Expert Advice

Safe at Home: Smoke Alarms


Smoke alarms are an important defense against injury or death in house fires. The National Fire Protection Association states that nearly two-thirds of home fire fatalities happen in homes with non-working or missing smoke detectors. Most building codes now require smoke detectors in all residential structures, which has resulted in a steep drop in fire- and smoke-related deaths. Homeowners should check with their local public safety office or fire department for specific information on these requirements.


  • As in real estate, location is important! Smoke alarms should be in installed every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on each level of the home.
  • Alarms should be placed high on a wall or on the ceiling. It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement. High, peaked ceilings have dead air space at the top; smoke alarms should be placed no closer than 3 feet from the highest point.
  • For areas close to the kitchen, use a detector with a hush button that can be used to silence nuisance alarms triggered by cooking smoke or steam. Alternatively, consider installing a photoelectric alarm, which is better at detecting smoldering fires (vs. flames) near the kitchen. Never remove the unit’s battery to stop or prevent nuisance alarms.
  • There are two primary types of smoke alarm technology: ionization and photoelectric. According to the National Fire Protection Association, ionization alarms are more responsive to flames, while photoelectric alarms are more sensitive to smoldering fires. For the most comprehensive protection, both types or a combination unit should be installed.
  • Test the alarm monthly. Put a reminder in your calendar to do this on the first or last day of the month, for example. The units have a test button that will sound the alarm for a brief time when pressed. Any alarm that fails to sound should have the battery replaced. If the test button fails with a new battery, replace the entire detector immediately. Monthly testing is also an ideal time to dust off the unit.
  • Replace the batteries at least once a year. A common rule of thumb is to do this when changing to or from Daylight Saving Time in fall and spring. Some alarms come with 10-year batteries; for these, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for battery replacement. Remember, a non-working alarm is no better than no alarm at all.
  • If the alarms are hard-wired to the home’s electrical system, make sure they are interconnected for maximum effectiveness – meaning that if one alarm is triggered, all of the others will sound as well. Any hard-wired alarms, interconnected or not, should be installed by a licensed electrician.


Your local Pillar To Post Home Inspector can provide additional information about home safety.

Andrew Radomski

Andrew Radomski, R.H.I.

Pillar To Post Home Inspections




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