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Product safety tips

Smoke alarms

Smoke alarms may allow you and your family sufficient time to reach safety by providing early warning in the event of a fire. Many people have neglected to install smoke alarms despite their life-saving potential and low cost. Even those who do have smoke alarms forget that they need some maintenance attention to continue working properly. UL offers the following tips for purchasing and maintaining smoke alarms.

Purchasing a smoke alarm

Experts report that consumers may cut their risk of dying in a home fire in half simply by having a smoke alarm in their homes. Smoke alarms are available at nearly all hardware, department and discount stores.

Look for the UL Mark

When you purchase a smoke alarm, look for the UL Mark on the product as well as on the packaging. The UL Mark tells you that a representative sample of the smoke alarm has been evaluated by UL according to nationally recognized safety requirements. It also means that UL conducts follow-up evaluations to countercheck that samples of the smoke alarm continue to meet these safety requirements.

Photoelectric and ionization type alarms

There are two types of smoke alarms available today: photoelectric and ionization. When smoke enters a photoelectric alarm, light from a pulsating light source reflected off the smoke particles onto a light sensor, triggering the alarm. When smoke enters an ionization alarm, ionized air molecules attach to the smoke particles and reduce the ionizing current, triggering the alarm. While photoelectric smoke alarms generally respond faster to smoldering smoke conditions and ionization smoke alarms generally respond faster to flaming fire conditions, both types provide adequate protection against fire. Combination smoke alarms featuring both photoelectric and ionization technology are also available at hardware, department and home improvement stores.

Safety in numbers

Install at least one smoke alarm on each floor of the house or residence and outside all sleeping areas. Some fire safety advocates recommend installing smoke alarms inside each sleeping area if sleeping with the door closed.

Smoke alarm maintenance

Working smoke alarms are needed in every home and residence. Test and maintain your smoke alarms at least once a month unless otherwise noted by manufacturer instructions. Smoke alarms most often fail because of missing, dead or disconnected batteries. Replace the batteries at least once a year.

Fire escape planning

In addition to installing smoke alarms in your home, UL also recommends that you develop a fire escape plan and practice it at least twice a year with all members of your household. In the event of a fire, every family member should know at least two ways out of each room. Stay as close to the floor as possible during your escape as hot air and smoke rise to the ceiling and air nearest the floor will be safer to breathe. If you encounter a closed door during your escape, feel the door before opening it. If it is hot to the touch, use another exit. The heat could indicate fire on the other side of the door. Teach your children how to escape in case of a fire and not to hide under a bed or in a closet.

Certain individuals, including children, elderly people and those with special needs, may not wake up to the sound of a smoke alarm. You should be aware of this when developing your home fire escape plan.

Designate a well-lit place that is a safe distance away from your home, where everyone will meet in the event of a fire. This will help firefighters determine if anyone else is still inside the home. Never return to a burning building for any reason.

Important safety instructions

  • Read and follow the manufacturer's installation and maintenance instructions exactly.
  • Install fresh batteries in your smoke alarms at least once a year.
  • Do not allow anyone to disconnect or substitute the batteries from your smoke alarms. A smoke alarm cannot work unless it is connected to a power source.
  • Do not panic if a smoke detector's warning alarm sounds. Stay close to the floor and get out of the building. Before opening any doors, check the temperature. If the door feels hot to the touch, do not open it; use an alternate exit instead.