No matter if you rent or own a home, smoke detectors are a must. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in homes with no smoke alarms (40 percent) or no operating smoke alarms (17 percent), nearly 3 in 5 home fire fatalities occur. Hopefully that motivates you to get smoke alarms or check to see if your current alarms are functioning properly. Let's look more closely at the importance of having smoke alarms in working order, various types of alarms, and how to avoid fires in your home.
Common Causes of Home Fires
Residential home fires are often caused by the following risk factors but are highly preventable:
- Space heaters (especially older models)
- Electrical cords (overloaded outlets/extension cords/adapters)
- Fireplaces/wood burning stoves
- Christmas trees
All of these fire-causing objects can be avoided or managed. For example, if you burn candles, make sure they're on a non-flammable surface. Avoid placing them on a piece of paper, near draperies, or other flammables. If you have old Christmas tree lights, avoid using them on your tree. When you're cooking, stay in the kitchen so you can keep an eye on things. Also, avoid placing oven mitts or potholders near cooking surfaces where they can easily catch fire. By being aware of these risk factors, you can increase your chances of avoiding a fire in your home.
Types of Detectors and Installation
Two types of fire/smoke detectors exist, photoelectric and ionization. A smoldering fire can be detected by a photoelectric fire, whereas an ionization detector responds to actual flames. Ideally, you want to install a dual-sensor unit. Take a look at these highly rated brands, then consider the following features:
- Mobile app which send text alerts if fire/smoke is detected
- Interconnected alarms
- Carbon monoxide sensors
You can also choose from hard-wired or battery operated detectors. You may need a professional to install a hard-wired detector whereas a battery operated version is simple to install. It's important to point out that a hard-wired detector may not work if the electricity goes out so get one with battery backup.
Make sure you're properly installing your smoke detectors and place them in areas where they'll be most effective. At a minimum, install one in each bedroom, each floor of your home and in the basement. Avoid placing them within 10 feet of your laundry room or showers and avoid placing them near doors or ducts. Test your smoke alarms monthly, change the batteries yearly, and replace all units every 10 years. Note: some detectors have sealed batteries which will last up to 10 years.
Additional Backup During a Fire
It's important to be prepared to put out a fire in your home so don't forget fire extinguishers. Better yet, make sure you understand how to use it. Look up videos online or visit your local firehouse and ask them to demonstrate how to properly use a fire extinguisher. Fire extinguishers without a gauge should be replaced every 5 to 15 years. Those with a gauge should be check monthly to ensure the needle falls in the green area. If not, have a professional check it, as it may need to be replaced.
In addition to a fire extinguisher, make sure you have multiple escape routes planned. If you have children, take time to practice the escape routes and how to use an escape ladder. If you have small children, you might even turn the practice run into a treasure hunt which will make it easier for them to remember.
Keep your home and family safe from fire by installing fire/smoke detectors, maintaining them, having fire extinguishers as backup, and practicing multiple evacuation routes. If you're renting, talk to your landlord about your smoke alarms and whether or not they're up-to-date. Avoid setting yourself up for a fire by not overloading electrical outlets, avoiding the use of older Christmas tree lights, and leaving your cooking unattended. Test your detectors monthly and change the batteries yearly. Through the use of fire/smoke detectors, you can greatly increase your chances of avoiding or surviving a fire.