How often should you check your smoke alarm?

It is vitally important that you have a well-maintained smoke alarm in your home.
They detect fires minutes before a person can, and can therefore allow your family some crucial extra time to leave the house and get to safety. They can also alert neighbours to the fire, who can call the emergency services. It is estimated by the Fire and Rescue service that there are around 140 house fires a day, and around 500 fatalities and over ten thousand injuries annually. 

It is estimated that if your house is not fitted with a fire alarm, you are more than twice as likely to die in the event of a fire.

The 2014/2015 English Housing Survey discovered that 88% of households have at least one smoke alarm – make sure you’re not of those without one (or have one which doesn’t work). If you live in a rental property, your landlord is required by law to fit a smoke alarm on every floor of your home.  

Smoke alarms are available at most hardware shops, are easy to fit and you can pick one up for under £10. Ideally you should have one alarm that detects flaming fires, and another that detects more slow-burning fires, but just having one of these is better than having no smoke alarm at all. Another option for total peace of mind is to have smoke detectors integrated as part of your home security system. Whilst you are sleeping, a wireless smoke detector is always on guard. Upon detection of smoke these devices will wake you with the aim of preventing any loss of life. In addition, if you are not at home, the system will report a fire condition to nominated (pre assigned) telephone numbers informing of a possible fire situation to prevent loss of life and or catastrophic property damage.

Once you have had your smoke alarm fitted, it must be regularly checked and maintained. To make sure that your fire alarm is kept in peak condition, these procedures must be followed:

1. Test your fire alarm once a week

To test it, press the test button until the alarm sounds. Make it a weekly habit so you don’t forget. Test the alarm with another weekly chore, such as washing the bed linen, to make it more likely that you’ll remember to do it. 

2. Change the battery once a year

It might be worth investing in a unit with a ten year battery life, if you don’t think this is something you’ll remember to do. More modern homes may have an alarm that is connected to the mains, but the back-up battery should still be changed.

3. Replace the whole unit every ten years

Smoke alarms do deteriorate over time, and can become more prone to false alarms (and less effective in the event of a fire) after ten years.  

4. Keep it clean

You should clean your smoke alarm every three months. Associate dusting it with some other quarterly ritual, for example when the clocks change, at the beginning of summer and when you take the Christmas tree down. If it’s a habit, like testing the alarm, you’re less likely to forget. If you won’t remember write it in your diary. 

To clean a smoke alarm effectively, use the upholstery brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner – it’s the most effective method of getting rid of any dust or insects that have gotten trapped inside.  

If you’re put off by over-enthusiastic smoke alarms, for example sounding when you’re cooking, there are some available with a ‘hush’ feature, which stops the alarm from sounding for a time (the feature will be overridden in the event of a large volume of smoke).

It is crucial that you keep your smoke alarm in good working order (also make sure you have an evacuation plan in the event of a fire, so that everyone can leave the building safely, especially make sure that any locked doors/windows that form a means of escape are easily accessible as you won’t have time to locate keys.) – test your alarm today.