A majority of the 3,500 fire deaths that occur annually in the United States happen when people are at home, according to the U.S. Fire Safety Administration. If for no other reason, this startling statistic confirms the importance for homeowners to install and frequently test their home smoke alarms, said Tim Emsley, owner of Bel-Red Electric.
The National Fire Protection Association estimates that 62 percent of home related fire deaths resulted either because the home did not have smoke alarms or the alarms were not functional. “If your smoke alarms are more than 10 years old, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having them replaced or at least inspected at the very least,” Emsley said.
“A fire can build and grow in just minutes. That can cause poisonous gas to quickly build to life-threatening levels in the home," Emsley said. "If you’re asleep, it’s an extremely dangerous situation. That’s why smoke alarms are the most important thing that people can have in their homes.”
While recent building codes require smoke detectors on every level, and in every bedroom, many older homes do not meet this requirement and need an upgrade. Upgrading will not only include additional detectors, but the latest fire safety technology which involves interconnected AC/DC smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, devices designed for the hearing impaired as well as rechargeable battery features in the detectors.
Known as the "silent killer," carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that claims about 300 lives a year and is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the U.S., according to the association. That's why it is important for homeowners to have carbon monoxide detectors as well as smoke alarms.
Carbon monoxide can be produced by gas or oil appliances such as clothes dryers, water heaters, furnaces, ovens and space heaters. Improperly vented fireplaces and chimneys partially blocked by creosote and other residue are also a major source of carbon monoxide in the home.
Carbon monoxide does not rise to the ceiling like smoke so detectors can be plugged into electrical outlets, but homeowners should make certain that the detector comes with a battery backup in case of electrical power loss. Should a fire compromise the electrical circuit before smoke or carbon monoxide reaches the detector, the alarms will not sound without a battery backup.
Here are some smoke alarm safety tips that every homeowner should know:
· Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of the home as well as outside sleeping areas.
· For additional protection, install a smoke alarm in each bedroom.
· Alarms should be tested every month and the batteries replaced at least once a year.
· Install alarms near the highest pitch of the ceiling, at least four inches away from the wall.
· Avoid placing alarms too close to the kitchen and bathrooms where fumes and steam can result in false alarms.
· Purchase smoke alarms that are listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
· Install special alarms for anyone in your home who is deaf or hearing impaired.
· Test smoke alarms after returning home when away for more than a few days.
“The best smoke detectors people can have today are interconnected smoke alarms," Emsley said. "If one signals, all of them throughout the home will simultaneously alarm. This provides maximum safety for family members because each will be alerted even though the fire may not be physically close to where the person is in the home.”
Homeowners can ensure that they are adequately protected from smoke and gas by having a professional electrician inspect the detection system installed in the home. At a minimum, this service involves testing the detectors and installing new batteries. In addition, trained electricians can inspect the home’s electrical panel/fuse box, all outlets, and all other electrical components to ensure that none are malfunctioning and pose a fire or carbon monoxide risk.