How do I test a smoke alarm to see if it’s working properly?

Find the smoke alarm’s test button and press it. If working properly, you’ll hear a very loud beep. If the sound is weak or there isn’t a sound, it’s time to replace your batteries, or the whole device if it’s a sealed-battery alarm. Test smoke alarms at least twice a year.

When do I replace a smoke alarm and what types of alarms are out there?

Smoke alarms should be replaced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, which is usually every 10 years, or when they stop working, whichever comes first. If your smoke alarm is more than 10 years old, install new alarms and look for products that are third-party listed or certified.

At the end of the day, the best type of alarm is a working smoke alarm. Smoke alarms can differ in the sensors and technology used to detect smoke.  Newer technology can even better differentiate between cooking smoke and smoke from a fire.

Smoke alarms should never be disabled. Cooking nuisance alarms, alarms set off from common steam or smoke from cooking, are a leading reason people disable their alarms. Proper installation can also prevent nuisance alarms. Smoke alarms should be installed at least 10 feet away from cooking appliances.

Describe the ins and outs of properly placing a smoke alarm in the home.

With only three minutes or less to escape in the event of a fire, smoke alarms give you and your loved ones the earliest warning possible so you can get out of your home quickly and safely. It’s important to have working smoke alarms installed on every floor of your home, including the basement, as well as inside each bedroom and outside every sleeping area.

Smoke alarms should be installed high on walls or ceilings. Wall-mounted smoke alarms should be installed one foot away from the ceiling and they shouldn’t be placed near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.

If possible smoke alarms should be interconnected so when one sounds, they all sound.

What is a fire escape plan? Explain “Close Before You Doze.”

If there is a fire in your home, there won’t be time in the moment to plan a way out. A fire escape plan should be created now and practiced often so you and your loved ones are prepared in the event of a fire. Your fire escape plan should include a plan A, B and C.

In Plan A, you exit through the nearest exit, most likely a door, close the door behind you and head to your family’s meeting place to call 911.

In Plan B, you exit through an alternate exit, which could be a window or a door located in a different part of the home, and, if you can, close the door or window behind you before going to your family’s meeting place to call 911.

In Plan C, if you can’t get out, you get behind a closed door as far away from the fire as possible, turn on the light and do whatever you can to let the fire department know where you are inside the home. Cover the cracks with clothes, towels, drapes or anything else available.

Another important fire safety practice is Close Before You Doze – close bedroom doors before going to sleep. According to FSRI’s research, closed doors can be an effective barrier against deadly levels of carbon monoxide, smoke and flames. In fact, there can be a 900-degree Fahrenheit temperature difference between a room with an open door and one with a closed door. While a room with an open door may reach 1,000-degrees Fahrenheit, a room with a closed door may only reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

What else can parents do to improve home fire safety if they already have working smoke alarms inside their homes?

In addition to having working smoke alarms, implementing a fire escape plan and practicing Close Before You Doze, everyone should have a fire extinguisher in their home. However, household fire extinguishers are intended for use only when the fire is contained, such as when something is burning in a pot or wastebasket or to clear a pathway for escape.

What are some common mistakes when it comes to fire safety and the home?

According to FSRI’s latest Annual Fire Safety Survey, released this month, while 68% of Americans have a fire escape plan for their home, 21% of those people have never reviewed or practiced it. It’s important to plan and practice your escape plan to increase your family’s preparedness in the event of a fire, enabling them to react more quickly and safely.

Additionally, our survey revealed that despite the fact half of Americans believe it’s safer to sleep with their doors closed in the event of a fire (50%), an equal amount say that they still sleep with their door open at least some of the time. Our research proves that a closed door could save lives in a fire. Make closing your doors part of your nightly routine.


Steve Kerber is Vice President and Executive Director of Underwriters Laboratories Fire Safety Research Institute. He leads a fire safety research team dedicated to addressing the world’s unresolved fire safety risks and emerging dangers to reduce death, injury and loss from fire.

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