where to place smoke detectors
Place smoke detectors in strategic spots around your home

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 than 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 for your smoke alarms (and check the expiration). Once batteries are installed, hit the tester button. Depending on the alarm, you’ll hear short beeps, long beeps or a prolonged beep to let you know that they’re working.

Where to place smoke alarms

Be sure to place a smoke detector in these areas of your home:

  • On every floor
  • Near the kitchen
  • In each bedroom
  • In each hallway
  • Near fire risks (like fireplaces!)
  • Near stairways to each floor
  • In the basement

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 within 10 feet of the stove), one in each sleeping area, hallway areas and other strategic areas. That’s the bare minimum.

If your home has a basement, be sure to place a smoke detector on the ceiling close to the stairway leading up to the rest of the home. For multi-story homes, place a smoke alarm in an area close to the stairway entry point to each floor to alert family members quickly if smoke rises from a lower level.

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 about 10 feet away to minimize false alarms.

How to install smoke detectors

Install your smoke alarms on the ceiling or high on the wall. Keep your smoke detectors within 12 inches or less of where the wall and ceiling meet. Do not install smoke detectors near exterior doors, windows, air-conditioning or heating ducts, since air drafts could interrupt the flow of smoke needed to activate the alarm. Painting over smoke alarms can deteriorate their ability to function properly; never paint over a smoke detector.

Smoke alarms save lives, but only if they’re working properly. Test monthly!

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 ones 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 Time. Partnering our smoke alarm duties with other uncommon tasks helps jog our memory, so we can stay safe.

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