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The Alarming Word on Smoke Detectors

Every home or apartment needs a smoke alarm - when is the last time you tested yours?

Chances are, you rarely think about your smoke detector, although it's among the essential safety requirements for any home. When is the last time it was tested? Do you know their locations? And, do you know what type of dectector you own? Is it battery-powered or wired into the house electrical system?

First, a little about alarms. They should be attached to a ceiling (or about 8-10 inches from the ceiling on a wall) in most rooms and certainly on every level, including hallways and attics. Avoid placement near the kitchen or shower where hot steam can cause a trigger. Also, many of the newer non-wired models must be at least three feet away from ceiling fans and fluorescent lighting, which will trigger alarms.

Older homes can still get away with installing the battery-operated alarms that usually attach to a ceiling or walls. New units on the market are interconnected using radio frequency and are well worth the investment. A series of these can be set in basement and garages as well as outbuildings for added security.

By law, all new homes require hard-wired, interconnecting alarms. These communicate through the fuse box and, in most cases, should be installed by a professional. New units have remote pause controls for an accidental trigger. If a home is also wired for security, these are usually tied into the main system as well. In these instances, it is important to decide which type of alarm to install.

Photoelectric: these are the most reliable - and sensitive - operating by sensing particles that rise through the smoke when a fire has already begun.

Ionization: these are most sensitive to smoke itself, but will trigger from kitchen emissions, such as smoking oil or burning toast.

Regardless of which system is selected, the interconnection feature is critical. The elderly or those with hearing impairments, along with younger children, cannot always respond to a single alarm. When the system is sounding throughout the home, this ensures a rapid response. In addition, a smoldering wire in the attic or basement will have less time to escalate before family members are alerted.

The two last steps to good detector management:

Replace batteries on older or hand-installed units once a year - whether you think the alarm needs it or not. Replace the entire unit every ten years.

Plan an escape route for each family member. Practice leaving the house in an emergency on a monthly or quarterly, depending on the age of the children and elderly.




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