I’m sure you’re familiar with smoke detectors: They’re round. They’re usually white, beige or gray. They sometimes chirp (that means they need new batteries!). And when you accidentally burn your dinner, they pitch an absolute fit.
They also save lives. Though the National Electric Code (NEC) does not require smoke alarms, your local codes likely do. And even more important that the law, smoke detectors are one of the easiest, least expensive and most important ways to protect your family from the threat of a house fire.
Read Your Manual
First things first: Read your manual. All smoke alarms work differently, and you really, really need to understand how your model works. Make sure you buy fresh batteries (check the expiration) for your smoke alarms. Once they’re installed, hit the tester button. Depending on the alarm, you’ll hear shot beeps, long beeps, or a prolonged beep to let you know that they’re working.
How to Install Smoke Detectors
Ideal placement for smoke detectors is at bed level. (Well, specifically at the level of your nose and mouth when you’re in bed.) That’s because they’re meant to alert you to dangerous smoke when you’re sleeping. But in practice, many families cannot install their smoke alarms at bed height due to curious little hands, wagging dog tails, and other daily life that could affect a detector’s function. If that’s the case, install your smoke alarms on the ceiling or high on the wall, within arm’s reach and at least six inches from where the wall and ceiling meet. Do not place them near air-conditioning or heating ducts, since this could interrupt the flow of smoke needed to activate the alarm.
Where to Place Smoke Alarms
The placement of smoke detectors depends on the layout and size of your home. At the very least, you should install one detector on each floor, one near the kitchen (but not over the stove), and one in each sleeping area. That’s the bare minimum. Err on the safe side and place an alarm in each bedroom, in the hallway outside each bedroom, one adjacent to the kitchen, and in other strategic areas of your home, depending on its size. Your lifestyle should also be taken into account. For example, if you enjoy a roaring fire in the winter, place a smoke alarm near the fireplace (but not too near!).
Test Your Smoke Detectors
Your alarms are pretty self-sufficient, but you should do regular testing and seasonal battery refreshes. I like to test my smoke alarms about once a month, typically in conjunction with another sporadic chore, like window washing. (Blech.) You should also swap out old batteries for new at least once a year. At our house, we do it twice a year, whenever we’re turning our clocks back/forward for Daylight Saving’s. Partnering our smoke alarm duties with other uncommon tasks helps jog our memory, so we can stay safe.
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