.
  13. 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.
  14. Periodically, test the smoke alarm when your children are sleeping: reports show that children often sleep too soundly to hear the alarm.

    WHN TIP: Voice Warning Alarms

    If you have children or elderly adults in your home, they may sleep through the alarm. Consider alternative devices such as voice warning systems or low frequency alarms. Use these together with regular smoke detectors.

    Updated: 5/2009