Most fatal home fires happen at night when people are sleeping.  A working smoke alarm can save your life.

Contrary to popular belief, the smell of smoke may not wake you. A fire produces poisonous gases and smoke which can numb the senses and put you into a deeper sleep. Over 40% of accidental fire victims are asleep at the time of a fire and 85% of fire fatalities occur in the home. 

The best way to protect your family and home from fire is to install, properly maintain, and test household smoke alarms.

Choosing a Smoke Alarm

Be sure that the smoke alarms you buy carry the label of an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC).  Some smoke alarms run on batteries while others run on household current. Some detect smoke using an “ionization” sensor and others use a “photoelectric” detection system.  All approved smoke alarms, regardless of type, will offer adequate protection provided they are installed and maintained properly.

Ionization Alarms - The ionization alarm contains a radioactive source in a smoke chamber that emits radiation, resulting in a weak flow of electric current.  When particles such as those produced by fire enter the smoke chamber, they produce the current and trigger the alarm.   

Photoelectric Alarms - The photoelectric alarm contains a light source and a special photosensitive cell in a darkened chamber.  The cell and light are positioned within the alarm so that either the light beam is interrupted by the smoke, or the beam is deflected into the cell. Both types of alarms are equally effective in the home.

Is One Smoke Alarm Enough?

Every home should have a smoke alarm outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement. The National Fire Alarm Code, developed by NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), requires a smoke alarm or smoke detectors in each sleeping room for new construction. On floors without bedrooms, alarms should be installed in or near living areas, such as dens, living rooms, or family rooms.

Be sure everyone sleeping in your home can hear your smoke alarm.  If any residents are hearing-impaired or sleep with bedroom doors closed, install additional alarms inside sleeping areas as well  There are special smoke alarms for the hearing-impaired; these flash a light in addition to sounding and audible alarm. For extra protection, NFPA suggests installing detectors in dining rooms, furnace rooms, utility rooms, land hallways. Smoke alarms are not recommended for kitchens, bathrooms, or garages, where cooking fumes, steam, or exhaust fumes could set off false alarms, or for attics and other unheated spaces where humidity and temperature changes might affect a unit’s operation.

If at all possible, we recommend installing smoke alarms that are interconnected. When a sensor is triggered in one alarm, it sends a signal to the other alarms in the house, setting them off.  There are new wireless options available that you can easily install in your home. 

Where to Install a Smoke Alarm

Walls - Because smoke rises, it’s important to mount alarms high on a wall or on the ceiling.  Wall mounted units should be positioned so that the top of the detector is 10 to 30 centimetres (4 to 12 inches) from the ceiling. 

Ceilings - A ceiling-mounted smoke alarm should be attached at least 10 centimetres (4inches) from the nearest wall.  In a room with a pitched ceiling, mount the smoke alarm at or near the ceiling’s highest point.

Stairwells - In stairways with no doors at the top or bottom, position smoke alarms anywhere in the path of smoke moving up the stairs. Always position smoke alarms at the bottom of closed stairways, such as those leading from the basement.  This is because dead air trapped near the door at the top of a stairway could prevent smoke from reaching a detector located at the top.  Don’t install a smoke alarm close to a window, door, or forced-air register where drafts could interfere with the unit’s operation.

False Alarms

Cooking vapours and steam sometimes set off a home smoke alarm. To correct this, try moving the alarm away from the kitchen or bathroom, or install an exhaust fan. Cleaning your alarm regularly, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, may also help.  If nuisance alarms persist, do not disable the unit, replace it.

Maintenance

To maintain your home smoke alarms, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, test all your smoke alarms monthly, and install new batteries at least once a year.  Replace batteries when you set the clocks back in the fall or when a smoke alarm is “chirping”, indicating that the battery is low. 

Clean your smoke alarm using a vacuum cleaner without removing the units cover.  Never paint a smoke alarm.  Remember, smoke alarms don’t last forever.  Replace any smoke alarm that is more than 10 years old.