Smoke Alarms: First Defense Against Fire

The easiest and most effective thing you can do to prevent a fire tragedy in your home is to install and maintain smoke alarms.  Invest a few dollars in plenty of alarms and a few minutes each month in testing them.

All About Alarms

  • Ionization alarms are activated when the electrical current inside is changed by smoke. Ionization smoke alarms respond most quickly to heat and flame, so they are most effective in detecting fast spreading fires.
  • Photoelectric smoke alarms are triggered when smoke particles redirect a beam of light inside the unit. These alarms can detect the smoke from a smoldering fire before flames appear.
  • It is a good idea to have both ionization and photoelectric alarms in your home. Some alarms use both types of sensors in one unit.
  • Smoke alarms are available in most hardware stores. Most are battery operated and cost between $10 and $25 each and are easy to install. Some homes have “hard-wired” alarms connected to the electrical system. Most of these alarms have a battery back-up. Only use a smoke detector that is approved by a recognized testing laboratory such as U.L.

Critical Placement

  • Install smoke alarms either on the ceiling, four to twelve inches from the wall, or high on a wall, four to twelve inches from the ceiling. Install them at least three feet from windows or air ducts. Do not install an alarm between an air duct and a door. Make sure you can reach alarms to test them and change the batteries.
  • Place at least one smoke alarm on every level of your home, including the basement. Install a smoke alarm within 15 feet of sleeping areas. For extra safety, install one in each bedroom.

Care & Cleaning

  • Dust can cause false alarms. Use a vacuum cleaner attachment to remove dust and cobwebs. Read manufacturer’s instructions for more information. If painting near a smoke alarm, use a shield to keep the paint out of the unit. Be certain to remove the shield when you finish painting.

Keep Them Working

  • Test your alarms monthly. Replace batteries twice a year or when you hear the low battery “chirp”. Replace smoke alarms every seven to ten years.