University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Smoke Alarms save Lives

Did you know that having a working smoke alarm reduces a person's chance of dying in a fire by half?

For the best protection, install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement, outside every sleeping area and in every bedroom. Smoke alarms should be mounted on ceilings or high on walls, about four to 12 inches from the ceiling, and tested monthly by pushing the test button.

It's also important to replace smoke alarm batteries at least once a year unless they are 10-year lithium batteries. If your smoke alarms are hard-wired, they still have batteries in case of a power outage. Be sure to replace these batteries, too.

One good way to remember to change the batteries in all your smoke alarms is to do it when you set your clocks back in fall or ahead in spring. You also need to replace the battery if you test the unit and don't hear the alarm or anytime you hear a "chirp," which indicates low battery power.

Smoke alarms sensors do not last forever. The maximum life span is eight to 10 years. After that time, the entire unit should be replaced.

Check the manufacture date on the back of the unit.  If there is none, definitely replace the entire unit now. Or if the unit does not respond properly when tested, replace it immediately.

Most hardware stores carry both battery-operated ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms for about $10 to $25 apiece. Ionization alarms are triggered by smoke and respond quickly to heat and flames. Photoelectric alarms detect smoke from a smoldering fire before it spreads rapidly. It's recommended that you have both types in your home.

Smoke alarms containing these two types of sensors in the same unit also are available at many outlets. Or consider replacing your alarms with the newer combination smoke and carbon monoxide type units.

Regardless of what you choose, always look for the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) or other recognized testing laboratory label. And remember to write the date of installation inside the alarm's cover as a reminder of when you will need to replace the unit.

Don't take chances. The cost of a new battery or new smoke alarm--and a few minutes of your time a month to test the alarm--is a small price to pay for your family's safety.