January 2, 2019

We've talked before on this blog about Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms. Another thing you need to have in your house are working smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. Working is key! This past spring, my colleague, Quinn Korzeniecki, and I joined the American Red Cross to install smoke alarms in Troy and Albany, New York for the Sound the Alarm campaign (a national smoke alarm installation campaign).

Our installation team was troubled to find that many homes, even those with children or senior citizens, did not have operating smoke alarms. Some of the houses had a few smoke alarms, but often they were nonfunctional. Other homes had no smoke alarms at all.

So, what gives? Why don't people think about smoke alarms? Are we intimidated by them? I know I am! In my apartment, the smoke alarms are too high up. When I test them or try to change the batteries, they bark loudly at me (annoying). Well, it's time to get over our exasperation.

Smoke alarms could save your life

These are a few reasons why, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the U.S. Fire Administration, and the Red Cross, it's important to have working smoke alarms:

  • 3 out of 5 home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (38%) or no working smoke alarms (21%).
  • Every day, 7 people, often children and seniors, perish in fires in homes missing working smoke alarms.
  • Dead batteries caused 1 out of 4 smoke alarm failures.
  • 50% of home fire deaths happen between 11 PM and 7 AM, when most people are asleep.

Where should I install my smoke alarms?

  • Inside every sleeping room
  • Outside each separate sleeping area
  • On every level – don’t forget the basement

How much do smoke alarms and fire extinguishers cost?

UL-listed smoke alarms cost $18 and up. Fire extinguishers start at around $40.

If you live in a landlord-owned building, you should check the smoke alarms routinely. Request the landlord buy more smoke alarms if there are not enough or if they are not working.

How long do smoke alarms last?

Even if your smoke alarm is working, if it's older than 10 years, it's time to replace it.

You can buy smoke alarms with a non-replaceable 10-year lithium battery. (For these types of smoke alarms, you replace the whole unit when it chirps.) Any other non-hardwired smoke alarm must have its battery checked at least once a year. The NFPA recommends once per month. To check the smoke alarm, simply press "Test." Or, if it's chirping, replace the battery immediately.  

How do I replace a hardwired smoke detector?

If you're handy, you can replace it yourself.

Your smoke alarm manufacturer should provide detailed directions on how to install it within the package. Home Depot has a good step-by-step with the tools needed on their site.

If you're not handy, hire an electrician.

Make an escape plan

Hash out a plan for you and your family (especially your kids) to know where to meet you outside. Firefighters already risk their lives; your escape plan can help save theirs. 

If there is a fire, call 9-1-1 as soon as possible. Don't rely on your neighbors to do so.

If you can't get out of the house, closing the door to the room will help prevent some of the fire and smoke from getting to you. If there's a window, throw stuff out that window so the firefighters can pinpoint your location.

Also, if you live in an apartment, close the doors behind you. Otherwise, the fire in your place will more quickly spread to other units and throughout the building. As a NY Fire Chief, Daniel A. Nigro, said after 12 people died in a Bronx fire, "Close the door, close the door, close the door."

Let's all take these steps to keep our homes safe, healthy, and efficient!  

For more tips on fire safety, please read these

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Hannah C. Wood

Hannah C. Wood was the BPI Marketing and Communications Director from July 2016 through December 2018. She likes all kinds of home projects. She wants everyone to feel comfortable, healthy, and safe, wherever they are "at home".