Smoke Detector Placement and Maintenance- Keep Your Family Safe

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 28 July 2020 03:36

Infographic of proper smoke detector placementThere is no question smoke detectors save lives. But, your fire safety system works only if your smoke detector placement is correct and they are maintained in proper working order.

Periodically take time to brush up on the latest smoke detector laws and double-check your home's smoke detection system for compliance and proper working order.

Smoke detectors are an early warning for fires in a home, giving your family time to get out of the house. 

Better yet, modern systems, that are hardwired into the home, speak to one another so a fire in remote areas of your home will trigger all of the smoke detectors in your home.  This can save precious minutes to get out of the house, especially if you are asleep in a bedroom.

We really did not see smoke detectors in homes prior to the late 1970s.  Since then, with many state laws requiring smoke alarms, response time to a house fire has dropped from 17 minutes to 4 minutes.

Know Your Laws Regarding Smoke Detectors

Before checking your smoke alarms, take a few minutes to know your state and local laws regarding smoke detectors. 

Many states and towns have minimum requirements for smoke detectors and the very least you should meet the minimum requirements.

Some states require a smoke detector certificate of compliance before selling a home. 

For example, Massachusetts smoke detector laws are some of the most stringent in the country.  Their regulations cover:

  • What type of smoke detectors should be used in a given location.
  • The age of the smoke detectors in place.
  • Placement of the smoke detectors.
  • Whether the smoke detectors have to be hardwired or if they can be battery operated only.
  • Smoke detectors should be dual-sensing where possible.
  • Battery operated only detectors must have a sealed battery.
  • Smoke detectors should be no more than 10 years old.

Where Should Smoke Detectors Be Placed In A Home?

Because state and local laws are so different, I am going to cover what the National Fire Protection Association recommends for smoke detector placement.

  • Each Finished Level of the home should have one smoke detector for every 1200 square feet.  Including finished basements and attics.  There should be a smoke alarm at the top and bottom of each staircase.  Remember, smoke that is generated early in the fire will rise to the ceiling and to the top of the home.
  • Every bedroom should have a smoke detector inside the door. 
  • Hallways outside a bedroom area should have a smoke detector installed.  
  • The basement regardless of whether it is finished or not should have a smoke alarm at the bottom of the stairs.
  • Peaked roofs, such as a finished attic should have smoke alarms placed within 3 feet from the peak, but no less than 4 inches from the peak.

Where To Avoid Placing Smoke Detectors

  • Do not install a smoke detector in an attic or any area that can get below 40° or above 100°. 
  • Do not install smoke detectors near windows doors or ductwork.
  • Do not install in dusty areas to avoid false alarms.  Dust in the air seems like smoke to a smoke detector.
  • Do not install within 10 feet of a stove.
  • Do not install it in a bathroom.

Let's also point out a smoke alarm should never be painted or covered and the battery should never be removed.

Types Of Smoke Alarms To Install

There are three types of smoke alarms you can install.  They each have a place they are better suited for in your home.

Ionization smoke alarms are best for fast-burning fires.  They should not be used within 20 feet of a bathroom or kitchen where steam is generated.

Photoelectric smoke alarms are best for slow starting fires.  They should be used within 20 feet of a kitchen or bathroom.  They will prevent false readings.

Combination smoke alarms are a combination of photoelectric and ionization detectors.  They are the best of both worlds combining the benefits of each type of detector.  If possible, use combination smoke detectors except when there is a bathroom or kitchen within 20 feet. 

If a smoke detector is battery only and not hardwired, the battery should be sealed.  This prevents the battery from being taken out and leaving a smoke detector that isn't working.

Consider Installing Wireless Smoke Alarms

Newer homes require a homes fire detection system to be hardwired so the detectors speak to one another.  If a fire is detected in one part of the house, all the detectors will be activated.  

This allows for a faster response from the occupants of a home.

If you are house is older it may be difficult and very costly to install an interconnected system.  But new technology allows for detectors to "talk" to each other wirelessly as well as be controlled by your phone.

While the cost is about double regular detectors, you may find the interconnectivity gives some extra security to your family.

Maintenance Of Your Smoke Detectors

  • Test your smoke detectors monthly.
  • Keep them clean.
  • Replace batteries yearly.
  • Replace every 10 years.
  • If your alarm is chirping replace the battery or the unit.

Fire safety is important, but can some times be overlooked.

It starts by having a fully functional smoke detector system.  Smoke detector placement, the type of smoke detector and proper operation are critical start to your home's fire safety.

Don't forget properly placed fire extinguishers and a fire safety plan for your family. 

Stay safe!

As an additional resource check out these other safety tips for your home.


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Kevin Vitali

I have been a full-time real estate agent since 2002.  When it comes to helping home buyers and sellers experience matters.  I have hundreds and hundreds of successful transactions under my belt.  Each one brings a set of challenges to the table for me to draw on to help you buy or sell a home.

Home Buying-  I work as a Massachusetts Buyer's Agent representing your best interest in a home purchase.  I can work with you throughout the entire process from deciding if buying a home is right for you, to recommending a great home inspector, to a successful close on your new home. 

Home Selling-  Over the years I have developed a Marketing Plan that gets your home sold.  I can work with you on preparing your home for maximum return, to pricing it properly, to leveraging professional photography and the internet.  All adds up to getting your home sold for the most amount of money, in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of hassle.

I am based out of EXIT Group One Real Estate in Tewksbury MA and cover all of Essex County and Northern Middlesex County in Massachusetts.  If you are looking to buy or sell give me a call.

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