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A Guide to Smoke Detector Installation and Maintenance

Written by | Updated July 21, 2016

A workman performs regular maintenance on a smoke alarm.

According to a 2015 report on home fires from the National Fire Protection Association, the house-fire casualty rate in homes with working smoke alarms was less than half the casualty rate in homes without working detectors. Looking at numbers like that, most homeowners would undoubtedly agree that a smoke detector is an important precaution to help ensure the safety of their home and family.

But simply having a smoke detector in the home won’t automatically guarantee a safer environment. When installed incorrectly, placed inappropriately, or maintained carelessly, smoke alarms lose their usefulness and may not perform as needed.

For maximum safety, homeowners must ensure that their fire alarms are functioning at top performance. Follow these seven simple steps to ensure your smoke alarms are properly installed and ready for an emergency.

1. Research and Pick Your Smoke Detectors

If your current detectors are more than 10 years old — or if your home doesn’t have detectors at all — you’ll need to invest in new ones right away.

Before you make a purchase, conduct some research about the different types of smoke sensor alarms. There are a variety of brands, models, and price points that are available, so try to pick the one that best meets your safety needs and budget. Thoroughly read online reviews to see what real customers think about each detector you’re considering, and feel free to explore our Smoke Alarm Buyers Guide for an overview of several popular brands.

2. Purchase Detectors for Every Level of Your Home

Your house’s layout will determine how many detectors you need, but at a minimum you should install one on each level of the home, with at least one inside each bedroom and one outside of every sleeping space. As you’re tallying up the number of devices you need, don’t forget to count basement and attics as separate levels.

3. Promptly Install Your Alarms in Central Locations

Install your smoke alarms as soon as possible — you don’t want to be spending any nights without the detectors’ protection. Place each alarm on a flat stretch of wall or ceiling, roughly in the center of the room. For wall-placed devices, make sure that the detectors are about 12 inches or fewer from the ceiling.

Read and follow your device’s instructions carefully when performing the installation, especially if the detectors require hardwired power. If you are nervous about the setup process, find a professional to install the alarms for you.

4. Test Your Smoke Alarms Immediately After Installation

Once you have installed the smoke alarms, call every member of the household together to test the detectors out. Press the test button on each device individually, ensuring that every person can easily recognize the sound of the alarm. This initial test is also a great time to discuss your home evacuation plan, along with routes and outside meeting points. The U.S. Fire Administration outlines a variety of exercises to add to your fire drill so that each family member is prepared and has a greater chance of getting out unharmed if a fire ever breaks out.

5. Perform Power Tests Monthly

Though some smart detectors are self-testing, it’s generally a good idea to manually test your detectors at least once per month. To run a test, push the smoke detector’s test button, verifying that the sensor is operational and the alarm sounds at the optimal volume. If you have fire alarms in areas of your home you can’t easily reach, take precautions when climbing up to test them. Use a sturdy stepladder — never a chair — and perform these tasks while another family member is home.

6. Replace Non-Hardwired Detectors’ Batteries Annually

If your detector runs on batteries, don’t wait until you find the batteries dead to change them out. Instead, set an annual battery replacement date on a special occasion — the first day of summer or Memorial Day, for example. Picking a well-known date will help you remember the task. Always refer to the manufacturer’s guide and follow the instructions when replacing your smoke alarm’s batteries.

7. Thoroughly Clean Your Detectors at Least Once per Year

Dust and pollutants can impede fire alarm performance, so try to keep your detectors clean. An occasional light dusting with a dry rag should easily remove any exterior dust, but you’ll also want to perform deeper cleans annually.

To do a thorough cleaning, take the device off of the wall or ceiling, remove the power source, and then gently take off the external casing. Carefully clear out any collected dust using a vacuum attachment, a compressed air can, or a dry cloth — avoiding liquid sprays or cleaners. Once all dust is gone, you can reassemble the detector and place it back on the wall or ceiling.

Fire safety is a vital component of a homeowner’s responsibility. Hopefully you’ll never experience a house fire, but it’s a good idea to be prepared. Follow the steps above to help ensure that your home is as safe as possible, and don’t forget to refer to our complete Smoke Alarm Buyers Guide for additional information on popular smoke detection devices.

Do you have any smoke detector success stories? Tell us about your experience with your home’s smoke alarms, your maintenance plan, and any other fire safety tips you have in the comments section below!

Written by Katherine Torres

Katherine has had several years of experience developing and executing multichannel marketing campaigns, but actually started her career path in journalism. Though she switched gears, she continues to be driven by the need to deliver information that can be helpful for individuals. As an owner of two rescue dogs, she is most interested in technology and products that allow her to keep a close eye on her pets when she’s away. Learn more

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