Every home should be equipped with at least one smoke alarm. These amazing little devices save thousands of lives every day. Yet far too many homes have disconnected the alarms, removed batteries, or dismantled the alarms and put them in a drawer.
Since smoke alarms became available in 1970, about 94% of American families have installed battery-operated smoke alarms in their homes. Statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration indicate that despite this figure, only 38% of homes in which fire occurred had an installed and operating smoke alarm. In fact, 40% of residences in which fires occurred had no installed alarm.
Building and Safety codes require that one smoke alarm be installed outside sleeping rooms in all one- and two-family dwellings. This applies to bedrooms on two floors and to bedrooms on opposite ends of the house. In many homes with a smoke alarm relatively near the kitchen, it becomes a nuisance when heat, steam or smoke from the kitchen frequently activates the alarm. As a result, many homeowners remove batteries or take other steps to disable the alarms.
The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that there are more than 400,000 residential fires every year. These fires cause about 3,600 deaths (all age groups), 18,600 injuries, and property losses equivalent to $4.7 billion. The stories of these tragedies are especially heartbreaking when we consider that a simple device – a smoke alarm – might have saved most of these lives.
Kinds of Smoke Alarms
There are two kinds of smoke alarms used in residential structures. The first type is an ionization alarm. These devices monitor the level of ions (electronically charged particles) in the air inside the home. They are designed to be very sensitive to small particles of smoke that may appear in the air from fires producing flames. These ions enter into the monitoring chamber of the smoke alarm, where they are detected, and the alarm is triggered, emitting a loud and shrill sound.
The second type of smoke alarm is the photoelectric device that operates by using beams of light and sensors. These sensors detect any larger smoke particles that are in the air. These larger particles are typically caused by smoldering fires. The particles interrupt the light beams and trigger the alarm.
Smoke alarms are typically very inexpensive. In fact, many public service agencies and local fire departments give them to homeowners who need one.
Smoke Alarm Installation Options
Smoke alarms can be installed in one of two ways. They are either battery operated or they are connected to your home electrical system, with battery backup for power outages. Some of the electrical devices are a bit more sensitive. Battery-operated smoke alarms emit a sound that can be heard in the house and perhaps outside.
Electric alarms do not require that batteries be changed as often. These devices are often part of a home security system. They can be set up to activate the entire home alarm system (inside and outside), enabling neighbors to hear the alarm and know something is wrong. In addition, because they are part of your security system, these smoke alarms can be connected to your 911 dispatching center. They can therefore notify fire dispatchers instantly and send help faster.
If your goal is to protect your family and your home in the event of fire and provide the earliest warning and get help on the way in the shortest amount of time, we recommend electric smoke alarms as part of your home security system.