Home Smoke Alarm Systems – a must in every home

Many lives have been saved over the past 30 years due to home smoke alarm systems. Safety groups such as the National Safety Council (NSC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and our local Fire/Rescue professionals have done a tremendous job in educating the public about smoke alarms and their role in saving lives.

Some Alarming Statistics

For whatever reason, many homeowners do not take fire safety seriously. According to the NFPA:

  • almost five million homes still do not have a smoke alarm;
  • the fire death rate is more than twice as high in homes with no smoke alarm or no working smoke alarm;
  • no smoke alarms were present in 38% of home fire deaths;
  • in home fires that had inoperative smoke alarms, 46% of the alarms had missing or disconnected batteries;
  • dead batteries were present in 24% of smoke alarm failures.

Smoke alarms must be properly installed and maintained in order to alert residents of a fire. Smoke alarms are vital in reducing fire-related deaths and injuries. If there is a fire in your home, deadly gases and smoke will spread rapidly. Smoke alarms will alert you and give you time to get out.

The question is not, “What are the odds of my home catching on fire?”. No, no, no! Ask yourself this question, “If my home catches on fire, what are the odds of my family members and me getting out safely?”. Once a fire starts, you only have two minutes, at the most, to get everyone out to safety.

Types of Smoke Alarms

Make sure your smoke alarms have been tested by an approved and recognized testing laboratory. The laboratory’s label should be present on each alarm. If not, replace them.

There are two basic types of smoke alarms. For the best possible protection, use both types.


Ionization: this type of alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires.

Photoelectric: this type of alarm responds more to a smoldering type of fire.

Fatal fires in homes, regardless of time of day, include both types of fires – flaming and smoldering. There is no way to predict which type of fire could break out in your home or what time of day it could happen. Therefore, it is best to have both types of alarms in your home.

Smoke Alarm Locations – No Room For Error!

In your home you need a smoke alarm in each of the following locations:

  • one in every sleeping room,
  • one outside each sleeping area,
  • one on every level (floor) of your home, one or more extra for a large home.

Notice in this one-level floor plan we have three bedrooms – one on one end of the home and two on the other end. So we need the following: 3 for the bedrooms + 2 for outside the separate sleeping areas = 5 smoke alarms.

Interconnected Smoke Alarms – Every Second Counts

If a fire breaks out in your home, you have two minutes or less to get out safely. And if there are others in your home who will depend on you to alert them and help them to safety (those with special needs, the hearing impaired, the elderly, etc.), you have no time to lose.

Current standards require smoke alarms to be interconnected. When one alarm sounds, all alarms sound. Having alarms interconnected improves your chance of getting out quickly.

If your home does not have interconnected smoke alarms, don’t dismiss it and say, “It’s grandfathered.”. You cannot grandfather safety. It will be worth the money to hire a licensed electrical contractor to upgrade your system. If you rent, ask your landlord to pay for the upgrade.

Plan to Win – Everyone Gets Out

According to the NFPA, research shows that children are not always awakened by the sound of a smoke alarm. Be sure everyone in your home is familiar with the sound a smoke alarm makes and know that it means trouble. You should also test the alarms when family members are asleep to determine if they will be awakened by the alarm sound. Special plans need to be implemented to ensure everyone gets out safely.

Others who may need help are the elderly, those with special needs, the hearing impaired, and so on. Special devices are available for the hearing impaired, including strobe lights and bed-shakers to wake them up.

Be sure to test your smoke alarms at least once a month. Again, everyone in your home should be familiar with the alert tone, know the escape plan, know where to meet outside to make sure everyone gets out, whether others need help, and so on. Of course, once you are outside, do not go back inside.

Then, of course, someone must call 9-1-1 to report the fire. Be sure to practice, practice, practice so everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire.

Take Action Now – Check the Following

  • Replace smoke alarms that have not been tested by an approved and recognized testing laboratory.
  • Replace alarms that are 10 years old or older.
  • Replace the batteries at least once a year (January 1 is a good time).
  • Install alarms in every sleeping room, outside each sleeping area, one on each level, and additional alarms if you have a large home.
  • Install alarms on the ceiling or within 12 inches from the ceiling.
  • Install alarms at least 10 feet away from the stove.
  • If your alarms are not interconnected, adjust your budget and pay for this upgrade.
  • Maintain smoke alarms according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Install at least one carbon monoxide alarm according to manufacturer’s instructions, even if you have no fireplace and your home is all electric.


During my 32 years as a police officer, I responded to a number of house fires (for crowd control and to block traffic). I found no delight in seeing the homeowners standing by watching their home and all their possessions burn.

I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose everything in a fire – or tornado or hurricane or mudslide, etc. – because I’ve never experienced it. And while you might not be able to prevent a fire from breaking out in your home, you can and must do everything possible to ensure you and your family members can escape to safety. You might only have one minute, maybe two, to get out.

There is much more that can be said about fire safety. As always, your comments, questions, experiences, are welcome.

Kind Regards,




Comments 14

  1. You know for something that nearly all of us have, most of us don’t know very much about the alarms we use. Your post was very informative and you have some really solid statistics in there. Thank you for writing this. Do you recommend a particular company or model?

    1. Post


      I fear we (myself included) often taken safety devices for granted. In writing the article I was preaching to myself, too.

      I’ll be doing more research on the various companies and models in the near future and posting my findings. The main thing is to make sure the alarms are tested and approved by a recognized laboratory. Usually you’ll see “UL listed” or “UL approved”. The model would depend on whether the alarms are hard-wired together (when one sounds they all sound), whether you have separate carbon monoxide alarms in the home, and the like.

      Thanks for the encouraging words and for your question. I hope to have your answer soon.

      Kind Regards,


  2. Good info on a vital piece of home equipment. It always makes me feel safer when I see them in a home. Also, since I sleep very heavily at night, these home smoke alarm systems are potential life savers. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Post


      Thanks for the encouraging words. Just curious, have you ever had someone press the “test” button on your alarm while you’re in a deep sleep, to make sure it will wake you in the event of an actual fire? It might be worth doing.

      Stay safe.


  3. This was a good read overall, and a reminder I probably needed. I’ve been living in apartments for about 4 years and the smoke detectors in all of them have been a real pain. It’s always in my leases to never tamper with them or remove the batteries – but I have considered doing so anyway. I can’t ever cook anything without setting them off, and I’m not a novice cook, lol. I always have to cook with my front door and windows open, and it gets into the negatives where I live so it really sucks. So they’re always more of an annoyance to me than anything else. This gave me a better outlook on not tampering with them.

    1. Post


      I agree with you on the annoyance. I can’t say I wouldn’t be tempted to remove the battery. There are statistics on “annoyance alarms” – many people pull the battery for such reasons. My brother-in-law took the battery out of one of his alarms that was not easy to get at because he didn’t want to hear it chirp every year when the battery got low. It would probably do no good talking to your manager about moving the alarm. Other than that, I know someone who kept a small electric fan on the counter and directed it toward the alarm to help keep the air clear.

      Thanks for your comments. Stay safe. I’m glad you’re a good cook and not using the smoke alarm as a “kitchen timer”. Ha!

  4. Hi Rick,
    Great post! After reading your article, I honestly went checking around the house on where our smoke detectors were installed. I guess where we live it is not necessary to install smoke detectors in every bedroom to pass inspection. But I agree that for the safety it is good to have them installed in bedrooms, especially in the big houses.
    It is a great tip to check batteries. I actually found out that the smoke alarm in our basement required the batteries to be changed!
    I bookmarked your website to check your posts regularly.
    Thank you

    1. Post


      I’m glad you checked your smoke alarms. If I’m seeing your image correctly, you have a little one with you – a very good reason to keep your smoke alarms in good working order. Good to hear that you found your basement alarm to be in need of batteries. Not to be disrespectful, but you did change the batteries, right? I’m thinking your did since you said “required”, past tense meaning you changed them.

      Here in Texas home inspections are not a pass/fail, but any deviation on safety issues such as smoke alarms is supposed to be written up as a “deficiency”. The potential home buyer would then have to either ask the seller to fix the deficiency, or hopefully would fix it himself or herself once he or she closed on the home.

      I’ll be writing more articles, and my plan is to also start writing short safety type bulletins.

      Stay safe

      Kind regards,


  5. Hi Rick,

    Thank you for sharing this. After reading the post, the 1st thing I did was go to the Kitchen and check the batteries to make sure they work, we don’t replace them once a year like you said, honestly, I don’t even remember when I last changed them. My husband just told me that they start beeping once they’re about to die but we’re not taking chances, we will be changing them!!

    Thank you, the world needs more information like this!

    1. Post


      I think if most people were honest, they, too, would say they don’t check their batteries NOR their alarms as they should. I appreciate your honesty.

      Your husband is correct – an alarm will chirp (beep) when the battery is or batteries are low. Someone else might add that smoke alarms that are hard-wired together (when one sounds they all sound) will sound without batteries because they are connected to an electrical circuit. That, too, is true, but what if, during a thunder storm, the power goes out and lightning strikes the home or the ground nearby and a fire breaks out in the home? That’s where good batteries come into play. Also, a chirping alarm might be annoying if it’s in the living room, but what if it’s in a seldom-used room? The answer to that is, close the door so the chirping won’t bother anyone, and we’ll change the battery “tomorrow”. Right!

      Two closing thoughts:

      1) We’re supposed to test our smoke alarms at least once a month. While we’re testing them, why not put new batteries in on January 1? And back to the honesty thing – how many people actually test their alarms every month. Change the batteries on January 1, test the alarms while you’re at it, and the alarms will at least get tested once a year (this is not recommended, of course).
      2) A chirping (beeping) alarm indicates a low battery. If the battery is low, especially in a stand-alone device (not on an electrical circuit), will the alarm sound as loudly as it would if the battery was good, or will it be so quiet it won’t wake you up right away? Remember, you would have two minutes at the most to get out of the house.

      I’m glad to hear you’ll be changing them! And thank you for the encouraging words.

      Stay safe and,

      Kind Regards


  6. Hi Rick

    I also want to complement you on a great post for such an important aspect of everyone’s home. I am also guilty of not replacing the batteries after the recommended time. Had now done this.

    The statistics are indeed alarming and there were a timely reminder. It’s no good after the event if one should unfortunately be involved in a fire.

    1. Post


      Thank you for your encouraging words. I’m happy to hear you replaced your batteries.

      I think we’re all guilty of one thing or another when it comes to safety. For example, I suspect too many of us still text and drive. Food for thought, huh?

      Stay safe

      Best Regards


  7. Real good article! Ends really well with your personal observations as a crowd-controlling police officer adding weight to the entire post.
    Funny thing — I just updated all my fire alarms earlier TODAY!
    At least now I find myself reading this and feeling good instead of guilty.
    Great job!

    1. Post


      Thank you for the kind words/review. My wife reviews my articles before I post them, but it’s good to hear from unbiased people.

      And congratulations on updating your alarms! Hopefully those who have read this article and felt guilty have taken action and now feel good, too.

      Stay safe, and

      Best Regards,


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