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Check Smoke Detectors Before an Emergency

Fire Damage
Author: ServiceMaster Restore

Regularly checking smoke alarms is a basic part of home and building maintenance that will help keep your home or business safe. Smoke detector checks are a necessary and effective way to protect your building and the people in it from smoke and fire emergencies, and it doesn't take a lot of effort to keep yours working properly. Use the tips below to ensure your smoke detectors are up to snuff. To ensure the safety of your family and property from home or commercial fire or smoke damage.

Why Check Smoke Detectors?

There aren't many items in your home or office that can actually save lives in a fire emergency, but smoke alarms are one of them. In fact, residential fires are more than twice as likely to turn deadly in homes without working smoke detectors, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Providing as much time as possible to escape the premises is of paramount importance during a fire, whether it's a large commercial facility that takes extra time to evacuate or a small family home full of people who are fast asleep. In a fire emergency, working smoke alarms offer a critical early warning that can directly impact the survival of the people you care about.

Tips on Checking Smoke Alarms

While smoke detector technology is more advanced and reliable than ever, it's still important to inspect and test yours regularly. Follow these tips from the experts at ServiceMaster Restore to conduct a proper smoke detector check in your home or office. Enjoy everyday peace of mind knowing that you'll have essential, life-saving support when you need it most.

  1. Check to see what kind of smoke detector you have: There are 2 categories of smoke detectors commonly found in homes/businesses. A battery-operated smoke alarm is commonly found in households and can be installed anywhere. An AC-powered smoke detector (hard-wired) is better suited for long-term use and is found typically in businesses. These detectors require a battery backup to ensure that they function during a blackout or an electrical fire.
  2. Alert your family/employees/customers: Smoke detectors have a high-pitched sound that may irritate or frighten some people. By giving everyone an early warning prior to smoke alarm testing they will be able to protect their ears or prepare for the sound.
  3. Have someone stand at a point farthest away from the alarm: While the sound during a smoke alarm test may be loud nearby the device, it may not be loud enough to hear at another point in your property. If the sound is low or muffled, consider adding another smoke alarm in that area.
  4. Test monthly: Check every smoke alarm in the building at least once a month using the integrated test button. Some newer models will have flashing or solid lights that glow to let you know that the device is getting power. Other models are interconnected, allowing you to test all of them at once. For businesses, testing should be done only by a specialist or they should be made aware to avoid a fire department response to a false alarm.
  5. Change the batteries: If your smoke detectors include a removable battery, replace it at least once a year. Don't wait until your alarms start chirping to install fresh batteries. Set a reminder, and always stay protected. One useful trick to follow is to replace your batteries when you change your clocks for daylight savings time.
  6. Test your smoke alarm’s detection capability: While the batteries may work, this doesn’t ensure that your device can detect smoke properly. Light some matches and blow the flame out near the smoke alarm to ensure that it goes off. There are also smoke detector tester cans that use an aerosol spray to trigger the smoke alarm.
  7. Clean your smoke alarm: While checking your device, brush or use a vacuum to remove dirt and dust that may have accumulated on the device. This is especially important for businesses such as an industrial plant or warehouse who produce a lot of dust or debris.
  8. Replace alarms every 10 years: Replace the entire smoke detector apparatus every 10 years or 87,000 hours to ensure you have the latest technology and best protection available. Non-removable lithium batteries only have a 10-year guarantee, so even "long-life" smoke alarms need to be replaced after 10 years. This needs to be done due to the internal sensors having a buildup of contaminants from air pollutants, dust, and dirt.
  9. Ensure there are smoke alarms in the appropriate places: At home, having a smoke alarm on each floor, in the hallway of sleeping areas, near the kitchen, and near a stairway is appropriate. Check with your local fire department to ensure you follow proper regulations. For small or medium sized businesses, fire sprinklers, pull boxes, or other types of smoke alarm requirements are determined by building code.
  10. Be in compliance: The NFPA maintains fire prevention codes and requirements for all types of occupancies. Explore the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code and the Life Safety Code from NFPA to ensure you have the latest information and are in compliance.
  11. Follow the instructions: The manufacturer of your smoke detectors will provide model-specific instructions for maintaining and checking the smoke alarms in your home or business. Keep all documentation so you can refer to it as needed.

How Often Should I Check My Smoke Alarm?

Smoke alarms should be checked at least once a month. Devices can be tested by pressing the test button on the device to ensure they’re functioning. There are other methods to test a smoke alarm including a smoke detector tester aerosol spray and with smoke from extinguished matches.

Testing smoke alarms monthly is especially important if your property has valuables or family members who may require assistance to leave the area. Businesses will need to call an alarm professional to ensure the fire alarms are tested regularly and are up to code.

What Different Types Of Smoke Detectors Are There?

There are 2 commonly recognized types of smoke detectors: ionization and photoelectric detectors.

Ionization detectors contain a small amount of radioactive material between 2 electrically charged plates. This causes the air between the plates to ionize and a current flows as a result. When smoke enters the chambers of the alarm, this disrupts the flow of ions between the plates, triggering the alarm.

Photoelectric smoke alarms use a light source angled away from the alarm. When smoke enters the alarm, it causes the light to reflect back to the light sensor, which then triggers the alarm. These types of alarms are more responsive to smoldering fires such as those from unattended cigarettes which produce minimal amounts of flame but larger amounts of smoke.

Both types of smoke alarms are recommended to be used at home and are effective at alerting you to a fire. Some models today include both technologies that work to detect most types of fires that could affect your home or business.

What Should I Do If A Smoke Detector Malfunctions?

Prior to checking your device for smoke detector malfunctions, ensure there is no smoke or fire in the area. What may appear to be a false alarm may be a small fire that may go unnoticed. If no smoke or fire is in the vicinity, the device may have triggered a false alarm. Here are some of the most common reasons why a smoke alarm may malfunction and cause a false alarm:

  • Wrong placement: Smoke alarms within 10 feet of the cooking appliance such as a toaster or oven may trigger a false alarm. Check to make sure the device is not close to a window, particles from outside may trigger the device as well.
  • Presence of strong chemicals: If a smoke detector is near strong-smelling chemicals, such as those used during deep cleaning or home remodeling, this may cause the smoke alarm to go off. Remove the chemicals from the area and see if that addresses the false alarms.
  • Steam or humidity: High humidity leads to moisture particles that may be confused for smoke. If your device is located near a bathroom or a device that emits steam, it may need to be moved to a different location.
  • Dust, pollutants, or dirt buildup: Dust buildup interferes with the function of the device. Clean your device at least once a year using a vacuum brush or a wipe to ensure the sensors are clean.
  • Insects: Insects can often enter smoke detectors and trigger it by blocking the sensors used to detect smoke. Open the device and check for bugs, if there are any, remove them and consider using bug spray or other insect repellants in the area to avoid similar issues in the future.
  • Sensitivity is set too high: If your device is at least 10 feet away from cooking appliances and still causes false alarms, the issue may be due to the sensitivity of the device. Take care to only adjust the sensitivity if absolutely needed by following the manufacturer’s instructions.

If the device is still not responding or repeatedly going off after checking for the above, you may want to consider replacing the device. This is especially important for businesses. There are a variety of fire causes in businesses that may stem from a malfunctioning fire alarm, each with the potential to cause significant damage to your property or loss of employee or customer life. An alarm expert will be able to provide regular checks to ensure any malfunctioning equipment is replaced promptly.

Help Prevent Smoke And Fire Damage To Your Home Or Business

A fire can wreak havoc on any home or business. While the remediation professionals at ServiceMaster Restore are here to help you recover from smoke or fire damage to your home or business, it's up to you to ensure the proper safety procedures and equipment are in place to keep your family and co-workers safe in the midst of an emergency. Checking smoke alarms regularly and correctly is a critical, simple measure you can take to help save lives should the unexpected occur.