On November 3 at 2 a.m. EST Daylight Saving Time will officially end as we turn our clocks back one hour. The time change is a good reminder to check your smoke alarms.  A properly installed and maintained smoke alarm is the only thing in your home that can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether you’re awake or asleep, a working smoke alarm is constantly on alert, scanning the air for fire and smoke.

What powers a smoke alarm?

Smoke alarms are powered by battery or they are hardwired into the home’s electrical system. If the smoke alarm is powered by battery, it runs on either a disposable 9-volt battery or a non-replaceable 10-year lithium (“long-life”) battery. A backup battery is usually present on hardwired alarms and may need to be replaced. These batteries must be tested on a regular basis and, in most cases, should be replaced at least once each year (except for lithium batteries). Keep reading for information on how to properly maintain each type of smoke alarm.

Install smoke alarms in key areas of your home

Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement.  Many fatal fires begin late at night or early in the morning, so the U.S. Fire Administration recommends installing smoke alarms both inside and outside of sleeping areas.  Since smoke and many deadly gases rise, installing your smoke alarms at the proper level will provide you with the earliest warning possible. Always follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions. 
Hardwired smoke alarms should be installed by a qualified electrician.

Smoke alarm maintenance

Is your smoke alarm still working? Smoke alarms must be maintained! A smoke alarm with a dead or missing battery is the same as having no smoke alarm at all.

A smoke alarm only works when it is properly installed and maintained. Depending on how your smoke alarm is powered (9-volt, 10-year lithium, or hardwired), you’ll have to maintain it according to manufacturer’s instructions. General guidelines for smoke alarm maintenance:

Smoke alarm powered by a 9-volt battery

  • Test the alarm monthly.
  • Replace the batteries at least once per year.
  • The entire smoke alarm unit should be replaced every 8-10 years.

Smoke alarm powered by a 10-year lithium (or “long life”) battery

  • Test the alarm monthly.
  • Since you cannot (and should not) replace the lithium battery, the entire smoke
    alarm unit should be replaced according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Smoke alarm that is hardwired into the home’s electrical system

  • Test the alarm monthly.
  • The backup battery should be replaced at least once per year.
  • The entire smoke alarm unit should be replaced every 8-10 years.

Enjoy an extra hour of sleep Sunday morning, but when you arise, take a few minutes to check all the smoke alarms in your house.