How to test your smoke detectors and fire alarms
Last updated: January 1
Smoke detectors and fire alarms may be some of the most important items in your home when it comes to your family's safety. These early warning devices may help alert your family to fire and dangerous smoke while there is still time to evacuate, but they need to be periodically tested to help ensure proper function.
Why do it?
Electronic devices are not infallible. Batteries die, and other parts of the smoke detector can wear out over time. Testing them regularly and replacing batteries (or the entire device) is one way to help ensure your family stays safe should there be a fire in your home.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), smoke detectors should be tested at least once a month and batteries should be replaced at least once or twice a year. A 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 or fall back. Make sure to review your smoke detector's user manual — 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 may wear it out faster.
There are two main types of smoke detectors, according to the USFA:
Battery-powered: This type can be susceptible to defective or worn-out batteries. Monthly testing is critical. Never put old batteries into your smoke detectors and fire alarms.
Hardwired: These detectors are powered by your home's electrical system, but they usually have backup batteries so the device can remain operational in a power outage. Hardwired smoke detectors still require monthly testing to help ensure that both batteries and parts are functioning properly.
How do you test it?
You should always check the manufacturer's instructions for the proper method of testing your smoke detector and fire alarm. But, in general, the USFA states most battery-powered and hardwired smoke detectors 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, so you'll want to let everyone know you plan to test the alarms to help avoid scaring anyone.
Step 2. Station a family member at the furthest point away from the alarm in your home. This can be critical to help make sure the alarm can be heard everywhere in your home. You may want to install extra detectors in areas where the alarm's sound is low, muffled or weak.
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 pressed. 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), change them now regardless of the test result, and test the new batteries one final time to help 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 may prevent it from working even if the batteries are new.
Remember, smoke detectors have a normal life span of 10 years, according to the USFA. 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.
Installing smoke detectors can be a great way to help keep your family safe, but assuming they are working may lead to a dangerous situation. Taking a few minutes to check them regularly can help ensure they're working properly.
This article highlights examples of precautions you can consider to help maintain your personal property. Please recognize that a particular precaution may not be appropriate or effective in every circumstance and that taking preventive measures cannot guarantee any outcome. We encourage you to use your own good judgment about what's appropriate and always consider safety.