Introduction to Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms, when properly installed and maintained, can literally be lifesavers. These detectors provide an early warning in the event of a fire, allowing residents more time to escape it. Although smoke alarms are commonplace in the majority of homes, they are typically found to not be in working order.

Ionization alarms react more quickly, warning residents sooner than photoelectric alarms. This is essential when a fast moving fire occurs. Ionization alarms are triggered by a change in electrical current that comes from the presence of smoke. Photoelectric smoke alarms respond either to a reduction in light or the scattering of light caused by smoke. Smoke detectors should ideally be interconnected — meaning that if one detects smoke, all smoke detectors in the home should sound.

Dual sensor smoke alarms combine the best of both technologies. Since no one can predict which type of fire will start in their home, it is best to purchase dual sensor smoke alarms or install both photoelectric and ionization alarms. Smoke alarms must be certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to ensure their safety.

Smoke alarms for the hearing impaired are also available. These alarms may either flash or vibrate — with some models doing both — to alert hearing impaired people to smoke or a fire. A fire department can provide information and assistance about any type of fire alarm to members of the community.

Smoke alarms are easy to find, as they can be bought at hardware stores, home supply and repair stores, and many mass merchandisers. Battery powered smoke alarms are easy to install as well. These types of smoke detectors may have self adhesive material to stick them to the wall or ceiling, and some require a screwdriver to secure them. If the smoke alarms are hardwired into a home, an electrician will be needed to install them.

fireman The problem for many people lies in keeping the smoke detectors in good working order. Batteries for most smoke alarms should be replaced every year — it is recommended that they are changed at the beginning of the year, or on the day that begins Daylight Saving Time. If the smoke alarm begins to chirp, it means that the batteries should be replaced. The entire unit should be replaced every 10 years, if not more frequently.

Hardwired smoke alarms are very different, and should be tested monthly. Batteries for these alarms should also be replaced every year, or when the alarm sounds the low battery warning. Hardwired smoke detectors may have backup power in the home's electrical wiring, but the battery should still be in working order at all times.

Many people remove the batteries from their smoke alarm if it sounds during cooking or if something burns, then forget to replace the batteries. Although this is a common mistake, it is potentially very dangerous. Batteries should not be removed if something burns during cooking. Instead, open all the windows and doors, turn on the fan over the stove, and wave a towel or broom around to clear the smoke.

Written by Bronwyn Harris