When was the last time you tested your smoke alarms? If you’re like me, your answer is a shrug (I sure hope your answer isn’t that you don’t have any!). Given by background in nursing and public health, I’m generally very attentive to safety issues. However, I haven’t managed to find the motivation to test my smoke alarms at the recommended monthly interval. Thankfully, the time change provides a convenient reminder.
Fire alarm basics
The points listed below are probably a review, but it never hurts to brush up on the basics.
- A smoke alarm should be located on each floor of a home. Why? One reason is to ensure an alarm is located in the vicinity of each bedroom, enabling it to wake sleeping family members. Another reason is to ensure there is an alarm nearby to catch a fire regardless of the location where it starts.
- Smoke alarms should be installed on a ceiling or high on a wall. Take care to install them in locations where they will not be set off by substances that can mimic smoke, such as the exhaust from cars or steam from a shower. Additionally, avoid installation near supply registers of forced air heating systems because the blowing air may prevent an alarm from registering smoke.
- There are two types of household smoke alarms. The ion type, which is usually less costly, reacts quickly to flaming fires. The photoelectric type, which may cost a bit more, reacts quickly to smoldering fires. Both types provide effective protection. However, if you will be purchasing more than one alarm, it might be advantageous to get one of each.
- Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years to ensure their components are functioning correctly.
Each smoke alarm should be tested once a month by pressing the “test” button on the face of the alarm. If one malfunctions during the test, it’s time to get a replacement. The batteries in smoke alarms (even the backup batteries in alarms that are wired into household electrical power) should be replaced annually.
This is where the time change can serve as a helpful reminder. Select either the “spring forward” or “fall back” event each year as your designated time to change the batteries in your smoke alarms. If you’re not in the habit of testing your alarms monthly, then make sure you test them at least on the two dates associated with the time change.
While at it, check the pressure indicator or expiration date on your fire extinguisher and replace it if necessary. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher in your home, consider purchasing one. Small aerosol units are available for as little as $8.
More information on smoke alarms and fire safety is available from FEMA. Do you test and change the batteries in your smoke alarms regularly? What has helped you remember to do these tasks?