Smoke and CO alarms

Smoke alarms - all homes must have them, but what are they good for? They save lives every single day. According to the NFPA, the risk of dying in reported home structure fires is 55% lower in homes with working smoke alarms than in homes with no alarms or none that worked.

Do you know the age of your smoke alarms? 

Every year, smoke alarms get one year older. Just like the food in your fridge, your smoke alarms are stamped with an expiration.  

  • Manufactured or expiration date - These dates can typically be found on the inside of the unit (the portion that faces the ceiling), or marked on the side. 
  • Combination alarms - Some alarms found in your home may be combination carbon monoxide (CO) and smoke alarms which may also modify their expirations to a shorter time frame.
  • Alarm replacement - Regardless if hard-wire or solely battery powered, alarms need to be replaced after 10 years, or sooner if they are malfunctioning.
  • Manufacturer knows best - Check the webpage of your alarm's manufacturer or call their phone number to get accurate information regarding your alarms.

New smoke alarm considerations

  • What to buy - purchase from a reputable brand that is also UL Listed. These are tested to work, so you know your family will be safe in the event of a fire. 
  • 10-year sealed battery smoke alarms - this type of alarm is designed to provide up to 10 years of protection without a battery change. However, if your 10-year alarm begins to chirp, it is warning you that the battery is low, and you should replace the entire smoke alarm right away.
  • Interconnected system - If your smoke alarms are currently interconnected, ensure you purchase replacements that are also for interconnected systems. The benefit of interconnected alarms is that when one sounds, they all sound. 
  • Battery-only smoke alarms - These are a great option if you do not have an interconnected system. If you are interested in switching to an interconnected system, speak to a qualified electrician for more information. 

Where to install smoke alarms

  • Smoke alarms need to be installed inside each bedroom and outside of each sleeping area.
  • Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of the home, including the basement.
  • On levels without bedrooms, install alarms in the main living area, near the stairway to the upper level or in both locations.
  • Smoke alarms installed in the basement should be installed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level.
  • Install smoke alarms at least 10 feet from a cooking appliance. This will minimize false alarms from heat when cooking.
  • Because smoke rises, always mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings. Wall-mounted alarms should be installed not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling (to the top of the alarm).

Carbon Monoxide alarms 

CO alarms are equally as important and necessary to have in your home as smoke alarms. CO is an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. A person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount over a shorter period of time. CO poisoning symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness or headaches. High levels of CO can be fatal, causing death within minutes.

CO alarms expire too

Just like smoke alarms are stamped with an expiration, CO alarms are too. Expiration dates vary, and these units typically have a lesser lifespan than a smoke alarm. Check with the manufacturer of your alarms to get the best answer for expiration.

Where to install CO alarms

  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or CO alarms with battery backup in your home outside separate sleeping areas.
  • CO alarms should be installed on every level of the home.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.

Learn the sounds of fire safety

Knowing the sounds of your smoke and CO alarms can help you understand what may be happening when you hear them sound off. Be sure all members of your home know the sounds of your smoke and CO alarms and how to respond. Be sure to introduce your children and pets to the sounds of the alarms, so they aren't surprised in case of emergency.  

  • A continued set of three loud beeps from your smoke alarm means smoke or fire. Get outside and call 9-1-1. Never re-enter the home for any reason.
  •  A continuous set of four loud beeps from your CO alarm means carbon monoxide is present in your home. Get outside to fresh air and call 9-1-1. Do not go back inside for any reason.
  • A single chirp every 30 or 60 seconds from your smoke or CO alarm means the battery is low and must be changed. But don’t wait for the chirp! Change your batteries every six months.

Smoke and CO alarms are one element of a fire escape plan, but the primary element is a safe escape. Every household should have a home fire escape plan. Make yours today.

Disposal of old alarms

When it comes to disposing of old alarms, it's all about the manufacturer's recommendations. Learn more about recycling your old smoke alarms.

Additional resources

Installing and maintaining smoke alarms - NFPA

Carbon Monoxide Alarms - NFPA

Smoke Alarms - NFPA