Over 6,000 Americans died last year in residential fires. Most of these deaths were caused by fire gases and toxic smoke, not by flames or heat. The proper installation and use of smoke detectors could have prevented most of these deaths.

As firefighters, we get asked many questions about smoke detectors. Hopefully we can provide some answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding smoke detectors.

How many smoke detectors should I have and where should they be placed in my house?

Purchase as many smoke detectors as necessary to provide adequate coverage for your house. The minimum recommendation is to have at least one detector per floor of your residence. Above and beyond this recommendation would be to place one detector near the kitchen as well as a detector in the hallway outside the bedrooms and in each room in the house where someone sleeps.

What type of smoke detector should I buy?

There are basically two types of smoke detectors for residential use. Ionization and photoelectric. Both types are equally effective and will serve you in much the same way. When purchasing a detector check for the following:

  • Laboratory label, insuring that the detector has been professionally tested in a laboratory
  • Alarm loud enough to awaken the family through closed bedroom doors
  • Malfunction signal, to warn you when the batteries are weak
  • Ease of installation

How often should I change the batteries in my smoke detector?

Batteries should be changed as often as needed. One thing we do not recommend is allowing the batteries to run down to the point that the smoke detector beeps to warn you of low batteries. The best reminder is to change the batteries when you change your clocks for daylight savings time. Remember that this is a smoke detector, used to save you life! It is not a portable CD player or television remote. Change your batteries before they go dead!

When should my smoke detector be checked?

Smoke detectors should be checked frequently. At a minimum you should check your detector monthly. Most manufacturers recommend checking the detector on a weekly basis. There are several ways to check the detector. All detectors should come with a test button located on the outside of the smoke detector case. Pushing the test button should emit the tone. There are commercially made aerosols that are made specifically for testing smoke detectors that can be sprayed directly into the detector. Lighting a match, blowing it out and allowing the smoke to enter the smoke detector. Another good reason to regularly check the detector familiarizes your family with the sound of the detector. It is easy to desensitize to sound of electronic noises. Many times a smoke detector has sounded and the occupants have discounted the sound as a car alarm or an alarm clock.

All firefighters have experienced the devastation and tragedy of residential structure fires. Nothing is more tragic than the loss of life that could have easily been prevented by the use of smoke detectors. Proper installation, maintenance and care of smoke detectors will allow for immediate evacuation of occupants and notification of the fire department.