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How to Extend the Life of Your Fire Alarm System

A fire alarm system is one of the most important things to maintain on your property. The consequences of forgoing a fire system can be dangerous and deadly. If you want to know how to best protect your home and family as well as how to prolong the life of your fire system, here is everything that you need to know.

The Dangers of Not Maintaining Your Fire System

Fires can occur from many things. Ignition of furniture, electrical mishaps, and unattended cooking are all some of the most common ways that fires can break out. However, while fires can stem from many different sources, places without an alarm system all have one thing in common - a higher risk of death.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, fires that break out in homes without smoke alarms are over twice as likely to perish than those with properly maintained alarms. Because of this, making sure that your alarms are functioning and that they last for as long as possible is one of the most important safety steps that you can take.

How Do Smoke Alarms Work?

When it comes to extending the life of your fire system, it's beneficial to understand just how your fire alarms work. To simplify this, let's look at the two different categories of alarms: ionization and photoelectric detectors.

Ionization detectors work by detecting smoke as it enters the interior chambers of the alarm, disrupting the ionization process. This causes the alarm to sound, alerting you to the fire. Although these fire alarms are safe, some interior components do require specific disposal and can't just be thrown in the trash. If you have an ionization fire alarm that has reached the end of its life span, call your waste management provider and ask about disposal instructions in your area.

Photoelectric alarms have a simpler design and they work by detecting smoke inside the chambers which triggers an electrical current that sounds the alarm.

While ionization detectors tend to be more sensitive, meaning that cooking is more likely to set them off, they are also good for detecting dangerous, fast-spreading, low smoke fires quicker than photoelectric varieties. This can provide you with valuable time to get to safety.

To determine what type of detector you have, check the back of your detector. If it has an 'I' or 'ionic' engraved on the back, it is an ionization detector.

Which Alarm Is Right For You?

Aside from ionization and photoelectric, you will also have to decide whether you want a battery-powered alarm or a hard-wired alarm system. Monthly testing is crucial if you have a battery-powered system, while hard-wired ones will feature a battery backup in case of a power outage. That said, despite being hard-wired, you should still test your detector monthly if you decide on this option to ensure that it is functioning properly.

Additionally, you may consider fire alarms that also come with either strobe lights or bed shakers if you have anyone in your home that is deaf or hard of hearing. In the event of a fire, you want to make sure that everyone has time to react appropriately. If someone is unable to hear the alarm going off, then the situation can quickly turn more dangerous.

Where Should Detectors Be Installed?

To make your fire system as effective as possible, it's important to consider proper placement. According to the National Fire Protection Association, most fires occur between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., which is when most people are asleep. Because of this, you should always make sure that smoke alarms are installed outside of every sleeping area and inside a bedroom that typically stays shut. Usually, it is recommended that you have at least one smoke alarm on every level of your home, including in your basement.

When installing a smoke alarm nearby to your kitchen, the closest it should be is about 10 feet away from your stove. This can help prevent false alarms, some of which may prompt you to turn off your alarm, which is something that you never want to do.

When installing wall-mounted fire alarm systems, you should try to install them four to 12 inches away from the ceiling. Ceiling mounted fire alarms should be at least four inches away from the nearest wall. Following these installation guidelines are some of the most important things that you can do to help ensure that your fire system can function properly.

Maintaining and Extending the Life of Your Fire System

When it comes to maintaining and extending the life of your fire system, there are a few things that you should always keep in mind.

For example, monthly testing is important no matter what kind of detector you have. To test your alarms, press and hold the labeled test button for a few seconds until the alarm sounds. If the sound is weak or if it is inconsistent, you may need to replace the batteries and try the test again. If there is still a malfunction, you will need to replace the detector as soon as possible.

Another thing to check is whether or not the detector has any dust or debris that is blocking the grate. If the grate is blocked up, then smoke will not be able to enter effectively, making the alarm less effective. Make sure to clean the grate every few months or as needed, to ensure that smoke can reach the inner chambers of the alarm to trigger it effectively.

If you have a battery-operated detector, replacing the batteries every year is something that you should never forget about. You may even consider marking your calendar or leaving a reminder on the fridge to help ensure that you don't forget. Scheduling the time around something significant such as the start of school or the new year can also make this easier to remember. Additionally, if your fire alarm ever starts chirping, this isn't a sign that you should be frustrated and shut it off. Instead, you should replace the batteries, as this chirping is a signal that the battery is running low and needs to be replaced.

On average, most smoke alarms will last you around 10 years. After which you may consider investing in a new one to ensure that you don't risk your old one wearing out and malfunctioning. Today you can even invest in smart smoke alarms which can give you real-time alerts to your phone. Some even have batteries that last for up to 10 years, and will self-test every month without you needing to manually press the test button.

Smart alarms can also be great if they get set off by your cooking, as they can be easily turned off from your smartphone, meaning you won't have to get a step stool or try poking the off button with a broom.

Keeping Your Family and Home Protected

30 years ago, the average time you had to escape a house fire was about 17 minutes. Today that number is down to three or four. This is because newer homes and newer furniture actually burn a lot faster than they used to. This makes fires exceptionally dangerous and not something you want to take chances with.

If you haven't tested your fire system lately, take some time to ensure that your alarms are functioning as they should. You may also consider investing in new alarms to help give you more coverage throughout your home.

Shoring up and maintaining your defenses now can be the difference between safety and catastrophe later.