Over three-quarters of the states in the U.S. have passed laws making smoke detectors mandatory in private homes, and for good reason. The majority of fatal fires occur at night, while families are sleeping. Adding strategically placed smoke detectors to your house will reduce your chances of dying in a fire by 50%.
Installing detectors in your home is a relatively easy process. However, there are still a few guidelines to follow to ensure that they are as effective as possible. Always follow the manufacturer's directions as they will be geared toward your specific model.
- Number of smoke detectors. Determine how many detectors you'll need. Typically you'll need one for each bedroom in the house, one for each additional level of your house (including the basement) and one for any other large room you and your family spend a lot of time in (i.e. the dining room or family room). Any long hallways or other isolated areas of the house may require one as well. You will not need to place a smoke detector in the kitchen.
- Purchase your smoke detectors. First and foremost, make sure that an independent testing laboratory approves the models you buy. You can research the laboratory online to ensure its legitimacy. This will guarantee that your detector has been tested and is endorsed by an objective third party.
Next you'll have to choose what type to purchase. There are many types of smoke detectors. You can choose between battery-powered, plug-in and hard-wired. A battery-powered detector is the most common option. Simply add some batteries, affix it to the wall or ceiling and you're done. You will have to keep an eye on it though; if the batteries run out it obviously won't work. It will typically beep at you if the battery power is low, so you should have ample warning when it's time to change the batteries. At a minimum, your batteries should be changed once a year, to ensure that they're in working order.
Other options do not require a battery. If you opt for a plug-in smoke detector, you'll need to ensure that the plug is secure in the wall and cannot be inadvertently removed. With both the plug-in and the hard-wired detectors, it is important not to attach them to a socket or wire that can be deactivated by a wall switch. If you opt to hard-wire your detectors into your home's electrical system, ensure that they're installed by a qualified electrician. You want to make sure that the warning noise actually works.
- Choose appropriate locations. As mentioned above, you should not place a smoke detector in your kitchen. Smoke from cooking could cause it to go off on a regular basis. You should place them either outside or inside each bedroom door (inside is best, especially if your family members sleep with their doors closed). You should also place at least one on every level of your home and in any additional room that your family regularly spends time in. Consider placing one in your garage as well. There are often highly flammable objects in the garage and a strategically placed smoke detector will alert you immediately should anything catch fire.
When you get ready to install them, mount them high on the wall, at least 4" to 12" from the ceiling and away from any corners. If possible, mount them directly on the ceiling, at least 4" away from any walls. Since smoke rises, it is important to place them high up, so as to be alerted to the first signs of smoke. If you have an angular roof, you should place your detector on or near the roof's highest point.
Avoid placing smoke detectors near any doors or windows. Drafty locations could blow the smoke away from the detector and prevent it from doing its job.
When mounting a detector in the basement, mount it high on the wall or on the ceiling, as mentioned above. Place it near the stairway, but not in any dead airspace. In other words, make sure that smoke from anywhere in the basement will reach it.
- Install your smoke detectors. Each model is different, so make sure to consult your manufacturer's instructions before mounting. However, most are easy to mount and simply require a drill and a screwdriver. Once you decide where you want them to go, simply measure the distance between the holes in the detector, drill holes in the ceiling at that same distance, then use screws to attach the detector to the wall or ceiling. As mentioned above, if you're using a plug-in model, make sure to secure the plug into the socket; if you're installing a hard-wired model into your home's electrical system, enlist the help of a qualified electrician.
- Maintain your smoke detector. Always ensure that your detectors are in working order. Walk through your house and test them once a month. You can usually push a button on the outside of the detector that will let off a loud beep if it is in working order. Check your instruction manual to make sure you're testing it correctly.
You should clean your detector (and ensure that it's free from debris) at least once a year. At this time, you should also change the batteries if they are battery-powered and test them to ensure they're still working. Remember that you should never paint over a smoke detector.
You bought these smoke detectors for your family's safety. If you install them correctly and maintain them properly they could turn out to be the best investment you've ever made.