As we (finally) start rolling into the cooler months, its worth talking about smoke detectors again. The NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) recommend that every home have a smoke detector outside each sleeping area (inside as well if household members sleep with the door closed) and on every level of the home, including basements. Floors without bedrooms should have detectors in or near living areas, such as dens, living rooms or family rooms. TIP: Even though we may believe the kitchen and bathrooms should have detectors, in fact these rooms can be a source of numerous false alarms. Depending on the age of the house, smoke alarms may have been installed as part of a security system, or they may be stand-alone. Depending on the brand and style they may be receiving power from the security system, so there may not be a battery at the unit. If this is the case, the battery at the security system may last for several years and should be replaced based on that required interval. TIP: Most security systems will provide a battery alert when they require changing. Testing smoke alarms associated with a security system may be more involved and you may have to coordinate your test with the security system monitoring/surveillance center. TIP: Smoke or fire alarm routed through the security system are typically an “automatic dispatch” with no confirmation required so consult with your provider. Key Inspection Points and Action Items:
- Visually inspect the detector
- Clean off cob webs from the cover without removing the cover. You can get a can of “air” used to clean electronics from a computer store that will work
- Replace the battery yearly or earlier if the chirp indicator has been active. (Locally powered 9V type batteries)
- If you find corrosion (green powdery substance) on the battery terminals, replacement is recommended. TIP: If the corrosion is minimal, try using a Q-Tip dipped in a liquid mix of baking soda/water or Coca Cola to clean the battery contacts. You must remove all the corrosion and avoid getting the solution(s) on anything but the effected area. After cleaning put a light film of dielectric grease on the connectors to slow down the opportunity for corrosion to re-appear.
- The NFPA recommends the detector(s) be tested monthly. Press the test button which should briefly activate the audible horn. It should reset itself shortly.
Residential grade smoke alarm/detectors are not repairable, if they fail to operate properly through testing, they should be replaced. Limited long-term test data exists, but manufacturers and trade associations indicate the product should remain properly functional for 10-12 years under normal conditions.