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  • Writer's pictureDanny Ehinger

Smoke Detectors Have Come A Long Way

Smoke detectors have been installed widely in homes since the 1970's. For much of that time there have been very few major advances or improvements. Better sensors, better batteries, different looks but the same general style, function and the same annoying malfunctions. Many people can attest to a situation where smoke detectors have become a nightmare. They always seem to be going off at the wrong time, for no apparent reason and you cannot get them to stop. Have you been there? Many people get so frustrated with their smoke detectors that they pull them out of the ceiling and never put them back. This can be a deadly decision.

After working with many homeowners I feel that smoke detectors are...misunderstood. I think that if we knew clearly where smoke detectors should be, why they should be there and what they are supposed to do we would appreciate them much more. I also want to make you aware of how far smoke detectors have come. One of the coolest new things I have seen is smoke detectors with speakers in them. Because of where smoke detectors are required to be located, with these new detectors, you can be enjoying music throughout your house.

Smoke Detector Theory

This is probably the most important thing I can say to help anyone understand the why, of having smoke detectors. Smoke detectors main job is to wake you up out of a deep sleep and give you enough time to get to safety. When a fire happens during the day, or while you're awake, people can see or smell the fire and respond. Even then it can be difficult to escape a fire. When we are asleep we have an even greater risk of not being able to escape. In this excerpt from Michigan State University it explains:

"Why is it so difficult for people to escape a fire in their own home even though they know the layout well and it likely is small enough that multiple escape routes are close at hand? One reason cited is that the smoke may be so thick and dense that occupants are disoriented. In order to burn, fire requires oxygen and consumes much of the available oxygen individuals need to breathe and remain conscious. This can happen so quickly that occupants are overcome and unable to reach easily accessible exits. The NFPA’s chart below illustrates what occurs to a person at various oxygen levels. Notice that once oxygen levels drop to half the normal amount, movement toward exits becomes difficult or impossible:"

Once you understand that a lack of oxygen and smoke from a fire are the real dangers and that waking you up from sleep is the key function of smoke detectors, the other regulations on smoke detector installations become more understandable.

If you wanted to be sure that people were awaken from sleep what would you need to do? You would need to put one in any room where people might sleep, so in every bedroom. What about people who sleep with the door closed, if a fire starts in another area, and the smoke cannot get to the detector in the room, how will the smoke detector wake them up? It may not react quickly enough. So we also need to place smoke detectors in the hallway and have it connected to the smoke detector in the bedroom. What if the fire starts in another room with a closed door? The smoke may not get to the hallway detector until it is too late. So we need to have all the smoke detectors connected. The same thing applies to another level of the home. In this photo by Constellation Energy showing where smoke detectors should and should not be located you will see this is the reason for placing the smoke detectors in the required areas.

Hopefully this understanding about the function of smoke detectors will help you see their value and encourage you to take the steps necessary to have a functioning smoke detector alarm system in your home. According to NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency):

Here's what you need to know!

-A closed door may slow the spread of smoke, heat and fire.

-Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room and outside each separate sleeping area.

-Install alarms on every level of the home. 

-Smoke alarms should be interconnected.

When one sounds, they all sound. 

-Large homes may need extra smoke alarms.

-Test your smoke alarms at least once a month. Press the test button to be sure the alarm is working.

-Today’s smoke alarms will be more technologically advanced to respond to a multitude of fire conditions, yet mitigate false alarms.

-When a smoke alarm sounds, get outside and stay outside.

-Replace all smoke alarms in your home every 10 years.


Checking Your Home's Smoke Detectors

Now that you understand why you should have a good working smoke detector system it would be a good idea to evaluate your living space. Do you have a working system? All this takes is a walk around your house with a broom. Look in all the places smoke detectors may be required. If there is a smoke detector where it is supposed to be take the broom and use the handle to push the test button. Did it make a sound? Did the other detectors in the home also make a sound? Here are some questions you may have after looking at your smoke detector system: (If checking your smoke detector system is not something you feel comfortable doing or if you just do not want to bother with it and want it to be safe Elect Electric offers a free smoke detector safety evaluation in SLO county. We will check it out for you, make any recommendations and let you know what it will cost to get things working safely. Call for details 1 (805) GET-HELP (438-4357))

What if I tested my smoke detector and they didn't make any sound?

If you tested your smoke detector and it did not make a sound it could be because it is out of batteries or it could just be bad. You can replace the batteries and test it again to be sure it is working. If it is 10+ years old you should just replace it.

What if I only have one smoke detector?

If you have only one smoke detector you will want to have new smoke detectors installed throughout your home. This can be done by using wired smoke detectors that have a battery backup or by using battery powered smoke detectors. The best option is to have them wired as this reduces maintenance and allows the smoke detectors to be interconnected. They do make smoke detectors that are battery only and interconnect wirelessly and they are a great option if wiring your home is difficult. If you just cannot afford wired smoke detectors or interconnectable battery powered smoke detectors, battery powered smoke detectors are better that having nothing at all. What if I have smoke detectors everywhere I am supposed to and they test to be working fine but they are more that 10 years old? I always support a homeowners decisions and in this case it would be up to you but we would recommend replacing them for the following reasons: 1) Manufacturers and the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) recommend replacing smoke detectors at 10 years. They are the experts so it is safe to assume they know what they are talking about.

2) Most smoke detector nightmare stories happen at the end of the smoke detectors life. If you want to spare yourself a crazy, frustrating night/s with no sleep you may want to get out ahead of it by replacing them.

3) Even though the technology for the average smoke detectors has not changed much, they have improved. Smoke detectors are better than they were 10 years ago and that means you will be protected better with less hassle.


Upgrading Your Home's Smoke Detectors

Upgrading your homes smoke detectors can be as easy as calling Elect Electric, or your local professional electrical experts, and having us test your detectors, make recommendations, offer pricing and getting the work complete hassle-free. Smoke detectors are not that difficult to install, however for many clients getting up on a ladder and working on the ceiling can be difficult and or dangerous. Also working on a system that is all tied together can be frustrating for some as, if you have an improper connection in one detector they can all go off making it difficult and frustrating to find and resolve the issue. Still if you are a do-it-yourselfer and view home improvement projects as an exciting adventure, replacing your smoke detectors is definitely a doable project. Be sure to turn off the power before starting, test to make sure each detector actually has the power to it off and follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Today most of our clients are stepping up to the worry-free smoke detectors that have a 10 year battery life. They cost more upfront than the old ones, where you had to change the battery every year, however you save most of the difference in not having to buy batteries for the next 10 years along with the hassle of remembering to change the battery or the nightmare of forgetting to. These detectors have no batteries that you can change, in ten years you just replace them or have us replace them for you. The 10 year upgrade is great but there is much more smoke detectors can do for you. Now you have the option of smart smoke detectors that talk to you, light your path as you walk through your home, work with your WIFI and Alexa or even give you high quality speakers that play your favorite music throughout your home.

Here is a link to the Nest Protect by Google: The Nest Protect is the one that lights up as you walk through the house in the dark, sends alerts to your phone and even talks to you. They are available in both wired and battery only and also detect smoke and carbon monoxide.

If you are more interested in having music throughout your home as well as a device that works with Alexa from Amazon the Onelink Safe & Sound alarms will be your choice. They have, "High-end speakers (that) provide immersive, omni-directional audio with crisp vocals and powerful bass. The noise-cancelling microphones hear you from any direction, even while playing music. Optimal ceiling placement enhances sound quality that resonates throughout the room." Those that use Alexa will find this option gives you control throughout your home.


You may have had a smoke detector nightmare in the past but, my hope is that you can understand the benefit smoke detectors provide and that you will seriously consider checking your home to make sure you and your family are protected. Smoke and carbon monoxide are silent killers and we want to use technology to sense these hazards and wake us up with enough time to get to safety. Remember for a free smoke detector evaluation call Elect today 805-GET-HELP (438-4357)

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