A recent study from the National Fire Protection Agency, or NFPA, found that around 95% of U.S. homes have one or more smoke alarms installed throughout the house. Unfortunately, that same study revealed that the number of homes with nonfunctioning smoke alarms vastly outnumbered the amount of homes with no alarms at all. This shows that many homes are relying on broken and battery-less alarms to save their lives in the event of a fire. By following the advice of experts and maintaining a testing schedule, you can make sure your alarms will be ready when you need them the most.
Fire safety begins with purchasing the right type of smoke alarm, as dictated by your building code’s power requirements. The common types that are required vary from standard battery-operated alarms to ones that are wired into the home’s electricity. For individuals who have difficulty hearing, smoke alarms with flashing lights and devices called “bed shakers” are used together with audible alarms. Always purchase alarms that have been listed or approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), or a similar independent tester.
The NFPA publishes the Life Safety Code 101 to inform people of the regulations and best practices when it comes to fire safety, and in this case, the amount of smoke alarms to install. It recommends having at least one alarm on each floor, including basements and attics, and within 15 feet of bedrooms. Place smoke alarms inside of bedrooms if family members usually sleep with the door closed. Remember, the strategic placement of smoke alarms is just as important as keeping them powered.
The building codes that govern homes built in the last few years are significantly trying to improve residential fire safety. Most require hardwired alarms that are interconnected, meaning that all alarms will sound if one detects smoke or intense heat. Also, the new codes require the installation of smoke alarms in every bedroom of the house.
Installing the usual store-bought smoke alarm is really quite simple and will require only a drill and a screwdriver. Hardwired and interconnected alarms should be installed by a qualified electrician. Battery back-up should also be used with electrically powered alarms, as well.
Fire safety experts offer more installation advice:
- When installing a wall-mounted alarm, locate it between six to 12 inches below the ceiling.
- Ceiling-mounted alarms should be installed more than six inches away from any wall.
- On sloped and vaulted ceilings, located the alarm at the highest point.
- In open stairways, alarms should be placed near the top of the staircase.
- In closed stairways, like basement steps, the alarm should be placed at the bottom of the staircase.
- Do not install alarms in drafty areas of the house, such as near windows, ceiling fans, or forced-air registers.
If you have any questions about installing fire alarms, call or email your local fire department. They will be happy to help you better protect your home against fires and show you the optimal places to install your smoke detectors.