House fires can be more lethal than ever because newer homes contain more synthetic materials that cause fires to spread more rapidly. Learn about smoke detectors in the home and take steps to protect your family and belongings.
Types of Smoke Detectors
When choosing smoke detectors, make sure they meet the strict testing and safety requirements of Underwriters Laboratories and are UL-approved. Read the manual to learn how to properly install and test them.
Check to see whether the device senses photoelectric fires, ionization fires, or both. Smoldering fires emit a different type of smoke than flaming fires. A photoelectric smoke detector responds more quickly to smoldering fires than an ionization one. Ionization detectors respond faster to the smoke from active flames.
Place an ionization detecting device no closer than three feet from the bathroom and no closer than 15 feet from an oven because they are sensitive to even small amounts of steam or smoke.
Proper Placement for Smoke Detectors in the Home
Most smoke detectors are designed for mounting to the ceiling but you can also install them high on the wall. If you choose to mount the devices to the wall, smoke detector placement should be within 12 inches of the ceiling.
Adequate smoke detector placement includes every bedroom or anywhere someone might fall asleep, such as on the sofa in the den. If any bedrooms open into the hallway, put a smoke detector in the hallway centrally located between all rooms. If you have a multi-level home, install at least one smoke detector on each floor, including in unfinished basements and attics.
Places to Avoid Installing Detectors
Don’t install a smoke detector in places where smoke, steam, and dust naturally occur. Moist, humid bathrooms can set off some alarms. Detectors in the kitchen should be at least 15 feet away from any cooking appliance to avoid false alarms.
Vents or ceiling fans can affect a device’s ability to detect smoke. Drafts from fans or HVAC vents may cause your smoke detector to fail to alert you. For this same reason, devices shouldn’t be installed close to windows or doors.
Reminders for Smoke Detectors in the Home
Be sure to test all smoke detectors monthly. Most of them have a press test button that sounds a test alarm if it’s working properly. Change batteries twice a year. Keep devices clean and free of dust, dirt, and paint. The devices themselves should be replaced every 10 years.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
While many homes probably need more smoke detectors, many lack carbon monoxide detectors altogether. All fuel-burning appliances emit some level of carbon monoxide. Dangerous levels are normally vented outdoors, but if something goes wrong, a leak can be deadly.
Protect your home by installing a carbon monoxide detector on each floor and near every sleeping area, approximately three to five feet above the floor. Mount one near the garage. A running car produces carbon monoxide that can spread quickly into your home.