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5 Important Things to Know About Smoke Alarm Safety

In a home fire, a matter of seconds could be the difference between life and death. This is why a properly installed smoke alarm or detector can offer an important head start.

Smoke alarms are electronic devices designed to sense the presence of smoke in the air. It’s not just a gadget on your ceiling. It’s a silent guardian that stands between you and the unexpected. 

“Smoke alarms detect the smoke particles produced by fires that are too small to be seen by the naked eye,” said Tracey Fejt, RN, trauma outreach and injury prevention coordinator with Banner Children’s. “When the alarm detects smoke, it sounds a loud, high-pitched sound that will wake even the deepest sleepers.”

In the hustle and bustle of daily routines, it’s easy to forget the vital role of smoke alarms in keeping you and your family safe. Even if the place you call home is already outfitted with smoke alarms, it may be time for an update. 

Here are five things to know about these life-saving gadgets:

1. There are three basic types of smoke alarms

Smoke alarms are a lot smarter these days. They are better at figuring out when there’s a real problem or when it’s a false alarm. Some even include improved features, like smartphone connectivity, compatibility with smart home devices and built-in carbon monoxide sensors

However, all smoke detectors fall under three basic types: ionization, photoelectric and dual. Here are the main differences between them:

  • Ionization detectors use radiation and an ionization chamber to detect smoke. These alarms are best for fast, flaming fires, like those in kitchens.
  • Photoelectric smoke detectors use light to detect smoke. These alarms are effective for slow, smoldering fires common in bedrooms.
  • Dual sensors include both ionization and photoelectric sensors. These provide the best protection and are recommended by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Fire alarms remain affordable and effective, ranging from $6 to $30. Some fire departments offer reduced-price or free smoke alarms.

2. Choose interconnected smoke alarms 

Most smoke alarms nowadays are interconnected, meaning if one goes off, they all do. It’s an important feature, especially in multi-level homes. You can check if yours are linked by looking at the packaging or contacting the manufacturer. 

If your smoke alarms are hardwired into your home’s electrical system rather than relying on batteries, that’s a good sign they’re already linked. When you test your smoke alarm, all of the alarms in your home should sound when you press the test button. If they don’t all go off, then they might not be interconnected. 

3. Placement of smoke alarms is important

Your smoke alarm is only as good as its location. You’ll need more than one, even in a one-bedroom apartment. 

Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home, including basements and garages. 

“It should go high on the wall or ceiling, away from windows, doors and air ducts where drafts could keep smoke from reaching the detector,” said Fejt. 

If you are unsteady on a ladder or while having your arms above your head, consider asking for help. “Some fire departments may provide a free installation service, but you’ll need to call and ask,” said Fejt. 

4. Set reminders for care and replacement

Smoke alarms are powered by a battery or your home’s electrical system, but they only work when properly installed, regularly tested and cared for. 

“It’s important to test the alarm once a month by pushing the button,” Fejt said. “Every spring or fall before turning on the heat or air conditioner, take the alarm down and dust it off. Canned air works great for this task.”

Below are some additional maintenance tips from the NFPA:

  • Smoke alarms powered by a 9-volt battery: Replace batteries at least once a year. Replace the entire smoke alarm every 10 years.
  • Smoke alarms powered by a 10-year lithium-ion battery: Replace the smoke alarm according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Smoke alarms that are hardwired into your home’s electrical system: Replace the backup battery at least once a year. It is best to have a qualified electrician replace the alarm every 10 years.

Need help determining how old your alarm is? If your smoke alarm is yellowed, there is a good chance it has been there for over 10 years. The manufacture date of the smoke alarm or an expiration date should be stamped on the back of the smoke alarm, along with its model number.

5. Have an escape plan – and practice it

Smoke alarms are your first line of defense, but having a well-thought-out emergency escape plan is equally important. Ensure everyone in your household knows the designated escape routes and meeting points outside your home. Practice fire drills regularly, especially if you have young children, to instill a sense of preparedness. 


Smoke alarms provide a critical early warning, helping to keep your family and home safe. Take the time to make sure your smoke alarms are up-to-date and in working order so your family is protected. If in doubt, consult with a professional who can ensure your smoke alarms are installed correctly and provide reliable protection.

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