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Maximizing safety: proper smoke alarm use

For the most part, consumers know they should have a working smoke alarm installed in their home. However, many are unaware of the options available to optimize protection for their families.

UL, the independent product safety testing and certification organization, encourages consumers to consider the following tips when buying, installing and maintaining their smoke alarms:

Technology

  • The use of both photoelectric and ionization technologies optimizes detection, and could offer the best available escape time in residential fire situations.
    • Ionization smoke alarms are best suited for alerting home occupants of fires originating from a flaming source - such as a lit candle igniting a towel.
    • Photoelectric smoke alarms are most effective at sounding when fires originate from a smoldering source - such as a lit cigarette falling into a couch cushion.
    • Dual-technology alarms combine the science of ionization and photoelectric sensors into a single unit.
    • Interconnected smoke alarms, with units in several areas of the home, will help alert occupants in all areas of a home simultaneously, regardless of where the smoke starts.

Installation

The National Fire Protection Association and UL recommend the following tips when installing your smoke alarms:

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement, making sure that there is an alarm outside every separate sleeping area. New homes are required to have a smoke alarm in every sleeping room and all smoke alarms must be interconnected.
  • Hard-wired smoke alarms should be installed by a qualified electrician and have battery backups in case of a power outage.
  • If you sleep with bedroom doors closed, have a qualified electrician install interconnected smoke alarms in each room so that when one alarm sounds, they all sound.
  • If you or someone in your home is deaf or hard of hearing, consider installing an alarm that combines flashing lights, vibration and/or sound.
  • Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings (remember, smoke rises). Ceiling mounted alarms should be installed at least four inches away from the nearest wall; wall-mounted alarms should be installed four to 12 inches away from the ceiling.
  • If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm near the ceiling's highest point.
  • Don't install smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.

Maintenance

  • Test smoke alarms at least once a month.
  • Dust smoke alarm vents regularly to prevent particles from blocking sensors.
  • Never disconnect a smoke alarm or remove the batteries for any reason, except to change them.
  • If a smoke alarm starts chirping, replace the batteries.
  • Replace the batteries in your smoke alarm once a year, or as soon as the alarm "chirps," warning that the battery is low.

    Tip: Schedule battery replacements for the same day you change your clocks from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time in the fall.
  • Smoke alarm technology is constantly improving. Replace smoke alarms every 10 years, or as the manufacturer recommends - even if you've never had a house fire.

Other important considerations

  • Some individuals, particularly children, the elderly, and those hard of hearing or with special needs, may not wake up to the sound of a smoke alarm. Be sure your home fire escape plan considers their needs.
  • Develop a home fire escape plan. Today, people have only about three to four minutes to escape a residential fire. Early planning - and practice - helps ensure family members know exactly what to do if you have a home fire.
  • Look for the UL Mark when purchasing a smoke alarm. The symbol indicates representative samples have been tested to show that the alarms meet UL's stringent safety standards.