How To Choose And Install A Smoke Alarm

How To Choose And Install A Smoke Alarm

How to choose and install a smoke alarm.

( A smoke alarm and maybe save your life,   Whether you own an older home or a new home I am positive you will enjoy our plain language explanations of many common problems found in the home.  Please feel free to comment on this post and offer suggestions for future posts.

A Smoke alarm could save 3000 lives a year

We all know a smoke detector saves lives. But did you know every year there are approximately 300,000 residential fires in the United States? Roughly 3000 people will die in these residential fires and most deaths will occur while the occupants are sleeping.

The vast majority of these deaths are from smoke inhalation and not the actual heat of the fire. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, “the risk of dying in a home fire can be cut in half in homes with a working  smoke alarm”

Smoke detectors come in three styles. Battery-powered for older homes, wired directly into the house wiring (hard wired) and wireless. Hard wired alarms come with a battery backup and have been required in new homes by most building codes since 1988.

Interconnected detectors have the advantage of sounding all alarms in the home at the same time.  This warns someone sleeping in an upstairs bedroom that an alarm is energized in the basement. Both styles are available as an ionization smoke alarm,  a photoelectric smoke alarm, and a combination of both.

Choose from two types of smoke detectors

Just as there are two types of smoke detectors,  there are two types of fires. The first fire is usually defined as fast-burning with visible flames and a limited amount of smoke but large amounts of particulates.

The second fire is a slow-burning smoldering type that produces lots of smoke but not much fire. Smoldering fires are usually found in mattresses or furniture but may be found anywhere.

Ionization smoke alarm

Ionization smoke detectors will respond faster to the open burning faster-moving fire. Giving more time to escape fast-moving flames. The photoelectric smoke alarm responds faster to the smoldering fire.

Smoldering fires produce lots of smoke and not much flame or heat. The ideal situation then would be to have a combination type detector.

Combination alarm

Combination detectors combine the ionization and photoelectric sensors in one detector. The downside to this is these systems are more expensive than either single sensor smoke alarm. Battery-powered Ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms start around $5.00. Combination units start around $15.00, hard-wired units usually cost a little more.

Hard wired detectors can be identified by the three wires coming out the back of the detector. The advantage of interconnection is now available for older homes. Wireless interconnected detectors are available starting at $25.

For those of us who cannot seem to remember to change our smoke alarm batteries when we change from daylight savings time to standard time there is a solution. Some detectors now come with a 10-year battery. In any case, detectors should be replaced after 10 years of service even if they are still working.

How to decide where to place a smoke alarm

So now you know what kind of smoke alarm you want how many do you need?  Every home is different but there are common rules for all.  A smoke alarm should be placed;

• In each sleeping room
• Outside of and within 15 feet of all sleeping rooms
• On each level of the home

Follow the manufactures instructions for proper location and installation and check your smoke alarm monthly.

Just because you have a smoke alarm, do not be lulled into a false sense of security. Smoke detectors only function when common sense and good maintenance fail. Check your home for fire hazards and have a fire escape plan for your family.

Follow the manufactures instructions for proper location and installation and check your detector monthly.

• Check your home for fire hazards
• Have a fire escape plan for your family.
• Make sure all sleeping rooms have two avenues of escape (current codes require this)

Ninety-three percent of American homes have at least one smoke alarm. Unfortunately, it is estimated that thirty percent of these homes have their detector disabled because of old age, dead batteries or batteries that were removed by the occupants.

Do not be part of the thirty percent.  Get up and check those detectors right now, don’t wait another minute.

Some information in this post came from the following sources.

Smoke alarms – NFPA – National Fire Protection Association
Smoke alarm outreach materials – US Fire Administration
Smoke Alarms – Consumer Product Safety Commission
Smoke detector – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


GFCI – GFI ground fault circuit breakers

GFCI - GFI ground fault circuit breakers

 A $20 Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI – GFI)  could save your life,   Don’t put it off any longer.

( One of the most often listed defects found by home inspectors, building code officers and city occupancy officials is lack of ground fault circuit interrupters or GFCI – GFI outlets and breakers.

Where should you install GFI outlets?  GFCIs are required by the National Electrical Code (NEC) in kitchens, bathrooms. crawl spaces, unfinished basements, garages, hot tubs, swimming pools  out buildings, sump pumps dish washers, within 6 feet of sinks  and outdoor receptacles. These are just a few of the areas requiring GFCI – GFI protection.

Owners of older houses can retrofit $20 GFCI – GFI outlets at those locations or have GFCI – GFI breakers (about $50) mounted in the main breaker panel.  Portable GFI adapters, which plug into regular wall receptacles, are available for $20 to $40.

Installing a GFCI could save your life

GFCI protection could prevent as many as two hundred deaths by electrocution every year as well as countless unnecessary burns and fires.  The GFCI circuit was first invented in 1961 and has been slowly incorporated into the NEC.    GFCI protection for receptacles has been required by the NEC since:

  • 1971 Swimming Pools & Exterior Receptacles
  • 1975 Bathrooms
  • 1978 Garages
  • 1981 Spas & Hot Tubs
  • 1987 Kitchens, Hydro Tubs, Unfinished Basements and Boat Houses
  • 1990 Crawl spaces * (it is advisable to install the GFCI receptacle for crawl spaces at the crawl space entry point when possible)
  • 1993 All Sinks, Tubs and Showers (with-in 6′)
  • 2005 Laundry and utility sinks (with-in 6′)
  • 2014 GFCI & AFCI required in kitchen and laundry areas
  • 2014 Dishwashers *
  • 2017 Garage Door Operators *
  • 2017 Decks, Balconies and Porches

*GFCI must be readily accessible: if you have to move objects or use a ladder to reach the GFCI it not considered readily accessible.)

GFCI – GFI are Required for Wet surfaces

We recommend GFCI – GFI protection in any area that is within six feet of a water source or over wet surfaces.  Metal sinks should be included in this measurement.  Wet surfaces include surfaces that may become wet and provide and open source to ground such as wet garage or basement floors.

Finished basements with carpet are usually exempted.  GFCI- GFI protection for outdoor receptacles is required regardless of the floor type.

Please do not confuse fuses and standard circuit breakers with GFCIs.  Fuses and standard circuit breakers work on the principle of failing when more current flows through a circuit than it was designed to carry.

A typical house circuit is a number 12 wire protected by a 20 amp fuse or breaker. Which will melt (trip for breakers) before the wire overheats and causes a fire hazard.

Unfortunately  a very small amount of current can kill a person who is in contact with a source of grounding.   Such as the kitchen faucet or wet concrete without tripping a breaker or blowing a fuse.

GFCIs trip at a 5 milliamp current leak

A GFCI receptacle or GFCI circuit breaker monitors the flow of electricity between the hot and neutral wires 30 to 40 times per second and will trip  (disconnect) the circuit when a difference of as little as .05 amps is detected.   (that’s not enough to power a flashlight).

Some GFCIs will continue to operate even after the electronic switch that shuts them off has failed.  Therefore GFCI receptacles and breakers should be tested monthly and replaced if defective.

The third wire (ground wire) found on many tools and appliances is only effective for larger current leaks and is not sufficient protection for use in wet areas. Many hand held appliances such as hair dryers and curling irons that are typically used around water sources have GFCI protection built into the power cord.

The third wire on your small appliance or power tool is the ground wire.The ground wire is  there to provide a low impedance path to ground, preventing the equipment user from becoming the ground path.

Thus providing protection to the user from electrical shock. The ground wire is typically connected to the outer case of your tool or appliance so if a current leak occurs it will trip the GFCI.

Older homes should be updated

Circuits installed before the late 60’s probably do not have the protection of a grounding circuit. The NEC allows GFCIs to be used to upgrade older two-prong (non-grounded) outlets to three-prong (grounded) outlets without installing any new wire.

The use of two prong to three prong adapters and replacing two prong with three prong non grounded receptacles is not encouraged without GFCI protection.

When the GFCI is installed in a two wire circuit it must have a label that says “No Equipment Ground” on the GFCI outlet and all downstream outlets. Please note most GFCI testers will not trip the GFCI if a ground wire is not present

You may want to install a grounded circuit for your sensitive electronic products.  Many electronic products such as computers and TVs use the ground wire as a means of dissipating static electricity.

for more information on common home inspection questions please visit our website

Parts of this article came from the following sources;

check us out at:

The State of Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations