It’s so important to have smoke alarms installed in your home and to make sure they are working properly. According to research by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) conducted between 2007 and 2011, three out of five home fire deaths are a result from fires in properties that did not have working smoke alarms.

NFPA research also found that the risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in residences with working smoke alarms.

We’ve stressed many times right here on our Fire Protection Engineering blog the importance of testing your smoke alarms, as well as checking their batteries, as the most common causes of smoke alarm failures typically result from missing, disconnected, or dead batteries. However, our blogs have never really focused on how to test your smoke alarm. We’ll focus on the how in our next post, but first, let’s review smoke alarm types, where they should be located, and how often they should be tested.

What Kind of Smoke Alarms are Available for Homes?

While there are many different brands of smoke alarms to choose from, they fall mainly under two categories: ionization and photoelectric. Ionization alarms activate quickly in response to flaming, fast moving fires; while photoelectric alarms are quicker at detecting smoldering, smoky fires. Because fires are so unpredictable, manufacturers have also developed smoke alarms that combine both ionization and photoelectric technologies into one unit. These are called dual sensor alarms.

How are Residential Smoke Alarms Powered?

Smoke alarms are either battery operated or hard-wired to your home’s electrical system. But, don’t let the hard-wired alarms fool you. They often have a battery back-up designed to allow the alarm to operate in the event of a power outage. That means, even though the alarm is hard-wired, it’s still important to test its batteries regularly!

Where Should Smoke Alarms Be Installed in Your Home?

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, you should install smoke alarms on every floor of your home, as well as in every bedroom, and in the hallway outside of each sleeping area. You should consider installing smoke alarms in often-forgotten places like basements, attics, utility rooms, and/or garages. Smoke alarms should be placed on the ceiling or high on a wall – you’ll want to check the manufacturer’s instructions for further information regarding the best place to install your smoke alarm. If you choose hardwired smoke alarms, be sure to have them installed by a qualified electrician.

When choosing smoke alarms, consider units that communicate with each other. This way, if one alarm sounds, they all will.

How Often Should You Test Your Smoke Alarm?

Regardless if your smoke alarm is battery operated or hard-wired, NFPA recommends that you test your smoke alarm on a monthly basis. It’s also important to know that battery operated alarms can either utilize 9-volt batteries or long-life lithium batteries. The batteries in 9-volt alarms should be replaced at least once a year, but you should consider changing them every six months. A good rule of thumb is to replace your 9-volt batteries when you set your clocks for the start of Daylight Savings Time and then again when Daylight Savings Time ends. Batteries in hard-wired smoke alarms should be replaced once a year, while long-life lithium batteries (as the name implies) can last up to 10-years. Note – you cannot and should not replace lithium batteries. Instead, replace the entire smoke alarm (according to the manufacturer’s requirements).

I hope that you’ve found this review of smoke alarm basics helpful. Our next post will walk you through the steps to test your smoke alarm.