Ten Things you Need to Know about Smoke Detectors

I woke up because my pillow was on fire. – Art, aged 83, whose house burned down as the result of his old electric blanket.

We have all had that sudden fear when we smell smoke or something burning, therefore, knowing how your smoke detector works and how to care for it is a simple way to make that little gadget work for you—and maybe save your life.

A photoelectric smoke detector is a type of alarm which is more sensitive and responds faster than an ionization smoke detector to the slow, smoldering type of fire which progresses while people are sleeping. This is the one recommended by The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) as the gold standard of smoke detectors. These firefighters say this is the smoke detector they have in their own home.

That aside, we’ve assembled a list of the top ten things you should know about smoke detectors:

1)      The should be one smoke detector for every sleeping room, plus one for every floor of your home.

2)      Don’t place a smoke detector near an HVAC unit, a ceiling fan, or anywhere else where a breeze may cause the smoke to dissipate and delay an alarm.

3)      Never paint a smoke detector. SAFE is a good color, regardless of your décor.

4)      Ideally, smoke detectors are interconnected (so when one goes off, they all do), hardwired, and have a battery backup.

5)      Batteries should be replaced when the unit begins regular (non-smoke) chirruping. Keep spare batteries on hand so you don’t feel the need to kill that ‘bird’.

6)      Your basement needs a smoke detector

7)      Smoke detectors should be tested once every month. Consider getting your children involved in this process to help them learn fire prevention safety.

8)      Smoke detectors have an expiration date, usually ten years, and should be replaced before that date.

9)      Smoke detectors need to be dusted. When you test them every month, you can bring the handheld vacuum up there with you and give them a quick cleaning.

10)   Two thirds of all fires start when the victims are sleeping, and typically, fire victims die of smoke inhalation.


A smoke detector doesn’t seem like such a remarkable object until it saves your life. Don’t forget to teach every member of your household what the smoke detector sounds like, and what to do if they hear it go off.


To read more about the differences in quality between photoelectric smoke detectors and ionization smoke detectors, this article presents a grim picture of the difference between the two.  


Remember, replacement is the best option if you don’t know when the smoke detector was last replaced, for example, if you buy a new home.  Always replace them when they are ten years old. A good way to remember is to write the date in the battery casing when the smoke detector is new.


One last note: you may also want to equip your home with a carbon monoxide alarm, depending on your heat source. In many states, this is now a requirement.