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  • Writer's pictureBaxter Restoration

The Low Down on Smoke Alarms

Updated: May 15, 2019

If you live in Florida then you just might have forgotten that it’s still winter, but it definitely is and that means a few cold fronts here and there are still on the horizon. House fires are most common during the winter months due to heating, more cooking at home, and the use of fireplaces so we thought it would be beneficial to provide a simple refresher course on smoke alarms. That way you can rest assured knowing your home is safe next time you turn up the heat.

How important is a smoke alarm, really?

Well, the quick answer is VERY. Despite the fact that your smoke alarm annoyingly goes off when you cook bacon or burn some cookies, it does have a serious purpose. The National Fire Protection Agency states that “almost two-thirds of home fire deaths in 2005-2009 resulted from fires in home with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.” In our opinion, those are some serious odds that you shouldn’t bet against.

Choosing the right smoke alarm

When it comes to choosing a smoke alarm, it’s important to know the options. There are two commonly recognized smoke detection technologies — ionization smoke detection and photoelectric smoke detection. Here’s what you need to know about the two:

Ionization smoke detection is generally more responsive to flaming fires.

Photoelectric smoke detection is generally more responsive to fires that begin with a long period of smoldering.

Each type of smoke detection is equally important and could make the difference in your family’s safety and how much damage may occur. Both types of fires are quite common in homes, which is why we’d suggest you use both types of smoke alarm technologies. You can either:

Have both types of individual alarms in your home or Purchase a combination alarm that includes both technologies in a single device.

Individual alarms range from $5 to $20 and dual sensor smoke alarms typically range between $25 and $50, so it’s a small investment to ensure the safety of your family and property.

Location, location, location…

When installing your smoke alarms, there are some fundamental rules in regards to location. Here are the suggested installation guidelines to ensure the highest level of safety:

  • In every bedroom and outside of each separate sleeping area

  • On all levels of your home, including the basement

  • Be sure they are interconnected so when one sounds, they all sound

  • Remember that smoke rises, so install smoke alarms following manufacturer’s instructions on height

  • Install them away from air vents

  • Some alarms can become a nuisance near the kitchen, so it might be a good idea to purchase an alarm with a “hush” button which will reduce its sensitivity for a short period of time

Installing a smoke alarm is only half the battle.

Although it’s estimated by the NFPA that over 96% of American homes have at least one smoke alarmmany of them are not in working condition and it’s estimated that only about 75% have working smoke alarms. Smoke alarm failure usually is the result of batteries being dead or missing, or the smoke alarm being disconnected entirely (often the result of someone disconnecting a smoke alarm when it goes off while cooking).

Because nearly one-quarter of the smoke alarm failures are due to dead batteries, it’s important that we state the obvious:


The NFPA suggests that you check your smoke alarms once a month (most alarms have a test button) and in most cases, your batteries should be changed at least once a year (the exception is with lithium batteries which are meant to last much longer). When a smoke alarm starts to “chirp” that means the battery should be changed immediately.

Also, smoke alarms should be replaced entirely at least every 10 years.

Reminder for Renters

Although it is often a requirement that your landlord or renting agency have smoke alarms installed and maintained, it is critical that you test them when you move-in and on a regular basis. Never assume that the batteries are fresh or working. You also should never assume that the smoke alarms exist in the first place as a colleague of Baxter Restoration recently found out:

After having a discussion about this post, this person headed home to test their smoke alarms realizing they never had before. They were shocked to discover they didn’t actually have any smoke alarms installed in their entire rental home. They’d lived there for nearly two years and it hadn’t crossed their minds to look – like so many others. A lesson was learned by all, we should never leave our safety up to others. It’s safe to say that they’ll be purchasing smoke alarms this week!

A final tip that might just save your life: Never disable a smoke alarm.

If a smoke alarm goes off regularly during normal activities like cooking or while taking a steamy shower, think about investing in an alarm with the “hush” feature like we mentioned above but never, ever disable it. The alarm is merely doing its job and disabling it or removing the battery could end up being a deadly mistake.

Here’s what you can do to stop it from going off while cooking or taking a hot shower:

  • Open a window or door

  • Use vents in the kitchen or bathroom

  • Wave a towel at the alarm to clear the air

  • Move the entire alarm system several feet away from that location

  • Press the “hush” button if you have one

Smoke alarms are often regarded as a nuisance; everyone dreads fire drill day at work or school. But they are a necessary nuisance that could save your life and protect your home. If there’s anything you take away from reading this article it’s that you check your smoke alarms TODAY and ensure they are up and running (and exist altogether). We want you to stay warm and stay safe the rest of this winter season!

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