A smoke detector is one of those things around your home you probably take for granted. More than likely, you don’t even know it’s there. Unless, of course, it’s sounding an alarm or making that annoying chirping noise that signals it’s time to replace the battery.
The truth is, your smoke detector is one of the most important devices in your house. It can save your life in an emergency, bringing a fire to your attention so you and your family have time to get to safety. In order for these tiny devices to do their jobs, though, they need some very basic routine maintenance. Find out what you need to know about checking your smoke detectors.
When to Check Them
One surefire way to keep the smoke detectors in your house from waking you up with their chirping in the middle of the night is to put them on a regular maintenance schedule. This way, you’re sure you are replacing the batteries and checking functionality before anything ever goes wrong.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, you should check your smoke detectors monthly. However, other sources say you can check them twice a year, or roughly every six months. Whichever method you choose, the easiest way to keep up with your checks is to create a schedule. If you conduct them monthly, consider the first of the month. If you check less frequently, an easy way to keep track is to check when daylight savings time begins and when it ends.
You should have smoke detectors on every level of your home, including the basement, and in or near each bedroom and sleeping area. Whatever testing schedule you choose, be sure you test every detector in your home.
How to Check Them
Fortunately, checking your smoke detectors is a relatively simple process. There are three primary types of smoke detectors: battery operated, lithium battery operated and hardwired. Before you check anything, you should first confirm which type is in your home.
Most smoke detectors are powered by 9-volt batteries. To check these, climb up on a step stool, remove the plastic cap from the detector, replace the battery and press the test button. If you hear an alarm signal, all is clear.
Smoke detectors that are wired into your home’s electrical system still have backup batteries to ensure they continue working in the event of a power outage. These should be checked in the same manner as those with 9-volt batteries. Press the test button and replace the battery as needed.
Lithium batteries are long-lasting, and if your smoke detector uses these, you don’t need to replace them. You should, however, check your manufacturer’s instructions and make sure you replace the entire unit accordingly.
Another important thing to note – most smoke detectors last a maximum of 10 years. When you do your checks, remove your units from the ceiling and check for a date stamped on the back. You’ll need to replace the detector by this date – if not sooner – to ensure it works properly. Of course, before you conduct any tests, make sure everyone in your home is aware, and be sure to secure any pets that may be startled by the noise.
Why it’s Important
Smoke detectors are simple devices that can save you and your family in the event of an emergency. The U.S. Fire Administration and National Fire Protection Association offer some sobering data to underscore their importance:
Three out of five home fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms.
More than one-third (38%) of home fire deaths result from fires in which no smoke alarms are present.
The risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms.
Failing to check your smoke alarms regularly increases the likelihood that they’ll fail if a fire erupts in your home, placing your family in harm’s way.
Maintaining your smoke alarms takes minutes, and it’s worth it for the peace of mind it provides. Make a point to check them at least twice a year, and don’t forget to log on to your MyAccount page to see if your smoke detectors are covered by your American Home Shield® home warranty.