If you're like most people, your home falls short when it comes to fire protection. We spoke with an expert from First Alert to clear the air on fire safety.
Here's an eye-opening fact. According to a recent nationwide survey by First Alert
, 66 percent of American households do not contain the number of smoke alarms mandated by the National Fire Protection Association
. And that number spikes to 90 percent for homes that don't have adequate detection for carbon monoxide; 40 percent of homes in the survey had zero working carbon monoxide
detectors. That said, nine out of 10 respondents thought they did, indeed, have adequate fire protection.
"What's troubling is that many people don't realize that their families are at risk," says Deborah Hanson, director of external affairs for First Alert
. We asked Deborah what we really need to do to equip our homes with the best fire protection.
BUYING SMOKE ALARMS AND CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS
There are actually two different types of electricity: photoelectric
. Both technologies are recommended and both types of alarms are made.
-- Photoelectric alarms are better at detecting slow, smoldering fires (like a cigarette in the couch).
-- Ionization alarms are good for flash fires (which are more common.)
It's recommended to have both types of alarms, or dual sensors, throughout the house. With some new advanced alarms, there is smart-sensing technology, so the alarm knows to ignore a nuisance (like burning popcorn in the microwave.) First Alert has combo smoke and carbon monoxide alarms that can talk to you and tell you where the fire is. There are smoke alarms that light a path with an escape light. Newer alarms now have mute buttons, so you can easily silence if it's a nuisance - since you don't want to take the batteries out (and forget to replace.) Look for an alarm that has that test and mute capability.
How many alarms do you need?
You should install an alarm on every level of your home and inside every sleeping area (or bedroom).
"When you're asleep, your sense of smell actually goes to sleep," says Deborah. That means that the idea that the smell of bacon or coffee wakes you up in the morning is wrong; your body was already aroused to wake up.
For this reason, it's critical to have a smoke alarm where you sleep. It's also so important to have carbon monoxide detectors in the bedrooms. "If something does happen in the middle of the night, carbon monoxide puts you in a sleepier state," says Hanson. If you're living in a spacious 3500+ square foot house, you should consider adding an extra alarm, so you're well-covered.
INSTALLING SMOKE ALARMS AND CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS
Where should you install smoke alarms?
Deborah recommends installing smoke alarms on the ceiling, because smoke travels upward. Smoke alarms are either hard-wired
, or wireless. Hard-wired alarms require a visit from an electrician. The new wireless alarms work in a wireless network just like hard-wired alarms, alerting you to a fire in another room; no electrician necessary. First Alert battery-operated smoke alarms come with mounting brackets, screws, and the batteries so you can easily install them yourself. Combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are either hard-wired or battery-powered (never plug-in.)
Where do you install carbon monoxide detectors?
You can put carbon monoxide detectors almost anywhere; carbon monoxide is lighter than air, so you don't have to place them on the ceiling. You can install them out of the way, behind a nightstand, or plug in
a unit by the baseboard. You just don't want to install a carbon monoxide alarm within 10-15 feet of a stove or furnace, both of which emit trace levels of carbon monoxide.
TESTING A SMOKE ALARM
- Smoke detectors don't last forever.
Your alarm is working every minute, 365 days a year. You should replace smoke alarms every 10 years. Carbon monoxide alarms have a lifespan of 5 years.
- Test that the alarm is working.
Technically, you're supposed to test your alarms once a week, but hardly anyone does that. At the very least, says Deborah, you should check your alarms twice a year (use daylight savings as a reminder to change the batteries.) With some tech-savvy alarms, you can actually test your alarm by simply pushing a button on your TV's remote control. It's that easy.
- Don't ignore your alarm
. "I caution people not to ignore your carbon monoxide warning," says Hanson, who reminds us that carbon monoxide is odorless. If your carbon monoxide detector sounds, First Alert advises to shut off all appliances and open windows and doors to let clean air circulate. If the problem continues, you may be dealing with a leaky appliance. To avoid false-alert confusion, alarms use a different sound to give a low-battery warning; you'll hear an intermittent chirp every few minutes.
You need to talk to your family about some type of plan in case of emergency. Plot it out on paper and see where your exits are. Discuss with young kids what they should do if they hear an alarm. Practice a fire drill. If kids are taught about what to listen for and practice, they'll register that they're supposed to get up and out of the house. Talk about how you're supposed to go low if there's smoke - and never return back into a house on fire. The U.S. Fire Administration offers these tips
on planning an escape route in the event of a fire.
Common Sense Fire Protection Reminders
-- Carbon monoxide is the result of incomplete combustion. You can avoid carbon monoxide poisonings by never running a car in an attached garage
. Be cognizant of where your car is running, if you have an automatic ignition or you're pulling into the garage at night and get distracted before pulling your keys out.
-- Never light a fire indoors using a charcoal or hibachi grill.
-- Make sure you have your chimney sweeped
- you want your chimney checked for any obstructions, like a bird's nest. "These days everyone lives in such airtight homes. don't forget to crack open a window," says Hanson. "Make sure your home is breathing properly."
- The kitchen fire is still the most popular kind of fire. Be aware of kitchen safety.
Keep a Tundra spray
and kitchen fire extinguisher on hand. Don't cook in loose clothing, like bathrobes. Make sure pot handles are turned in so kids can't knock off the pots.
Got any other fire safety tips? Ever dealt with a fire in your home? Tell us your story in the comments!