Smoke Alarms

Do you know the sound of your smoke alarm?

Do you know what your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm sound like? What is the difference? What should you do if either of them activate? Find out here Video
  • Three out of five home fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms
  • More than one­third (37 percent) of home fire deaths result from fires in which no smoke alarms are present.
  • The risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms.

Source: National Fire Protection Association

What types of smoke alarms can I buy?

There are many brands of smoke alarms on the market. Luckily, the differences between them depend on a few key distinctions.

Ionization or Photoelectric
Ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms detect different types of fires, (smoldering, smoky fires or flaming, low­smoke fires.) Since no one can predict what type of fire might start in their home, the USFA recommends that both types be used in homes, especially near sleeping quarters. Dual sensor models exist also. These can sense both types of fires.

Batteries or Hardwired

Some smoke alarms run off of a nine­volt battery or a ten year lithium battery.
  • Nine­volt alarms get their power from a battery. This battery must be changed regularly. Also, many hardwired alarms have a 9volt battery backup, so the alarm works even if the power goes out.
  • Ten ­year alarms have a long life battery permanently embedded in them. This batter can NOT be removed without destroying the alarm. After ten years, these alarms must be replaced entirely.

Other alarms are hardwired meaning they draw power from the house’s electrical system. These alarm systems often are interconnected, meaning all alarms will go off in an emergency. Many have batteries in them as a backup.

In addition to these differences, there are also specialty alarms for people with hearing loss. These alarms may have strobe lights that flash and/or vibrate to alert those who are unable to hear standard smoke alarms when they sound.

Are smoke alarms expensive?

Smoke alarms are not expensive and are worth the lives they can help save.
Alarm type and cost
  • Ionization and photoelectric: $6 and up
  • Dual sensor: $24 and up
  • Smoke alarms with a microprocessor (faster to alert, fewer false alarms): $30 and up
  • Radio frequency/wireless (communicate from one to the next without wires: $40 and up)

To put that in perspective, the average damage caused by a fire in the PFA’s district is over $10,000!

Where do I put smoke alarms in my home?

  • Put smoke alarms on every floor of your home. Also, in every bedroom and in the hallway outside of each sleeping area.
  • Choose smoke alarms that communicate with each other, so that if one alarm sounds they all will.
  • Place smoke alarms on the ceiling or high on the wall. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for the best place for your alarm.
  • Only qualified electricians should install hardwired smoke alarms.

How do I take care of my smoke alarm?

Is your smoke alarm still working? A smoke alarm with a dead or missing battery is the same as having no smoke alarm at all. A smoke alarm only works when it is properly installed and regularly tested. Take care of your smoke alarms according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Below are some general maintenance tips.

All Alarms:
  • Replace the whole alarm after ten years.
  • Test the alarm every month.
  • Dust or lightly vacuum your alarm every few months, to ensure they are free to dust.
Nine Volt battery and hardwired alarms:
  • Replace the batteries every six months (many people use daylight savings time as a reminder.)

What do I do if my smoke alarm sounds while I’m cooking or showering?

Never take the battery out of your smoke alarm ! If a smoke alarm sounds while you’re cooking or taking a shower with lots of steam, you should:
  • Open a window or door to vent the smoke or steam.
  • Many alarms have a “hush” or “silence” button.
  • Wave a towel at the alarm to clear the air.
  • For a long term solution, move the entire alarm several feet away from the kitchen or bathroom.

Disabling a smoke alarm or removing the battery can be a deadly mistake.

Why does my smoke alarm keep going off in the middle of the night?

This often happens in alarms that are nearing their ten year expiration. As the sensors become less effective, the alarm can go off falsely. This means it’s time to replace your alarms! (Sidenote: it happens late at night because the change in temperature trips the bad sensor.)