Working Smoke Detector Key to Saving Lives

Jason Hargraves
Written by Jason Hargraves
Updated June 15, 2021
Smoke alarm
The first step to home fire safety is to make sure your smoke detectors and fire alarms are in proper working order. (Angie's List/Eldon Lindsay)

Is your smoke alarm in working order?

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In the U.S., 96 percent of homes have at least one smoke alarm, according to a survey by the National Fire Protection Association. However, that survey also shows that only 74 percent of those alarms actually work.

Missing or dead batteries are the two leading reasons for out of order smoke alarms, according to the study. In battery-only units, nuisance alarms which are used to warn of low battery life, often cause homeowners to disconnect or remove the battery.

Fire prevention experts say batteries should be changed on a regular basis. Even alarms that operate on house electricity have a battery backup which should be checked as well. A good rule of thumb is to change the batteries twice a year.

Newer homes often have smoke alarms powered by the home's electrical system.

Alarm placement in the home is critical

Alarm placement is critical. Fire prevention experts says smoke alarms should be placed throughout the house. NFPA standards require an alarm on each level of a home, outside each sleeping area and in each bedroom.

While individually installed alarms will work, interconnected alarms are more likely to warn inhabitants, especially if the fire is in an unoccupied location. In an interconnected system, an alarm that is activated in one area will sound all of the other alarms.

Fireplace and space heaters are potential fire hazards

If your home has a woodburning fireplace, make sure the logs are three feet away from other items before firing up any firewood in the fireplace, says Maryland's Montgomery County Fire spokesman Pete Piringer. He also recommends replacing space heaters that are over 10 years old. 

For more information on home fire safety, check out this Angie's List guide.

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