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Whether you own rental properties or your own home, smoke alarms are an essential part of fire safety. As you likely already know, smoke detectors (also known as smoke alarms) detect the presence of smoke in a room, and sound an alarm so anyone present in the property can act quickly to extinguish the fire or evacuate. But there’s more to know about these life-saving devices.

Below we’ve assembled your very own “Smoke Alarms 101”: a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about smoke alarms.

How does a smoke detector work?

Smoke detectors work by sensing particles of smoke that enter the device and activate an alarm when enough of them are detected. The most common type of detector uses photoelectric technology to detect larger particles, while others use ionization technology to detect smaller particles.

Photoelectric Smoke Alarms

Photoelectric smoke detectors work by using a light source and a sensor to detect smoke particles. The light source is usually an LED or laser, while the sensor is usually a photocell. When smoke enters the chamber, it scatters the light, which triggers the alarm. One advantage of photoelectric alarms, compared to ionization smoke detectors, is that these types of detectors are less prone to false alarms and are better at detecting larger particles.

Ionization Smoke Alarms

An ionization smoke alarm works by using an ionization chamber filled with a small (safe) amount of radioactive material. This material emits alpha particles that pass through the air in the chamber, ionizing it. When smoke enters the chamber it interrupts the flow of ions, which triggers an alarm. These types of smoke detectors are effective at detecting even small amounts of smoke, but may be prone to false alarms due to their sensitivity.

What types of smoke alarms are best

As mentioned above, both the photoelectric smoke detector and standalone ionization smoke detector have pros and cons. Ionization smoke detectors are great for detecting flaming fires, while photoelectric types are better suited for identifying smoldering fires. A third option, dual-sensor detectors, combine both technologies into a single device.

It can be confusing to decide which one is right for your property. While every situation is different, you may want to consider installing a combination of types to ensure your entire property is well protected from fires.

Where to place smoke alarms

Utilizing how smoke alarms work is key to getting the most out of them. Because ionization detectors are more sensitive, for example, you might want to avoid placing them in or near a kitchen to prevent a frequent false alarm. It can get pretty annoying to have to turn off your smoke detector every time you open your oven door and a little bit of smoke rises to the ceiling.

Placement is a key part of which device is the right fit.

Be sure to place your detectors on each level of the home or apartment, specifically near any bedrooms and/or living areas. Also, don’t forget to consider high ceilings or locations near furnaces, stoves, or any other common source of fires.

One rule of thumb when you’re ready to install a device is to make sure it has a full view of the room. Also, do not install smoke alarms near doors, windows, or ducts because drafts are common in those spots and can keep your alarm from detecting fires efficiently.

Why you need a smoke alarm in your property

A smoke alarm is an absolute must in any home or apartment to ensure safety. It serves as the early warning sign that smoke may be present and will alert occupants to any danger before it has a chance to escalate. Smoke detectors are very affordable and easy to install, yet they can be invaluable when it comes to protecting yourself or your tenants from home fires and related risks.

The cost of fire damage

The average cost of fire damage in an apartment complex or home can vary widely, but no amount of cost is a welcome surprise. For small fires, the cost can range from a few hundred dollars for minimal smoke and water damage, to tens of thousands of dollars for more serious structural damages.

The very best way to minimize fire damage costs is to install a working smoke alarm and other fire prevention technology. If a smoke detector is not working correctly, don’t procrastinate replacing or repairing it. Properly maintained smoke alarms can enable you to sleep soundly knowing that potential smoke-related dangers won’t go unnoticed.

Smoke Alarm Maintenance Tips

Testing your smoke alarm is one of the simplest and most important things you can do to make sure you or your tenants remain safe. Testing a smoke alarm is surprisingly easy—simply press the test button on the device and wait to see if an alarm sounds. If the smoke alarm sounds, then your device is working properly. If it does not work, then you will likely need to replace the batteries immediately or possibly even the unit itself.

Remember that most smoke alarms should be tested at least once per month to ensure that they’re up and running. And the entire smoke alarm should be replaced every 10 years.

How often to replace your smoke alarm battery

If your smoke detector begins to chirp regularly this is a signal that new batteries are needed. Otherwise, experts recommend replacing the batteries in smoke alarms at least once a year. If power outages are common in your area then you may want to consider changing them twice a year. We know that can be a hassle—particularly for properties with hundreds or thousands of units—but it’s better to play it safe when the potential risks are so high.

How to replace batteries

To replace batteries, first ensure that the power source to the smoke detector is turned off. To change the battery, open the cover of the smoke detector and remove any old batteries. Then install new batteries and check them with a voltage tester or multimeter. The battery type should match what’s printed on the label inside the unit. Finally, reattach the cover of your smoke detector securely and turn on the power source.

Don’t risk it

Smoke alarms are an important part of any home fire safety plan. By understanding where to place them, what type to use, and how to test and replace batteries, you can ensure that your smoke alarms are always ready to protect you or your tenants in the event of a fire.

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