University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County Home and Community Resources


Your Home and Community
updated August 1, 2002


Smoke Detectors
submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator


As we're wrapping up the holidays, preparing for the New Year and all going in different directions of our lives. This is the time we take for granted safety in our homes. With extra decorations, activities and cold weather the chance for fire increases.

Residential fires claim thousands of lives and billions of dollars in property each year. Responsible, informed use of smoke detectors can limit a fire's path of destruction to property and not life.

Improperly placed alarms or detectors without batteries, however, provide no safety benefits. Smoke detectors should be treated as a top-priority appliance. Batteries should be tested monthly and replaced immediately if low.

Under no circumstances should smoke detector batteries be removed to power toys or other items. And, if the shrill alarm goes off due to incidental smoke from cooking, the detector should be moved to another location or replaced with a less sensitive detector -- not disconnected.

The two main types of smoke detectors are ionization, which respond better to open flames; and photoelectric, which are better at detecting smoldering fires. For the best protection, homes should contain both types.

Each floor should have a smoke detector. Placing detectors near bedrooms is a must.

Detectors shouldn't be blocked by any structures. Ideally, they should be placed on the ceiling in the middle of hallways and rooms, at least four inches from any wall. A detector placed on a sidewall should be at least 12 inches from the ceiling. In addition, detectors should be located three feet or more from heating or ventilation ducts so smoke is not dissipated before it reaches the detector. Upper floors should have detectors near stairwells to catch smoke rising from lower floors.

Also, detectors shouldn't be placed on uninsulated outside walls, on ceilings below uninsulated attics, or on ceilings containing radiant heating coils. The temperature variations these placements can cause may hinder the detector's effectiveness.

When purchasing a smoke detector, make sure it is UL listed and read the manufacturer's instructions to be sure it will work in the desired location. Detectors should have a sound output of at least 85 decibels at a distance of 10 feet.

Supplement smoke detectors with a fully charged fire extinguisher. Both detectors and extinguishers can be purchased at relatively little cost at most local hardware stores. Extinguishers, like detectors, should be tested regularly (about once a year) and kept in functioning condition at all times. Also, carbon monoxide detectors are recommended as an added precaution for homes using wood-burning stoves, fireplaces or kerosene heaters.

If you do not have a smoke detector, make that the first item on your next shopping trip. Be safe.

August 1, 2002 ">August 1, 2002


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