Earlier this year, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) announced the 2016 theme for Fire Prevention Week, “Don’t Wait: Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years”. The focus on smoke alarm replacement comes as the result of a recent survey conducted by NFPA, which showed that only a small percentage of people know how old their smoke alarms are or how often they need to be replaced.

Fire Prevention Week will be observed October 9th through the 15th this year and is the continued reminder of the Great Chicago fire of 1871, where hundreds of people were killed and thousands were left homeless. While we still have a couple of weeks before the kickoff of Fire Prevention Week, we wanted to take a minute to not only stress the importance of replacing your smoke alarms, but to also remind you to test your smoke alarms to make sure they are working properly.

There are different types of smoke alarms to choose from. You can find smoke alarm basics here, and learn about where smoke alarms should be located, and how often you should test them.

NFPA has found that three out of five home fire deaths are a result from fires in properties that did not have working smoke alarms.

In addition, the risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in residences with working smoke alarms.

It is so important to test your smoke alarms, as well as check their batteries, as the most common causes of smoke alarm failures typically result from missing, disconnected, or dead batteries. Here’s how you can test your smoke alarm today.

How Do You Test Your Smoke Alarm?

You should refer to your manufacturer’s requirements for testing your smoke alarms, but in general, you can test your smoke alarms using the following steps:

  1. Visually inspect the smoke alarm to make sure it is not damaged and that dust or other substances aren’t blocking the device’s air entry ports, which could possibly prevent the alarm form working.
  2. Press and hold the test button on the smoke alarm. This can take a few seconds, but you should hear a very loud siren while you hold the button down. If you do not hear the alarm, or if the sound of the alarm is too low, replace your batteries. If you replace the batteries, make sure to go ahead and test the alarm again to ensure proper functioning. If your alarm still isn’t working, you should replace the entire unit.
  3. If you can, while holding the test button to make the smoke alarm sound, have a friend or family member walk to different parts of the home to be sure the alarm can be clearly heard in all areas.  Install additional smoke alarms if necessary to provide effective coverage throughout your home.
  4. Finally, check with real smoke by lighting a match and blowing it out directly under the smoke alarm (be sure to dispose of the match properly by placing it in a glass of water to ensure it’s out). The alarm may take a moment to sense the smoke. If it doesn’t react, replace the batteries and test again. If the device still does not react, or it’s a hardwired unit, you may need to replace the unit. Note – if your smoke alarm is out of reach, you can purchase UL-rated aerosol smoke cans at your local hardware store. Following the directions on the package, aim the spray at the detector to test your alarm.

A Note About Smoke Alarm Replacement

As mentioned above, if your smoke alarm is not functioning after you’ve tested it and replaced the batteries, you should replace it. But, did you know that smoke alarms also have an expiration date? According to the U.S. Fire Administration, most smoke alarms have a life span of 10 years or 87,000 hours of service. If your smoke alarm is 10 years old or older, be sure to replace the entire unit as soon as possible. You can write the date of purchase with a marker on the inside of your smoke alarm’s battery compartment to help you remember when you will need to replace your unit.

One Final Note – Never Remove Your Smoke Alarm Battery!

Above all, never remove the battery in your smoke alarm (without immediately replacing it). Resist the urge to remove your smoke alarm battery for use in other items, like your TV remote. And, who hasn’t set off a smoke alarm accidentally while cooking something in the kitchen? Disabling a smoke alarm or removing the battery can be a fatal mistake. If you accidentally set off your smoke alarm, try opening a window, or waiving a towel around the alarm, to help clear the air, but please do not remove the battery because you might forget to put it back in later.

I hope that you found this information helpful. Please, don’t forget to test your smoke alarm, replace the batteries, and replace the alarm itself if it is 10 years old!!