A smoke alarm is critical for the early detection of a fire in your home and could mean the difference between life and death. Fires can occur in a variety of ways and in any room of your home. But no matter where or how, having a smoke alarm is the first key step towards your family’s safety. This information is not intended to be all inclusive, but it is intended to inform the reader about some of the safety aspects and importance of having and maintaining working smoke alarms.
Why are Smoke Alarms Important?
Every year in the United States, about 3,000 people lose their lives in residential fires. In a fire, smoke and deadly gases tend to spread farther and faster than heat. That’s one reason why most fire victims die from inhalation of smoke and toxic gases, not as a result of burns. A majority of fatal fires happen when families are asleep because occupants are unaware of the fire until there is not adequate time to escape. A smoke alarm stands guard around the clock and, when it first senses smoke, it sounds a shrill alarm. This often allows a family the precious but limited time it takes to escape. About two-thirds of home fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. Properly installed and maintained smoke alarms are considered to be one of the best and least expensive means of providing an early warning of a potentially deadly fire and could reduce the risk of dying from a fire in your home by almost half.
Where Should Smoke Alarms be Installed?
Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of the home, outside sleeping areas, and inside bedrooms. A smoke alarm should be installed and maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When installing a smoke alarm, many factors influence where you will place it, including how many are to be installed. Consider placing alarms along your escape path to assist in egress in limited visibility conditions. In general you should place alarms in the center of a ceiling or, if you place them on a wall, they should be 6 to 12 inches below the ceiling.
CPSC staff recommends the following:
- Install a working smoke alarm on every level of the home, outside sleeping areas, and inside bedrooms.
- Replace smoke alarm batteries at least annually, such as when resetting clocks in the fall or spring.
- Test all smoke alarms in your house once a month.
- Do not place a smoke alarm too close to a kitchen appliance or fireplace, as this may result in nuisance alarms.
- Avoid locating alarms near bathrooms, heating appliances, windows, or ceiling fans.
- Replace smoke alarms that are more than 10 years old. Smoke alarms don’t last forever.
- Develop and practice a fire escape plan, because working smoke alarms and a fire escape plan will increase your protection in case of a fire.
Interconnected smoke alarms may provide improved protection and offer more escape time in a fire. This type of smoke alarm allows all smoke alarms to sound if one has detected smoke. With interconnected smoke alarms, a fire in the basement, for example, will trigger the closest smoke alarm and alert all the occupants in the home by sounding all the smoke alarms. Not all homes have interconnected smoke alarms. Prior to 1989, existing homes typically had independent single-station, battery-only-powered smoke alarms. After 1989, new homes included hard-wired, interconnected smoke alarms.
Interconnected smoke alarms are typically connected using a wire, but newer wireless technology is available that allows smoke alarms to be interconnected without using wires. This allows easier and less costly upgrade to interconnected smoke alarms for older homes. Not all homes may need interconnected smoke alarms. Small, single-level homes may not benefit from interconnected smoke alarms because of the close proximity between smoke alarms.