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Smoke Alarms for the Home

By Edited Sep 29, 2014 4 6

The Right Smoke Detectors Could Save the Life of Someone You Love

Cigarettes can cause fires

Something as simple as a cigarette left smoldering in a trash can, or on your bed, can cause your house to catch on fire, endangering your life and the lives of the people you love.

There are over 300,000 fires in homes every year in the United States. Smoke alarms are one of the cheapest and most effective ways to save lives in the event of a house fire. No matter what other preparations you make to protect your family, be sure to include smoke alarms in your planning. We have five firemen within our extended family. They put their lives on the line every day trying to saves lives and property whenever a fire occurs. It is a heart-breaking tragedy when they see lives lost that could have been saved, if only the residence had a working smoke alarm.

Why Do You Need a Smoke Alarm?

According to FireSafety.gov, approximately 3,000 people die in home fires every year in the United States. Most of them die from inhaling the smoke and toxic gases, not as result of being burned. In the majority of cases, the deaths occur while people are sleeping, because they are not aware of the fire until it is either too late to escape, or the smoke has killed them.

A smoke detector makes a loud, shrill sound as soon as it senses smoke in the home. The alarm is usually loud enough to awaken a family in time to allow them to escape the home. Since nearly 2/3 of home fire deaths happen in houses without working smoke detectors, it is obvious that many lives could be saved every year if all homes had properly installed, working smoke alarms.

If you do not have alarms in your home, you can use this quick link to smoke detectors on Amazon to browse through a selection of them and see what is available.  There are different types and some even will check for carbon monoxide in the air, too.

Where Should You Install Your Smoke Alarm?

You need to have a detector on every floor of your home, as well as both inside and outside all the bedrooms. This may seem like a lot of equipment; however, smoke alarms are quite inexpensive, and having several in your home makes it more likely that your family will wake up and have time to escape in the event of a fire.

Alarms should either be placed in the center of a ceiling or on a wall, about at least six inches below the ceiling. Do not place the detector near ceiling fans, exhaust fans or windows, because the moving air may prevent smoke from reaching the alarm.

Do not place a smoke alarm too close to your kitchen stove or fireplace, or you may become irritated when the smoke detector goes off unnecessarily.

What Kinds of Smoke Detectors are Available?

There are two main types of systems. Both of them are very effective, and you may want to have more than one type in your home, since they work differently with different kinds of fires.

Ionization detectors contain two plates that generate a small electric current. When smoke enters the chamber, the smoke particles disrupt the current, and that triggers the alarm. This detector responds most quickly to flaming fires with small particles.

Photoelectric detectors use a light beam and light receptor, or photocell. When smoke gets between the light and the receptor, the change in the light will trigger the alarm. This type of detector responds more quickly to smoldering fires.

Most smoke detectors are battery operated, but some can be hard-wired into your home as part of a burglar alarm system. Other systems are hard-wired, with a battery backup, in the event the electricity goes out. Again, you will want to have both types. If you have the battery operated type, you will need to change the batteries twice a year. Many people recommend that you change your batteries at the same time you change your clock for Daylight Savings Time. Most detectors will also emit a chirping sound when the battery gets low. However, don't rely on waiting for the alarm to chirp. Test all of your fire safety equipment every few months to make sure that they are working. Replace old smoke alarms that are over 10 years old.

Hard-wired alarm systems can also be interconnected. In this system, if one alarm goes off, all the ones in the house will go off. This is helpful, especially in a multi-storied home. If the detector goes off in the basement, the alarms will also begin to sound on every floor and inside the second story bedrooms. This can save precious time, make it easier to get out safely and quickly, and enable you to contact the fire department faster … increasing your chances of saving your lives and your home.

What to do if the Smoke Detector Goes Off

If your smoke alarm begins to shrill, you should immediately leave the home and call the fire department from outside or from a neighbor's house. Do not try to save any personal items. It will waste time, could result in you becoming overcome by smoke and toxic gases, and most of your private property will already have suffered from smoke damage. Once you are out, stay out.

While you are escaping, stay low. Smoke rises, and it is easier to see and breathe the closer you are to the floor. Have an escape plan, and practice it in advance. Tell your children where to meet outside the house, in the event you have to escape during a fire. Pick a nearby tree or other landmark where the family can gather.

For other ways to keep you family safe, you may want to read some of these additional articles:

Preventing Death and Injury from Fireworks

Personal Safety Tips for Women

Products to Help You Quit Smoking

Be Prepared for an Emergency

Halloween Safety Tips for Kids

Teach Your Children Safety Around Electricity

You Can Prevent a Wild Fire!

Statistical information from FireSafety.gov

Photo courtesy of photoxpress.com

Here's a Combination Smoke Carbon Monoxide Detector

Kidde KN-COSM-BA Battery-Operated Combination Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarm with Talking Alarm
Amazon Price: $64.97 $27.98 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 29, 2014)
Most homes should have at least one of these, to help protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning, as well as smoke.and fire.


Oct 15, 2010 9:19am
thnaks for this useful info safety is always good for everyone
Oct 16, 2010 4:55am
Very good info on smoke alarms. It is a shame that many people have them and put them in the wrong place so that each time they cook toast off goes the alarm. These people often disconnect the alarm, therefore risking their lives. Yes it is very annoying when it goes off for nothing But.... which would be worse lose your home or spend a few minutes stopping the noise from time to time?
Oct 16, 2010 8:42am
I think Eileen has been watching me. I moved into a house once where the alarm went off every time we made toast! We had the device moved. This is a great article.
Oct 16, 2010 12:49pm
Another excellent article. I have two detectors that are "chirping" they need their batteries changed. I've been lazy and busy, and I have been putting it off. I will change them ASAP. Thank you for sharing this important article. Great job!
Oct 29, 2010 11:19am
Before reading your article, I had not idea about the types of smoke detector.I always love reading articles with little technical explanation. Excellent article.Thank you :)
Sep 29, 2014 4:30pm
I'm glad to pass on this helpful information. Everyone should have different types of smoke detectors in their homes.
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