“Where there’s smoke there’s fire”; while this statement is not fully factually correct we can tell you that most “fire related” deaths actually occur from smoke inhalation. I can honestly say I have yet to see a house that did not have a smoke detector in it, but I sure have seen the results when they did not work. Fortunately, none I have been at has involved a fatality and it has always been after the fact.
In the following articles, we are going to take a quick look at why smoke detectors are important, how to maintain them, the common types of detectors that are available, what the current code requirements are, and how to eliminate false alarms while still helping to keep our families safe. We would like to point out, that these are general rules of thumb and that you should always follow the directions provided by the manufacturers and if you have any doubts or questions about something, you should call in a professional.
Why do I need a smoke detector?
First, a quick lesson on the basics – Smoke is generally a byproduct of combustion and is made up of a collection of gases, solid and liquid particulates. If you have ever seen a fire in a closed room you will notice that the smoke rises, but can quickly fill up a room thus making seeing and breathing very difficult. This is why we were taught back in grade school to drop and crawl to a safe meeting place outside.
During the day, one can generally see the smoke and / or recognize that something is not quite right. At nighttime while one is sleeping, that is a completely different situation. One of the gasses given off is Carbon Monoxide (CO), which can make one lethargic and starts bonding to your blood, starving your brain of oxygen. You add that on top of alcohol or one who is sound asleep due to pulling a double shift, and your brain will never process the signals in time.
How often should I change the batteries?
- For battery operated detectors, we recommend changing out the batteries every 6 months, during the months of January* and July*.
- For units hard wired into the house, we recommend changing out the batteries once a year during the month of January*.
- Some units come with a sealed Lithium battery, which should be good for 10 years.
- If your smoke detector starts to chirp every so often, that is its signal to you that the battery is dying & should be replaced immediately
* Many people may be using the “Change your Clocks – change your battery” mantra when we switch to and from Daylight Savings Time (DST). If you have been doing that, all we can say is great and keep it up. For those of you that have not been following that advice, we recommend you start following our Monthly Homeowners Checklists. I chose the months of January and July because it ties in nicely with the checklist and that we keep extending the period that DST is observed (i.e. it is now up to 7 months).
Is there any other maintenance I should perform?
- Once a month you should press the “Test” button on your smoke detector to verify it works. If it does not work, you should try changing the battery out to see if it works. If it still does not work, you need to replace it immediately.
- When you change out the batteries, you should vacuum the face and grillwork.
- Every 5 years you should replace the units (Many groups list replacing them every 10 years, but go onto talk about how they lose 50% effectiveness after 5 years – personally I don’t want to base my family’s safety on a device that is only 50% effective)
Smoke Detectors – A primer on the Options Available
Smoke Detectors – A primer on Placement & Location
Everything we owned… Winter Specific Tips on preventing house fires