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Smoke Detectors  
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imageIt’s the middle of the night. Your entire family is settled in bed and fast asleep. A fragrant candle burned to rid the air of the evening’s fish dinner was extinguished but, unbeknownst to you, it was knocked over by the family cat—the smoldering wick holding on to life as it lies against the carpet.  Slowly over the evening, the danger has built and now rising smoke hugs the ceiling and begins its menacing trek upward to find your family. Suddenly, the shrill, piercing sound of the smoke detector begins echoing throughout your home, rousing you and your family from your deep sleep and allowing each of you to make a safe exit from the house where you can call for assistance. Your family’s safety is assured thanks to your smoke detectors.

It’s that small round or square plastic box on your ceiling that, when properly installed and maintained, can mean the difference between life and death. Underwriters Laboratories notes that having a smoke detector in the house reduces the risk of dying in a home fire by fifty percent. In fact, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) says that by 1995, an estimated 93% of all American homes, single and multi-family, apartments, nursing homes, dormitories, etc.—were equipped with alarms. In many states and municipalities, installing smoke detectors is not an option—it’s the law.

Equipping your home with smoke detectors and adding an extra level of protection for your family is inexpensive and simple to do. The USFA recommends that any smoke detector you purchase should be UL listed and properly installed. Smoke detectors can be found at most department stores and home improvement stores for as little as $10.00. Typically, they should be installed either on the ceiling or six to eight inches from the top of a wall to be able to detect rising smoke in a room. Each smoke detector has its own specific installation requirements so follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Installation is very easy and usually only requires screwing the unit to the wall or, even more simply, using an adhesive strip to mount the unit to the ceiling or wall. Once the unit is installed, the battery can be inserted, and the unit tested (most units have a “test” button that will trigger a brief signal from the unit to let you know it is functional).

As for placement of smoke detectors in your home, the USFA notes that a smoke detector should be installed on each floor of a home (including the basement) and, for additional safety, smoke detectors should also be placed outside and inside all sleeping areas.

imageInstalling smoke detectors is just the first step and a periodic maintenance program should be adopted in your home. The USFA recommends the following smoke detector maintenance:

  • Test each smoke alarm on a monthly basis to insure that it is functioning properly. 
  • The lifespan of a smoke detector is between eight and ten years at which time, a new unit should be installed. With a marker, write the purchase date on the inside of each unit to help remind you when it’s time to retire the old unit.
  • Batteries should be replaced in all the units in a house or apartment annually. Many people choose a birthday or Daylight Savings Time in the spring or fall as a way of remembering to install fresh batteries in all units. If a smoke detector starts making a “chirping” sound, it’s time to replace the battery in that unit.
  • Smoke detectors near kitchens can be triggered by the heat or smoke generated while cooking. Many people, annoyed by the piercing sounds, disconnect the battery to units close to the kitchen. Do not disconnect the unit in this situation as you may forget to reconnect the battery, leaving that area of your home unprotected. Fanning the unit with a towel will stop the alarm in most instances. If this happens consistently, the unit may also have to be moved to another location where it won’t be triggered so easily by normal cooking activities.
  • All units should be cleaned periodically by running a vacuum cleaner over them to clean out any dust or dirt that may have accumulated.

Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) notes that there are two types of smoke detectors available today: photoelectric and ionization. With a photoelectric alarm, light from a pulsating light source reflects off smoke particles and onto a light sensor, which triggers the alarm. With an ionization alarm, ionized air molecules attach themselves to smoke particles, thus reducing the ionizing current, which triggers the alarm. Both types will provide adequate protection for your home.

If you rent, make sure the building, apartment, or house in which you reside has the appropriate number of smoke detectors and that they are properly located, functional, and are serviced regularly. Fire knows no boundary and an undetected blaze can make considerable progress in a large apartment building before it is detected by your own smoke detector.

Install those smoke detectors today. All in all, it’s a small price to pay for the safety of your family and home. When in doubt or if you have questions, call your local fire department’s non-emergency number for further information.

Underwriters Laboratories—
Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Fire Administration—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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