How Smoke Alarms Can Save Lives
By the time flames are roaring through a house, it may be too late to stop the fire. Even worse, it may be too late to safely get your family out of your burning home. Fires can start and spread quickly, often while you’re asleep. So to protect yourself and your family from fires, install a smoke alarm in every crucial area of your home.
Buying a Smoke Alarm
A smoke alarm, also called a smoke detector, can sense a fire early on and warn a family of impending danger before tragedy strikes.
Smoke alarms are sold at hardware and home improvement stores, and even some supermarkets. You might even be able to get a free smoke alarm from your local fire department.
You can buy a smoke alarm that runs only on battery power or one that is wired into the electrical system of your house and runs on electricity with a battery backup. Above all, each smoke alarm you buy must carry the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) label on it.
There are three types of smoke alarms on the market:
- Ionization smoke alarm. This alarm detects big, open flames.
- Photoelectric smoke alarm. This alarm detects a smoky fire that’s smoldering, before any big flames get started.
- Dual sensor smoke alarm. This is a combination smoke alarm that detects both types of fires.
You should have both an ionization and a photoelectric smoke alarm, or a dual sensor smoke alarm. And, remember, you will need smoke alarms at multiple sites throughout your home.
Installing a Smoke Alarm
A smoke alarm tucked in a far corner of your home might not detect smoke from the opposite end of the house until it’s too late. So it’s important to install a smoke alarm on each floor of your home — don’t forget your basement — and at strategic areas on each level if you have a lot of square footage. Install a smoke detector near sleeping areas, even inside the bedroom of any household member who is difficult to arouse from sleep, and put another one in your kitchen. Install them high up on walls, near the ceiling, since smoke will rise quickly.
Don’t install your fire alarm:
- Near a window
- Just above the stove where steam is likely to set it off
- Near a fireplace
- On the ceiling right next to a wall
- On the wall right next to the ceiling
- Above doors or heating and cooling ducts
You will need an electrician to install a hard-wired smoke detector that runs on electricity, but installing a battery-powered smoke alarm is pretty simple. Most battery-operated smoke alarms can be attached to the wall using a regular screwdriver. Some even come with an adhesive pad that affixes the smoke alarm to the wall for you.
Maintaining a Smoke Alarm
Once your smoke alarms are properly installed, you need to test them regularly to make sure they’re working. Here are some tips to test and maintain each smoke alarm:
- Each month, test your smoke alarms by pushing the test button — make sure you hear the alarm sound; always test the batteries in your wired smoke alarms, too, to know that they’re working as a backup.
- Replace the batteries in your smoke alarm if it makes a light beeping noise — this signals that the batteries are running out.
- Keep smoke alarms clean and free of dust, dirt, and debris with regular dusting or a light vacuum with the hose attachment. This will allow air to circulate in the device, providing you with better results, earlier detection, and superior fire safety.
- Replace the smoke alarm unit every 8 to 10 years.
- If your smoke alarm goes off while cooking dinner, fan smoke away from the device; don’t disable it.
You’ll need to change the batteries in your smoke alarm at least once each year. Pick a time that’s easy for you to remember and stick to it. Many people like to change the batteries in their smoke alarms when daylight savings ends each fall. You could also choose a holiday or a birthday.