For many years NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, has required as a minimum that smoke alarms be installed inside every sleep room (even for existing homes) in addition to requiring them outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. (Additional smoke alarms are required for larger homes.)

Installing smoke alarms
Testing smoke alarms

Safety Tips

Share these life-saving tips with residents as you install new alarms for them or change the batteries in existing alarms.

• Once the alarm sounds, you may have as little as two minutes to escape.

• Test your smoke alarms once a month by pushing the test button.

• Smoke alarms with nonreplaceable (long-life) batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm right away.

• For smoke alarms with any other type of battery, replace batteries at least once a year. If that alarm chirps, replace only the battery. Hint: schedule battery replacements for the same day you change your clocks from daylight saving time to standard time in the fall.

• Never “borrow” a battery from a smoke alarm. Smoke alarms can’t warn you of fire if the batteries are missing or have been disconnected.

• Don’t disable smoke alarms even temporarily. If your smoke alarm is sounding “nuisance alarms,” try relocating it further from the kitchen, where cooking fumes or steam can cause the alarm to sound. Or, replace the alarm with a photoelectric type alarm which is not as sensitive to cooking fumes.

• Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning to keep smoke alarms working well.

• Practice your home fire escape drill twice a year with everyone in your home. Practice at night and during the daytime. Practice your drill with overnight guests.

Smoke Alarm Installation and Maintenance

Alarm Placement

Smoke alarms should be installed according to NFPA 72 and the manufacturer’s instructions. Heat and smoke rise, so smoke alarms should be installed on the ceiling or high on a wall to detect the first traces of smoke.If a room has a pitched (slanted) ceiling, mount the unit near the ceiling’s highest point, 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30.5 centimeters) away from the wall. If the room has an A-frame ceiling, mount the unit at least 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30.5 centimeters) away from the peak.
Wall-mounted smoke alarms should be installed so that the top of the alarm is not more than 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) from the ceiling.Install basement smoke alarms close to the bottom of the stairs. Don’t install an alarm at the top of basement stairs; dead air trapped near the closed door could prevent smoke from reaching the unit.Some household environments can cause nuisance alarms or interfere with a smoke alarm’s operation. Avoid placing alarms near a cooking appliance, a dusty area, a shower, or any area where the temperature drops below 40°F (4.5°C) or rises above 110°F (43°C).
Cooking fumes, steam, and automobile exhaust can result in nuisance alarms. Do not install alarms in bathrooms, kitchens, garages, attics, or unheated areas or near recessed ceiling areas, ceiling fans, furnaces, or furnace vents. Place alarms at least 3 feet (0.9 meter) horizontally from bathroom doors.It’s a good idea to have an experienced installer available, if possible, while your volunteers are in the field. Give volunteers a phone number to call your expert for advice on installation problems.

Smoke Alarm Types and Features

Smoke alarms are available in a variety of types and features. These types and features are summarized below along with considerations for their application.

Power Systems

Low-Battery Warning Feature

All battery-powered alarms have a low-battery warning that “chirps” when battery power is low. Since the warning signal itself will stop after a few days, residents are encouraged to test their alarms after they’ve been away from home for several days. If the smoke alarm “chirps” signaling a low battery, replace the battery right away.

Sensing Systems

Most smoke alarms use one of two common sensing systems for detecting a fire. Ionization-type smoke alarms pass an electric current through a “sensing chamber.” When smoke enters the chamber, it reduces the flow of current and activates the alarms. An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires. Photoelectric-type smoke alarms aim a light source into a sensing chamber. Smoke enters the chamber and reflects light onto the light sensor, triggering the alarm. A photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, both types of alarms or combination ionization-photoelectric alarms, also known as dual-sensor smoke alarms, should be installed.

Other Smoke Alarm Features

Manufacturers are offering smoke alarms with new consumer features, some of which are especially appropriate for older adults. Take these options into account when buying alarms for your community installation project, but be sure that any alarm you purchase bears the label of a recognized testing laboratory.

Life Span

Smoke alarms should be replaced when they are 10 years old. Immediately replace a smoke alarm that does not respond when tested, even after you have replaced the battery.

Training Tips

Installing smoke alarms

A successful installation program involves making sure that alarms are installed correctly and in the right locations.

• Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement. Larger homes may require additional smoke alarms to provide a minimum level of protection.

• For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms, so when one sounds, they all sound.

• If someone in the home has profound hearing loss, install alarms with high intensity strobe lights. Vibration equipment is required and is activated by the sound of the alarm.

• If someone in the home is hard of hearing, a complex, low-frequency audible signal works best. A separate device that is activated by the sound of the alarm is available.

• Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings (remember, smoke rises).

• 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.• Smoke alarms should not be installed in attics, bathrooms, or garages.

• Install smoke alarms away from the kitchen to prevent false alarms. Generally, they should be at least 10 feet from a cooking appliance.