1. Why do we need smoke detectors?
Smoke detectors can save your life and those of your family. Most fatal home fires occur at night, while people sleep. Fire produces toxic gases and smoke that actually numb the senses. If you're asleep, or become disoriented by toxic gases, you may not even realize that there is a fire. You can't rely on your own senses to detect a fire.
2. Is there proof that smoke detectors save lives?
Yes. Almost every day, news reports across the country tell of cases where smoke detectors have saved lives. In several instances, the battery-operated detectors were not mounted, but still alerted families to fire. Fire officials continually cite smoke detectors as life savers in home fires.
3. What do I look for when choosing a smoke detector?
Look for the following when selecting your home smoke detector.
It should display the marking of a recognized independent testing laboratory such as Underwriters Lab (UL) etc. and be listed and approved for sale, installation and home use.
It should have a warning signal that warns you when bulbs or batteries need replacing.
The batteries and bulb should be readily available for purchase and easy to replace.
The smoke detector's alarm must be loud enough (85 decibel or louder) to wake a sleeping person behind a closed door. Special detectors are available for hard of hearing persons.
4. Where should I install a smoke detector?
At the bare minimum, you should have one detector for each level in your home. A detector needs to be placed within 10 feet of sleeping areas, since most fire deaths occur at night while people are sleeping. The detector should be mounted on the ceiling or high on the wall -- six to twelve inches below the ceiling. It should never be placed in the dead-air space, such as where wall and ceiling meet or in a corner. Nor should it be placed near heating ducts or cold air returns. The air flow around these areas could prevent the smoke-filled air from collecting in the detector in sufficient amounts as to activate it. Avoid installing a detector near bathrooms with showers. Steam can sometimes cause false alarms and the moisture can rust metal components of the detector. Also avoid areas where nominal amounts of smoke may normally be present, such as kitchens or other cooking spaces, furnace rooms, or near fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.
5. What about a heat detector? Do I need one of those, too?
Heat detectors are no substitute for smoke detectors. They set off an alarm in response to heat only. They do add protection and can be helpful in basements, kitchens, attics and garages. But for life safety purposes be sure your home is protected by a smoke detector.
6. Should I test my smoke detector? How often?
Every detector comes with testing instructions. Activating the testing mechanism once a month should be sufficient. Always test battery powered detectors after a vacation or having been away from home for a week or more. The battery may have gone dead and you may have missed its warning alarm.
7. How should I care for a smoke detector?
Vacuum the detector once or twice a year to remove any dust or cobwebs. This will cut down on false alarms. Most battery powered smoke detectors will 'chirp' sporadically when the battery is weak. We recommend that batteries be changed once a year, perhaps a significant day -- your birthday, January 1st or when you change your clocks in the spring or fall.
8. Which is better -- battery-powered or AC-powered detectors?
It really is a matter of preference. They both have benefits and drawbacks. The key point to remember is that whichever model your choose, be sure to maintain it according to manufacturer's directions. Hard-wired detectors (AC-powered) are powered by the current in your house wires. This is appealing because you never have to worry about battery replacement. Multiple detectors can be wired together so that if a fire starts in the basement of a two story house, all the detectors will sound immediately. There can be a problem with hard-wired detectors, however. If there is a power failure due to storm, fire, etc., the detectors will not sound without electrical power. There are now AC powered units on the market with a battery backup. As an alternative, install a battery powered unit near each AC-powered unit. This dual power source method also provides additional detection!
9. I've heard that there are different types of smoke detectors? Can you explain the differences? Is one better than the other?
You are probably referring to ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors. Both types are approved by nationally recognized testing laboratories. Ionization models respond slightly faster to open flaming fires while photoelectric models respond faster to smoldering fires. Ideally, a home should be protected by at least one of each. If you can afford just one type of detector, a photoelectric is recommended. Photoelectric smoke detectors use either an incandescent light bulb or a light emitting diode (LED) to send forth a beam of light. When smoke enters the detector, light from the beam is reflected from the smoke particles into a photocell sensor and the alarm is triggered. The ionization chamber smoke detector has a small radiation source that produces radioactive material, electrically charged air molecules called ions. These ions cause a small electric current to flow in the chamber. Smoke particles entering the chamber attach themselves to the ions, reducing the electrical flow. The change in current sets off the alarm.
10. What should we do if the smoke detector sounds?
If a smoke detector is sounding, there is a reason! Never ignore the sound of a smoke detector! You and your family must be able to escape quickly and safely.
Here are some steps your family can take:
- Draw up and rehearse a fire evacuation plan from your house.
- Make sure each family member knows two ways to escape from any room in the house.
- Always check the door to see if it is hot before opening it to escape.
- If you must go through a smoke-filled area, crawl on your hands and knees. There will be less smoke and heat at floor level.
- Make sure everyone knows the prearranged location outside of the house to meet. This way you can count noses and be sure everyone is safe.
- Call 9-1-1 from a neighbor's house or the nearest phone outside of your house.
- Never return to the inside of a burning building.