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The alarming truth about in-home alarms


Saving lives from house fires is as simple as a few batteries, a handful of alarms, and some metaphorical elbow grease. Here's what you need to know.

Firefighters, Smokey the Bear, and Sparky the Fire Dog all tell you the same thing: Most house fires are preventable. Not to put you in the hot seat when it comes to the "only you can...." message, but the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) stresses that smoke alarms have been proven to reduce the risk of death in home fires. They can only be effective when installed and maintained properly.

So check out this quick reference guide to get you up-to-speed when it comes to smoke alarms - what types are out there, where they should be in your home, and how they can save you and your family's lives.

Where there's smoke, there should be an alarm

It's a challenge to decide whether you should choose ionization over photoelectric smoke alarms, or vice versa, since these alarms detect fire differently. (CliffNotes - ionization alarms respond faster to flaming fire smoke while photoelectric alarms respond faster to smoldering fire smoke.) No one can predict what type of fire might start in a home, so the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) recommends installing both types or installing dual sensor smoke alarms. (You guessed it - dual sensor alarms detect both types of smoke.)

The USFA stresses that the placement of smoke alarms may be more important than the type of smoke alarm, so place alarms outside each sleeping area, in each bedroom, and on every level. Of course, you can't forget the kitchen, perfect for your cooking misadventures. 

Hardwired smoke alarms 

Hardwired smoke alarms are high-tech, installed by a professional, and can be most effective when part of an interconnected, multiple-station alarm system. This way, when one smoke alarm goes off, they all go off.

Like every alarm system, you need to complete the manufacturers' recommendations for maintenance. While some back-up batteries can last up to 10 years, not all have the same lifespan, and some do run out of juice before those 10 years are up. The NFPA recommends testing your smoke alarms at least once a month, which will help you stay on top of any faulty wiring or operational concerns. 

Battery-powered smoke alarms - replace your batteries! 

Battery-powered smoke alarms are the ones you buy at your local stores and run on 9-volt or AA batteries. While these are quick and easy to install, they have a few significant drawbacks. When one goes off, only that alarm goes off. That means a fire on one floor may not trigger the alarms on another.

Also, batteries. Generally, batteries in the alarms should be changed yearly, but we've all woken up in the middle of the night to that insistent chirping telling us to replace our smoke alarm's batteries ASAP. Deciding to replace the batteries or turn over and go back to sleep may be the most important decision you ever make. According to the NFPA Journal, data from multiple-death structure fires last year found when smoke alarms did not operate, the most frequent cause was missing batteries.

Most states now require hardwired smoke alarms in new builds, and some states, like New Jersey, require older buildings to have a 10-year sealed battery smoke alarm installed. For the occupants of older buildings without the new smoke alarms, we have one message for you — replace your batteries (please).

Additional warning bells

Fire isn't the only danger to life, liberty, and the pursuit of comfort. The Silent Killer, carbon monoxide, is a threat with its odorless, tasteless, transparent attack, so you should also look to see if your smoke alarms also detect CO and if not, invest in ones that do. Learn more about CO detectors in our vipTIPS.

Get smart about smoke alarms

Smart technology has infiltrated every part of your home, from your lights to your thermostat to your smoke alarms. Smart smoke alarms provide modern benefits, such as:

  • Silence button. Perfect for those cooking misadventures, this button pauses the alarm for 15 minutes to help clear up smoke or steam not from a house fire. The alarm itself reactivates after the designated time frame.
  • Voice hush. An appropriate, vocal command pauses the alarm.
  • Remote control. Control your Bluetooth or Wi-Fi enabled alarm from your smart device or cell phone. You'll also receive alerts to replace batteries. (Listen to them!)
  • Smart detection. This device sends a notification to your phone or your tablet, indicating the source of the smoke to help with evacuation.
  • Home automation. Many smoke alarms now work with devices such as Alexa, Google Home, and Nest. So Alexa, can you test my smoke alarms? Thanks.

You seriously underestimate sprinklers

Photo by Jay Heike on Unsplash

Smoke alarms are a necessity in every home, but the stats don't lie about sprinklers. According to the NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative, sprinklers -

  • Lower the civilian death rate associated with home fires by 81 percent.
  • Lower the average firefighter injury rate by nearly 80 percent.
  • Reduce the average property loss in home fires by 71 percent.
  • Kept the fire contained in the room of origin 97 percent of time.
  • Fire sprinklers and hardwired alarms together reduce the home fire death rate by 90 percent.

Save lives and prevent home fires. Keep your smoke alarms functioning, and one more time for the people in the back - replace your batteries.

vipHomeLink can help. The interactive app sends you reminders to test your smoke alarms, keep them functioning, replace your batteries, and in 10 years, replace your back-up battery.

Not a member? Sign up now with a 90-day, risk-free trial on us.

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