Do you have a working smoke detector? Are you sure?

Did you know?

  • 93% of all homes have at least one smoke detector, but almost half of home fires and three-fifths of fire deaths occur in homes with no detectors.
  • Having a smoke detector cuts your chance of dying nearly in half if you have a home fire.
  • Approximately one-third of all smoke detectors are not working, often due to dead batteries.
  • Like most electrical devices, smoke detectors will wear out and should be replaced every 8 to 10 years. After 10 years, an average of 27% of all smoke detectors fail to
    work properly.

The grim facts

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), over $6 billion in property damage was caused by home fires and an estimated 2,695 individuals died, while over 14,000 were injured.
Nationwide, a home fire death occurs approximately once every 3 hours, and an home fire injury occurs approximately every 28 minutes.

Don’t become a statistic

The fact is, a simple smoke detector can prevent many tragedies, cutting your risk of dying in a home fire by nearly half. The catch is, they have to work. Simply owning one is not
enough. You must maintain it as well.

How many of us have smoke detectors, but forget to check the batteries, or remove them “temporarily” for something else.
Maybe you have one near the kitchen that goes off constantly, so you’ve taken it down. We all do it without thinking. It’s time to change that. By investing
just a few minutes a month in your smoke detectors, you can reduce your risk of becoming one of the unthinkable statistics.

Where to install your smoke detectors

In multi-story homes, . smoke detectors be located on each floor level of the home,
including the basement. Imaging your bedrooms are on the second floor, but the fire starts in the basement.

Many fatal fires begin late at night or in the early morning. A closed door provides protection from smoke on the other side, but will also prevent smoke from reaching a smoke detector.
This is particularly a problem in bedrooms. If you sleep with your bedroom door closed, you should add a smoke detector in the bedroom; particularly if you smoke in the bedroom or
there is a TV, air conditioner, or other major appliance in the bedroom that might start a fire. If you sleep with the bedroom door open, the detector in the hall outside will detect a fire in the
bedroom or elsewhere. For extra safety, install smoke detectors both inside and outside sleeping areas.

Smoke detectors are normally installed on the ceiling or high on the wall, with the top of the detector not closer than 4 inches nor further than 12 inches from the ceiling.
If mounting a smoke detector on a wall, place it on an interior wall rather than an exterior wall. Temperature variations at an exterior wall can prevent smoke from getting to the detector.

Smoke detectors should be at least 3 feet from registers used with forced air heating systems. Having them too close may allow forced air to blow smoke away from the detector and prevent it from doing its job.

Smoke detectors should be at least 3 feet from the door to a kitchen or a bathroom containing a shower. Steam from bathrooms can set the detector off when the door is opened (I’ve had this happen and it’s frightening, trust me!).
Do not place a smoke detector in the garage. Car exhaust fumes will likely set it off. Chances are, if your smoke detector goes off when it’s not supposed to, you’ll disconnect it. Better to place
it correctly to begin with.

Do not place a smoke detector in an unheated attic or crawl space. It can get too hot or too cold in these spaces for the electronics to work properly.

Older adults may have difficulty reaching detectors on ceilings to change batteries. If house-powered detectors are impractical, wall mounting smoke detectors 12 inches down from the ceiling should be considered.
If you have older relatives, consider making smoke detector maintenance part of your visiting routine.

How do I keep my smoke detector working?

Replace the batteries at least once a year. When the battery (usually a 9-volt) needs changing, the smoke detector will begin to “chirp” every 20 seconds or so,
which will persist for a month. To avoid this nuisance, pick a day and give your detectors new batteries each year on that day. Some fire safety organizations promote ”
change your clocks, change your batteries,” when the change is made from daylight savings time each fall.

Keep your smoke detector clean. Dust and debris can interfere with their operation, so vacuum over and around your smoke detector regularly.

Additional information

We found these sources to be very informative, but your own local fire company may also provide information for you. Some firehouses even offer free smoke detectors, so don’t be
afraid to ask.

Peninsula Emergency Preparedness Committee
Charlotte Fire Department
National Fire Protection Association 2002 Report (PDF)

Inexpensive smoke detectors can be purchased at nearly any hardware store, K-Mart, Target, Walmart or other retailer. Walmart currently offers a quality battery operated smoke detector
for only $6.97. Visit your local store, or purchase online:
First Alert 9-Volt Smoke Detector


This article is dedicated to Amanda Schoenberger. 7-year old Amanda and her parents, members of our local community, died tragically on Christmas morning 2003
when the lights from their Christmas tree started a fire while they slept. There were no working smoke detectors in the house.