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How To Check If Your Smoke Detector Is Installed Correctly in Your Home

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Smoke alarm safety for the home

If your smoke detector is not installed correctly in your home, then what's the point? That's a question we should ask ourselves with this reminder to change your smoke detector's battery, check its operation, and ensure it is placed in the correct location for a safer home.


We are all guilty of this: we buy a smoke alarm for our home and then neglect it over what can be years between battery changes. While the threat of your house catching fire can seem remote, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) it's a fact that on average, U.S. fire departments respond to a home fire every 90 seconds, the majority of which were due to a forgotten pot on the stove or some other cooking-related incident.

Another fact is that the death rate per 100 reported home fires is more than twice as high in homes that did not have any working smoke alarms compared to the rate in homes with working smoke alarms.

The primary purpose of having a smoke alarm in the home is to save lives by providing an early warning of a fire, giving you and your family additional escape time before either becoming trapped by the flames or falling unconscious from smoke and toxic fumes. But as it turns out many of us fail to install or maintain already-installed smoke alarms.

According to the NFPA, three out of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (38 percent) or no working smoke alarms (21 percent). In fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate, almost half (46%) of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries. Dead batteries caused one-quarter (24%) of the smoke alarm failures.

To paraphrase one of many versions of the old adage of "For want of a shoe the war was lost," "For want of a battery, the home burns."


To prevent your home from becoming another addition to fire-related statistics, here is a summary from Farmers Insurance on smoke detector safety in the home:

1. Fire Safety Starts with Reading the Manual

--Rather than just slap in a battery and forget about the smoke detector, take the time to read the manual to find out what battery type is recommended, how often to check/change the battery, and how to test the detector properly.

--Have a calendar on the wall or on your smartphone? Put either-or better yet, both-to good use by scheduling in a battery check/replace reminder.

--Smoke alarms do not last forever. Make note of when the manufacturer recommends replacement and put that into your long-range calendar.

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--If it's time to buy a new smoke alarm, Farmers Insurance points out that there are the different styles of smoke alarms in a home to choose from such as:

--Single sensor ionization smoke alarms to warn about flaming fires.
--Single sensor photoelectric alarms that about smoldering fire.
--Dual sensor smoke alarms that contain both of the aforementioned smoke sensors.
--You might also want to consider smoke alarms that are "interconnected" so that when one sounds off in the home, they will all sound off together.

2. Smoke Alarm install in the Home

--Avoid installing where the wall and ceiling meets as these are considered to be "dead-air spaces" and not as effective for smoke detecting.

--Wall-mounted alarms should be installed between 4-12 inches from the ceiling; with pitched or vaulted ceilings install it within 3 feet of the highest point.

--To avoid "nuisance" type false alarms (from cooking vapors and shower steam) install the alarm at least three feet from the doorway to the kitchen or bathroom.

--Again, read your manual on placement because some detectors are more sensitive than others--especially in the kitchen.

For more about keeping you and your family safe, here is an informative article about a carbon monoxide risk most people are not aware of.


NFPS News & Research "Fires in the U.S."

Farmers insurance A HOME FIRE STORY: "The cat was swaddled in a firefighter's jacket getting oxygen"by Anne Roderique Jones.

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