Smoke alarms

As you change your clocks and change the batteries in your smoke alarms, also take stock of your family’s total protection

On average, 19 children aged 14 and under are killed by fire or smoke each year in Canada. Nearly 600 are hospitalized. Smoke alarms are a proven way to prevent injuries and death from fires.

When the clocks change, safety experts like to remind us to put fresh batteries in our smoke alarms, or if your smoke alarms are 10 years old, replace them altogether. But why not go further? To help protect your family from fire and other deadly incidents, here is a quick refresher to ensure you are safe at home.

Smoke alarms

Smoke detectorsThere are two types of smoke alarms. Where you install them can play a big role in helping to reduce people's No. 1 complaint about smoke alarms: false alarms. 

  • Ionization smoke alarms respond quickly to fast flaming fires, which generate a lot of heat but not necessarily a lot of smoke. Select an ionization smoke alarm for your home's general living and sleeping areas.
  • Photoelectric smoke alarms respond quickly to smouldering fires that produce a lot of smoke with less heat. These alarms are an excellent choice for the kitchen area because they are less prone to nuisance alarms caused by cooking (burnt toast) or humidity (shower steam).

No matter which alarms you choose, always make sure they feature a “hush” button. Pushing this button during a confirmed non-emergency allows you to temporarily silence it for seven to 10 minutes. You can clear the air while still protected in case of a real fire.

Choose models best for your family’s needs.

Where to install 

Follow these tips when installing smoke alarms:

  • Install at least one smoke alarm on every storey of your home (including the basement) and outside each sleeping area. If you sleep with the doors closed, put a smoke alarm inside each bedroom.
  • Mount smoke alarms on ceilings or high on walls – because smoke rises. On a ceiling, place the alarm at least four inches away from the nearest wall. On a wall, place the alarm at least four inches but no more than 12 inches below the ceiling.
  • NEVER install a smoke alarm near a window, a door or near a duct where drafts might interfere with the alarm’s detection of smoke.

Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide alarmsCarbon monoxide is called the “Silent Killer” because it is colourless, tasteless and odourless. It is produced by cars, gas or oil furnaces and fireplaces as well as household appliances that run on fossil fuels (wood, gas, oil or coal), such as clothes dryers, ovens, and water heaters.

CO exposure is often overlooked, since early signs resemble flu symptoms: headaches, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. Fever is not a symptom of CO poisoning.

The only way for humans to detect the presence of this deadly gas is to install a CSA-approved carbon monoxide alarm. 

Another important part of CO poisoning prevention is proper maintenance of your household appliances and chimneys/venting. Always have a certified technician inspect your systems at least once annually.

CO alarms with digital displays let you see if there is any change in your home’s air quality before it reaches dangerous levels. There are also combination smoke and CO alarms, and, some models even “talk” by calling out the danger when it sounds.

Where to install?

Follow these tips when installing carbon monoxide alarms:

  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm on each storey of your home and outside the main sleeping areas or master bedroom.
  • Place the alarm where you can easily see the digital readout. Unlike smoke, that rises, carbon monoxide mixes with air so CO alarms can be installed at any height in a room. 
  • Do NOT install carbon monoxide alarms in garages.

Alarm maintenance and replacement

These tips help keep your alarms operating properly:

  • Alarms wear out! Sensors weaken and become obstructed over time. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says that all smoke alarms need to be replaced every 10 years, and, depending upon the manufacturer, all carbon monoxide alarms need to be replaced every five to seven years.
  • All alarms have a test button. Push at least once per week to ensure they are in good working order and the batteries are working.
  • Install fresh batteries in all your alarms at least once per year.
  • Remove dust and other airborne debris by lightly vacuuming alarms.