Smoke detectors are one of the most important items in your home when it comes to your family's safety. These early warning devices can alert you and your family to fire and dangerous smoke while there is still time to evacuate.
Smoke alarms need to be periodically tested to ensure proper function.
Electronic devices are not infallible. Batteries die, and other parts of the smoke detector can wear out over time. Regular testing can help ensure that your family will be safe in the event of a fire in your home.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, smoke detectors should be tested at least once a month, and batteries should be replaced at least twice a year. One good way to remember to do this is to change your batteries when you change your clocks for Daylight Saving Time—when you "spring forward" and "fall back." Review your user manual to confirm frequency; you may need to check more often if any of the following apply:
- The detector often gives false alarms
- The alarm emits short beeps regularly (without anyone touching it)
- Frequent kitchen smoke has caused it to activate often, which can wear it out faster
There are two main types of smoke detectors:
Battery-powered: This type is most susceptible to bad and worn-out batteries. Monthly testing is critical. Remember never to put old batteries into your smoke detector.
Hard-wired: Hardwired detectors are powered by your home electrical system, but they usually have back-up batteries so the device can remain operational in a power outage. Hardwired smoke detectors still require regular monthly testing to ensure that both batteries and parts are functioning properly.
You should always check the manufacturer's instructions on the proper method of testing your smoke alarm. But, in general, most battery-powered and hardwired smoke alarms can be tested in the following way:
Step 1. Alert family members that you will be testing the alarm. Smoke detectors have a high-pitched alarm that may frighten small children. Be sure to warn your family that you plan to test the alarms to avoid frightening anyone.
Step 2. Station a family member at the furthest point away from the alarm. This is critical to make sure that someone in the furthest reaches of your home can still hear the smoke detector. You may want to install extra detectors in areas where the alarm's sound is low, muffled or weak
Press and hold the smoke detector's test button.
Step 3. Press and hold the test button on the smoke detector. It can take a few seconds to begin, but a loud, ear-piercing siren should emanate from the smoke detector while the button is depressed. If the sound is weak or nonexistent, replace your batteries. If it has been more than six months since you last replaced the batteries (whether your detector is battery-powered or hardwired), replace them now regardless of the test result, and test the new batteries one final time to ensure proper functioning. You should also look at your smoke detector to make sure there's no dust or other substance blocking its grates, which can prevent it from working even if the batteries are new.
Step 4. Check with real smoke. Light a match and blow it out directly under the smoke detector. Then, put the match in a glass of water to make sure it's out. The detector may take several moments to sense the smoke and go off. If it doesn't react, replace the batteries and test again. If the device still does not react, or it's a hardwired unit, you may need to replace the unit.
If a smoke detector is out of reach, you might consider testing the alarm with an aerosol can of smoke, which you can purchase at your local hardware store. Following the directions on the package, aim the spray at the detector. The alarm should sound within a few seconds.
Remember, smoke detectors have a normal life span of 10 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Even if you've performed regular maintenance, and your device is still functional, you should replace a smoke detector after the 10-year period, or earlier depending on the manufacturer's instructions.
It's an easy way to help keep your family safe!
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