Information about Smoke Detectors!
Smoke detectors aren't new. The technology has been
around since the 1960s. The single-station, battery-powered smoke detector, similar to the
one we know today, became available to consumers in the 1970s. NFPA estimates that 93% of
U.S. homes have at least one smoke detector. They save so many lives that most states have
laws requiring them in residential dwellings.
Still a Major Problem
Although 13 of every 14 homes have at least one smoke detector, almost
half of home fires and three-fifths of fire deaths occur in the share of homes with no
detectors. Thousands of people still die each year in home fires where smoke detectors
In addition, there are now more
homes with smoke detectors that don't work than homes without detectors at all. These
poorly maintained units create a false sense of security among occupants. Approximately
one-third of homes with smoke detectors that experience fires have smoke detectors that
aren't working, and hundreds of people die each year in these fires.
Tragically, the grave importance
of installing and maintaining smoke detectors has not yet been fully realized. Most people
who die in home fires are not in the room where the fire starts; working smoke detectors
alert people to fire and give them time to escape in a situation where minutes can mean
the difference between life and death.
Working Smoke Detectors
Having a smoke detector cuts your chance of dying nearly in half if you have
a home fire. By properly placing, regularly testing and maintaining your detectors, you
can ensure that they are in fact working and will alert you if a fire breaks out. Make
sure you buy only those detectors that bear the mark of an independent testing laboratory.
Some detectors operate using an "ionization" sensor while others use
a"photoelectric" sensor. An ionization detector uses an extremely small quantity
of radioactive material to make the air in the detector chamber conduct electricity. Smoke
from a fire interferes with the electrical current and triggers the alarm. A photoelectric
detector uses a tiny light source shining on a light sensitive sensor. The alarm is
triggered when smoke from a fire interferes with the light. All tested and labeled smoke
detectors offer adequate protection if they are properly installed and maintained.
Make Placement a Priority
A recent NFPA report on smoke detectors found that there is a substantial
number of households that do not have the devices on every level of the home, as needed.
The majority of fire deaths occur at night when people are asleep. NFPA's National Fire
Alarm Code (NFPA 72) says homes must have smoke detectors on every level of the home --
including the basement -- and outside each sleeping area. New homes are required to have a
smoke detector in each sleeping area as well.
To slow the spread of smoke and
fumes if a fire develops, NFPA suggests that you sleep with your bedroom doors closed. If
you sleep with your bedroom doors closed, install a smoke detector inside each bedroom.
Detectors should also be installed in other areas of your home where people sleep. In new
homes, the National Fire Alarm Code requires hard-wired detectors to be interconnected, so
that if one detector is activated, all detectors will sound the alarm signal. On floors
without bedrooms, smoke detectors should be installed in or near living areas, such as
family rooms and living rooms
Detectors that are hard-wired into
the home electrical system should be installed by a qualified electrician. If your
detector plugs into a wall socket, make sure it has a restraining device to keep its plug
from being pulled out. Never connect a detector to a circuit that could be turned off at a
wall switch. Most detectors are battery-powered and can be installed with a screwdriver
and drill and by following the manufacturer's instructions.
Test Your Detectors!
Since smoke and deadly gases rise, detectors should be placed on the
ceiling at least 4 inches from the nearest wall, or high on a wall, 4-12 inches from the
ceiling. This 4-inch minimum is important to keep detectors out of possible "dead
air" spaces, because hot air is turbulent and may bounce so much it misses spots near
a surface. Installing detectors near a window, door or fireplace is not recommended
because drafts could detour smoke away from the unit. In rooms where the ceiling has an
extremely high point, such as in vaulted ceilings, mount the detector at or near the
ceiling's highest point.
Maintenance is a Must
What good are smoke detectors that don't work? No good at all! That's why
it is imperative that you keep your smoke detectors fit and in good shape. It's easy.
Maintain your smoke detectors by:
Whether your detectors are hard-wired or battery-operated, NFPA recommends
testing them once a month to make sure they are operating. A working smoke detector
greatly reduces your chances of dying in a home fire. Testing is the only way to ensure
they are working to protect you. Test each detector by pushing the test button and
listening for the alarm. If you can't reach, stand under the detector and push the test
button with a broom handle.
If your smoke detectors are battery operated, replace their batteries according
to the manufacturer's instructions. NFPA recommends doing this at least once a year or
when the detector chirps, alerting you that the battery power is low. Replace the
batteries immediately if you move into a new home. Make sure no one disables your smoke
detectors by borrowing batteries for other uses. Everyone you live with should understand
how critical it is to have working smoke detectors.
Just as you clean your home, your smoke detectors need to be cleaned. Make sure
you follow the manufacturer's instructions about cleaning. Cobwebs and dust usually can be
removed with a vacuum cleaner attachment. If you are going to be doing work nearby that
could send dust in the air, cover the detector with a shield. Also, shield the detector if
you are painting around it, and never paint on it. Remove the shield promptly after work
Dealing with Nuisance
Regularly cleaning your smoke detectors and following the manufacturer's
instructions may help stop "nuisance" or false alarms. If this doesn't stop
them, install a fresh battery in the detectors giving nuisance alarms. Evaluate where your
detectors are placed if the problem still persists. Cooking vapors and steam can set off a
smoke detector. If the detector is near the kitchen or bathroom, try moving it farther
away. If nuisance alarms continue, install a new smoke detector.
No Substitute for Smoke
Fire protection in the home must start with smoke detectors. There are
many other kinds of detectors which may be designed to detect such factors as high
temperatures, rapid changes in temperature, and certain gases produced in fires. However,
these detectors are not as effective as smoke detectors in giving the first warning when a
fire breaks out. NFPA does not require heat detectors in homes, however, they may be used
for optional extra protection in areas like kitchens, attics, and garages, where smoke
detectors are susceptible to nuisance alarms.
Tests performed on the speed of warning given
by smoke detectors and heat detectors for many types of typical home fires showed smoke
detectors consistently give first warning -- often by enough of a margin to make a major
difference in your chances of escaping alive. Smoke and deadly gas spread farther and
faster than heat.
Contrary to popular belief,
the smell of smoke may not wake a sleeping person. Instead, the poisonous gases and smoke
produced by a fire can numb the senses and put one into a deeper sleep.
Smoke Detectors Are
A battery-operated smoke detector for the home retails for less than $10.
Smoke detectors with extra features can cost up to $25. Batteries cost $1 to $2, depending
on the brand. A smoke detector for a typical hard-wired system costs $14-$18. Smoke
detectors for people with hearing impairments cost approximately $100 each. In 1994, home
fires caused $481,000 in damage every hour.
Now that you know the importance
of installing and maintaining smoke detectors in your home, "Let's Hear it for Fire
Safety: Test Your Detectors!" during Fire Prevention Week and every month."Let's
Hear it for Fire Safety: Test Your Detectors!"