Smoke Detectors – Basic Facts

The standard advice we all get about smoke detectors is to change the batteries when we “fall back” to standard time each autumn. With that important milestone now in our rearview mirror, here’s some other important facts about these lifesaving devices.

Smoke Detectors – Basic Facts
Smoke alarms are the residential fire safety success story of the past quarter century. Smoke alarm technology has been around since the 1960s. But the single -station, battery-powered smoke alarm we know today became available to consumers in the 1970s, and since then, the home fire death rate has been reduced by half. NFPA estimates that 94% of U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm today, and most states have laws requiring them in residential dwellings.

Important: Working smoke alarms are essential in every household. It is necessary to practice home fire drills to be certain everyone is familiar with the smoke alarm signal, and to determine if there are any obstacles to a quick and safe evacuation (including the inability for some to awaken to the smoke alarm signal).

Keep Your Smoke Alarms Working Properly

  • Test your smoke alarms at least once a month, following the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Replace the batteries in your smoke alarm once a year, or as soon as the alarm "chirps," warning that the battery is low. HINT: schedule battery replacements for the same day you change your clock from daylight to standard time in the fall.
  • Never "borrow" a battery from a smoke alarm. Smoke alarms can't warn you of fire if their batteries are missing or have been disconnected. 
  • Don't disable smoke alarms even temporarily – you may forget to replace the battery. If your smoke alarm is sounding "nuisance alarms," it may need dusting or vacuuming. If that doesn't work, try relocating it further away from kitchens and bathrooms, where cooking fumes and steam can cause the alarm to sound. 
  • Regularly vacuuming or dusting your smoke alarms following manufacturer's instructions can help keep it working properly. 
  • Smoke alarms don't last forever. Replace your smoke alarms once every 10 years. 
  • Make sure that everyone in your home can identify and awaken to the sound of the alarm.

Some “Alarming” Facts

  •  In three of every 10 reported fires in homes equipped with smoke alarms, the devices did not work. Households with non-working smoke alarms now outnumber those with no smoke alarms. 
  • One-half of home fire deaths occur in the 6% of homes with no smoke alarms. 
  • Why do smoke alarms fail? Most often because of missing, dead or disconnected batteries.
  •  In 2004, fire, flame, or smoke inhalation caused 2,790 injuries and 90 deaths in the workplace. (United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

If you haven’t done so in a while, check your detectors today!  If it’s been so long that you can’t remember when you purchased your existing detectors, it may be time to go out and purchase some brand new ones.  Smoke detectors are probably the cheapest life insurance policy you will every buy.