It’s Time to Test Your Smoke Alarm

March 10, 2017

test your smoke alarmThe skies are about to look a lot brighter when you get home from work—thanks to Daylight Savings Time, which “springs” us ahead on March 12 this year. Before you capitalize on that extra sunlight for an evening stroll or a game of hoops, assemble your family for an even better activity: testing your smoke detector and carbon monoxide (CO) alarm.

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) provides some great resources on smoke alarms. If you don’t have time to review them all, here are a few key points:

WHY TEST YOUR SMOKE ALARM

Consider these USFA statistics:

  • Sixty percent of home fire deaths result from fires in homes without working smoke alarms.
  • Your risk of dying in a home fire is reduced by 50 percent when your home has a working smoke alarm.

Most people feel confident their smoke detector works because it goes off whenever they attempt a fried dish on the stovetop or a super steamy shower. But that’s all the more reason why regular alarm testing is so important, as batteries can get worn out sooner this way.

HOW TO TEST YOUR SMOKE ALARM

Your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detectors should have a test button you can push to check for functionality. Try to do this monthly—especially if the device is giving off random beeps or sounding false alarms. Before testing, have families members distributed throughout the house. Make sure everyone can hear the signal even in bedrooms, with their doors closed.

WHEN TO REPLACE SMOKE ALARM BATTERIES

Unless your smoke alarm is powered by a “life-long” lithium battery, you should replace your alkaline battery at least once a year—ideally twice a year, at Daylight Savings time. Even if the alarm is hard-wired into your home’s electrical system, you should still be replacing the “backup” battery at least once annually. Lithium-powered alarm units should be replaced at the ten-year mark; you cannot swap out the batteries themselves.

WHEN TO REPLACE YOUR SMOKE ALARM

Smoke alarms have a lifespan of about 10 years. Look on the back of your device to find the “date of manufacture” to determine how old yours is. If it’s time to trash the old alarm, do so with caution. Ionization-type smoke detectors (more on this below) contain a small amount of radioactive material, as do combination, dual-sensor detectors. Before throwing yours in the local waste stream, follow these guidelines.

RETHINKING YOUR CHOICE OF SMOKE ALARM

If you’re in the market for a new smoke alarm, you’ll want to understand a bit about smoke types and detection features. During a house fire, smoke can either be thick (e.g. emanating from a smoldering material, like an unattended cigarette) or minimal (with fast-moving flames that burn through paper, wood, etc.). The three basic types of smoke alarm—photoelectric, ionization, and dual sensor—are differently equipped to detect various fire types. Dual sensor alarms are the best option for early alerts on all fire types. If you already have either a photoelectric or ionization alarm that is younger than 10 years old, you may want to supplement with one of the other types.

OTHER SMOKE ALARM TIPS

 You should have at least one smoke alarm installed on each floor of your house. For homes with a lot of square footage, multiple units on the same level may be a good idea. In these cases, look for a series of wireless, connected alarms (when one sounds, they all sound).

If someone is your household is hearing impaired, look into smoke alarm options that include strobe lighting or vibration components.

Familiarize yourself with the most common causes of home fires, and meet with your family to develop strategies that help you avoid them.