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Don't Make These 6 Mistakes When Installing Smoke Alarms
Installing smoke alarms is a task that most homeowners can tackle on their own. But proper installation and maintenance are vital to ensuring that your alarm actually works in an emergency. However, many homes are not well-equipped.
Almost 3 in 5 home fire deaths occurred in a home with no smoke alarms (40%) or no working smoke alarms (17%), according to the National Fire Protection Association. Mistakes happen, but there are some steps you can take to ensure your smoke alarms work to keep your family and home safe.
1. Setting off false triggers
Despite their life-saving potential, smoke alarms can sometimes annoy residents with false alarms, leading people to doubt whether that annoying beeping is based on a real threat. "The biggest cause of smoke detector false alarms is improper placement of the detector," says Rebecca Edwards, safety and security expert at SafeWise, in Salt Lake City.
Experts recommend not installing smoke alarms near doors or ducts. “Drafts can cause false alarms, so keep your detectors away from windows, doors, and vents that may disrupt the regular functioning of your smoke alarm,” says Edwards.
2. Installing too close to bathrooms or kitchens
While placing an alarm near a bathroom or kitchen may seem like a good idea to cover all of your bases, think again.
Mark Dawson, chief operating officer for Mister Sparky Electric, in Houston, TX, says alarms should be placed at least 10 feet away from areas like showers or laundry rooms. He says the moisture can damage the alarm over time and eventually cause it to fail. And when it comes to appliances like furnaces or ovens, Dawson says alarms should be installed at least 20 feet away because they produce combustion particles.
3. Forgetting the basement—or other rooms
Although often overlooked, the basement needs an alarm, too. Only 37% of respondents report having a smoke alarm in the basement, according to the First Alert Fire Prevention Research Report for May 2019. And yet basements are just as likely to be at risk of fire. “You want your smoke alarms to alert you no matter where you are in your home,” says Lisa Braxton, a spokesperson for the NFPA1. Install a basement smoke alarm on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level, Braxton recommends. As for the rest of your house, it's important to install smoke alarms in each bedroom, outside of every separate bedroom area, and on every level of the home. Requirements for alarm installation vary from state to state and from region to region, so it’s a good idea to check with your local fire department for current requirements in your area.
4. Not interconnecting the smoke alarms
Interconnected smoke alarms communicate with one another and form an integrated system of protection that can warn you of a fire no matter where it is in your home. Braxton says for the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. “When one sounds, they all sound," she says. "For example, if you’re in the basement and a fire starts on the second floor, the alarm will sound in the basement, the second floor, and everywhere else in the house, giving you time to escape."
5. Installing the same type of smoke detectors
There are two types of smoke alarms, photoelectric and ionization, that detect different kinds of fire. Photoelectric alarms detect smoldering fires, and ionization alarms respond to actual flames. There are many choices of smoke alarms at the store, but your best bet is a dual-sensor alarm that has both photoelectric and ionization capabilities, according to Alan Singer of Sterling Home Inspections, in Armonk, NY. Having a combination of these two types of alarms in your house is also good.
6. Forgetting to test or replace the alarm
Proper placement and installation are the first steps to ensuring that your alarm functions. But Ashley Gocken, brand and public relations manager with First Alert, a fire safety product company in Aurora, IL, says once alarms are installed, many people often make the mistake of not maintaining them. Gocken says more than 60% of consumers do not test their smoke alarms monthly. All alarms should be tested regularly and have their batteries replaced every six months (if they're battery-operated). “Newer alarms come with a 10-year battery, but older models have replaceable batteries," Singer says. "If the alarm is chirping, it’s asking for a new battery. Replace the battery right away to stay protected." Alarms don’t last forever—they need to be replaced every 10 years. Gocken says if you can’t remember or don’t know how old the alarm is, it's best to just replace it.