Fire Safety: Smoke Detectors
Smoke detectors sound an alarm when a fire starts, alerting people before they are trapped or overcome by smoke.
With smoke detectors, your risk of dying in a home fire is cut nearly in half. Replace batteries once a year, or whenever a detector chirps to signal that its battery is low. Do not ever borrow detector batteries for other uses - a disabled smoke detector cannot save your life! For complete home protection, consider installing automatic fire sprinklers in addition to your smoke detectors. If your detector is more than ten years old, replace it.
Most fatal home fires occur at night, while people are asleep. Poisonous gases and smoke from a fire can numb the senses in a very short time. Every home needs a device that can wake people up in time to escape from a fire. Almost every day, a smoke detector saves somebody's life. Of all the low-cost fire alarm devices you can buy, fire officials consider smoke detectors the most effective!
Be familiar with the sound of a smoke detector.
Choosing a Smoke Detector
Dozens of reputable brands of smoke detectors are readily available. No matter where you buy your detectors or what type they are, make sure to buy only "labeled" units - those bearing the mark of an organization that tests and evaluates products. Any labeled smoke detector offers protection - whether it is powered by batteries or household current; whether it is a photoelectric or an ionization device. But to get the protection you paid for, it is vital that you follow the manufacturer's recommendations for installation, testing and maintenance.
How Many Do You Need
According to the widely accepted Standard on Household Fire Warning Equipment (NFPA 74), minimum protection requires smoke detectors outside each bedroom and on each additional level of the house - including the basement.
For extra protection, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that you also install detectors inside each bedroom, the dining room, furnace room, utility room and hallways. If your family sleeps with the bedroom doors closed, it is especially important to install detectors inside the bedrooms. Also, some smoke detectors are not recommended for kitchens because of false alarms from cooking vapors, or garages, where automobile exhaust might cause alarms, or for attics or other unheated spaces where extremes of temperature or humidity might affect their operation.
How to Install
To install most smoke detectors all you need is a screwdriver and a drill. Most smoke detectors operate either on batteries or household current. A detector that plugs into a wall outlet must have a restraining device so that the plug cannot accidentally be pulled from the wall. Detectors can also be hard-wired into the electrical system. Never hard-wire a detector to a circuit that can be turned off at a wall switch.
Because smoke rises, each director should be mounted high on a wall or on the ceiling to detect traces of smoke. For a wall-mounted unit, the top of the detector should be 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 cm) from the ceiling. A ceiling mounted detector should be placed at least 4 inches (10 cm) from any wall. In a room with a high pitch ceiling, mount the detector on or near the ceiling's highest point.
Most home fires start in living areas - the den, family room or living room. On a floor with no bedrooms, install the required detector in or near the living area. In a stairway to an upper story, install the detector in the path where smoke would travel up the stairs.
Don't install a detector near a window, door or air register where drafts could impair the detector's operation.
Locate a basement smoke detector close to the stairway leading to the floor above. But don't install the detector at the top of the basement stairs; dead air space near the door may prevent smoke from reaching the detector.
Smoke Detector Maintenance
Replace the batteries at least once a year or according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Warn everyone in your household to leave working batteries in smoke detectors - resist the temptation to borrow them for other purposes.
Never paint a smoke detector. Cobwebs and dust can impair a detector's sensitivity, clean your detectors at least once a year according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Follow the manufacturer's instructions for testing your smoke detectors. It only takes a moment to test a smoke detector that could save your life; test yours once a week to make sure you're protected.