Smoke Alarm FAQ | Installation & Troubleshooting Tips

As we prepare to “spring forward” and start Daylight Saving Time (DST), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and other safety organizations are urging everyone to change the batteries in their smoke alarm (and carbon monoxide detectors).

Around 8 people die from home fires every day in the United States. Over 2/3 of these deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms (ESFi). In order to make sure your home has working smoke alarms, remember to test them every month and replace your batteries twice a year (when you “spring forward” and “fall back”).

Smoke Alarm FAQ

In addition to regular testing and better replacements, we’re going over the most frequently asked questions about smoke alarms.

How many smoke alarms should I have?

The number of smoke alarms you need depends on the size of your home.

Where should they be installed?

Smoke alarms should be installed in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every level in the home (including the basement and attic).

To reduce the risk of nuisance alarms, place smoke alarms at least 20 feet away from combustion appliances like furnaces and stovetops and at least 10 feet away from humidity-prone areas like bathrooms and laundry rooms.

Remember, most home fire deaths occur when inhabitants are asleep. Working smoke alarms are crucial in and around sleeping areas.

When should I test my smoke detectors?

Test your smoke alarms at least once every month by pressing the test button. Check your manufacturer instructions for specific instructions.

How do I test my smoke alarm?

Usually, you can test your smoke alarm by pressing and holding down on the test button. Allow several seconds to pass. You should hear a very loud and piercing sound. If the sound is weak or muted, try changing the batteries. Replace the unit if that doesn’t work.

If you hold down the test button for over 10 seconds (over 20 seconds for photoelectric models) and there is no sound, you have a problem. Check if the batteries are installed properly. Replace the batteries if necessary and test the unit again. If that doesn’t work, replace the smoke detector or call your local home service company.

When should I replace the batteries?

Replace the batteries when needed or twice a year. That’s why fire departments recommend changing your batteries when you “spring forward” and “fall back” for DST.

Actual battery life depends on a variety of factors including the brand of battery, which is why it’s a good idea to buy high-quality batteries and test them monthly (set calendar reminders for the first of the month!).

Regardless of the approximate battery life stated by the manufacturer, you must always replace the battery when the unit starts to “chirp,” your smoke alarm’s low battery warning.

I’m ready to change my smoke alarm batteries. Which kind do I need?

Look at your owner’s manual for the proper replacement battery. If you’ve lost your owner’s manual, you can probably find one for free online. Normally, smoke alarms require a 9V battery, however, for some models you’ll need AA or AAA batteries. After you know which kind of batteries you need, buy a high-quality version, like lithium.

Why is my smoke alarm chirping and beeping?

Periodic chirping means the battery is low and should be changed as soon as possible. Other detection devices, such as CO alarms and security systems may have a similar warning sound.

Sometimes dust, humidity, and other factors cause false or intermittent alarms. It’s a good idea to dust and clean around your smoke alarms at least once a month (when you test the units).

The other likely cause of a chirping smoke alarm is improper wiring. If you have an AC alarm and the interconnect wire is grounded, the alarm will chirp every 5 seconds as a warning. The orange interconnect wire should never be grounded; it should only be used for connecting other smoke alarms.

Can I interconnect my smoke alarms?

Interconnected smoke alarms communicate with each other so that if one sounds, they all go off. If you live in a newer home, you probably already have interconnected smoke alarms. They’re simple and effective. If not, you should consider hiring a technician to install interconnected alarms for the best protection. Interconnected, hardwired smoke alarms with battery backups are the most reliable.

Although it’s possible to hardwire your own interconnected smoke alarms, there are many complications involved and all wiring must conform to electrical codes. We highly recommend installing interconnected smoke alarms, but call a professional.

When should I replace my smoke alarms?

Smoke alarms don’t last forever. It’s recommended that you replace all your smoke and CO alarms every 5-7 years. Any smoke or CO alarm over 10 years old is unsafe and unreliable. Refer to your manufacturer instructions for specific recommendations.

What’s the difference between ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms?

Ionization smoke alarms are more effective against flaming fires. Photoelectric smoke alarms are more responsive to smoldering fires. It’s best to have both types in the home for comprehensive protection. Look for dual-technology smoke alarms that combine both ionization and photoelectric sensors.

What type of smoke alarm should I buy?

Make sure you only buy smoke alarms from a reputable retailer. We recommend purchasing dual-technology (ionization + photoelectric) smoke alarms and having a technician interconnect them. When shopping, look for the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) label or other certification from a recognized testing laboratory.

NFPA Smoke Alarm Guidelines:

  • Test smoke alarms at least once a month using the test button.
  • Make sure everyone in the home understands the sound of the smoke alarm and knows how to respond.
  • Replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old.
  • Replace the smoke alarm immediately if it doesn’t respond properly when tested.
  • Smoke alarms with nonreplaceable (long-life) batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, a warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm right away.
  • For smoke alarms with any other type of battery, replace batteries at least once a year. If the alarm chirps, replace only the battery.

Happy Daylight Saving Time!

If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact Service Champions!

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