Time to do more than just spring forward | Change all detector batteries
By STEVE BRYAN
Mercer Island Reporter Contributor
March 10, 2009 · Updated 4:29 PM
It is time to change our clocks and smoke detector batteries. Battery-powered smoke detectors need their batteries changed twice a year, so spring forward and spring up the ladder to all of your smoke detectors.
Installing, maintaining and properly locating these inexpensive units saves lives. Today’s standards are easy to meet and protect our families, pets and homes. Working smoke detectors give our families the time to react and hopefully give the fire department the opportunity to respond and limit any damage. With a little effort and time, we can bring our homes up to current standards that are known to save lives.
Every home should have detectors on every level, including the basement, and in all sleeping rooms — for most families, this includes bedrooms, but with kids and sleepovers, it is wise to include the family room. Homes with security systems should have a separate stand-alone system of detectors. Most fire deaths in our country occur in homes without functioning smoke detectors.
Location, location, location — placement is critical for early warning. We need to wake up and respond. The current standard is to locate one smoke detector on all levels of the home.
The room placement is also important. Smoke can trap fresh air in the intersection of the wall and ceiling. Therefore, it is necessary to place detectors at least 12 inches away from the wall for ceiling mounts and at least 12 inches down from the ceiling if mounted on the walls, for the fastest response.
With vaulted ceilings, consider installing lithium battery detectors, which are good for 10 years without changing batteries. By placing the units high to respond to the rising smoke, we do not need to climb up the ladder every six months.
Burning our morning toast should not wake up the rest of the family. Detectors should be down the hall from the kitchen and away from the steam of a shower to limit false alarms, panicking dogs and waving newspapers. Nuisance alarms need to be addressed immediately. The cause can be a weak battery, poor location, dust build-up, a failing sensor, or some smoke that may not be apparent. Do not only disable the unit, but replace the battery and clean it. If the problem is not new, relocate the unit away from the kitchen or bathroom, or replace it with a new detector.
If you want to buy the best units available, I recommend ones labeled “smoke and fire” or “dual sensor.” Two detection systems are made, and using both systems in one unit will give our families the fastest notification possible. They are also typically designed for easier battery replacement.
Battery-operated units are the most common and least expensive. They work very well if we place them well and keep the batteries fresh. It is recommended to change the batteries twice a year simultaneously with changing clocks for daylight saving time, making it easy to remember. Typically, enough life remains in the batteries for use in calculators and alarm clock back-up, so consider re-using them in a non-lifesaving appliance and always properly dispose of them.
Older detectors should be replaced. The recommended life span is 10 years. If your detector needs an odd-sized or odd-shaped battery, it is time to buy a new unit with a 9-volt battery, and the odds are that the detector is well over 10 years old. If you are not sure how old the detectors are, then replace them to be on the safe side.
To dispose of older detectors, we need to treat them as hazardous waste; most have some radioactive material in them. Remember to also treat all used batteries as hazardous material, watch the paper for our annual hazardous material waste collection, and go easy on Mother Nature.
Newer homes have hardwired units that are connected to the homes’ electrical system. These detectors are required for new construction and major remodels. If you live with these, you still need to change batteries. All models should have battery back-ups. If yours does not, change it out, because it is over 10 years old. When the power goes out, we still need coverage. When we light up our candles and fireplaces, open flames can cause fires. Annual battery changes are recommended for hardwired units which use the batteries for back-up. A great time is New Year’s, with batteries displayed at every check stand.
The hardwired units found in newer homes and rewired older homes are all linked together; if one goes off, every unit in the house will sound. It is not cost-effective to make this upgrade unless we are doing a major remodel, but all new homes have required these for many years. Now, new battery-operated detectors that use radio frequency to interconnect are available. If the alarm goes off in the downstairs bedroom, it will also notify you in the upstairs master bedroom.
Testing should be done monthly, or maybe we need to improve on this and try to remember to test them when we are vacuuming — that wand makes an easy reaching device. Simply push the test button and cover your ears, but you may want to annually wave a match after extinguishing the flame.
It is also important to have carbon monoxide detectors in our homes. These units should be in every home with gas or oil service. Old and new furnaces can emit carbon monoxide, an odorless, tasteless and invisible deadly gas. A failed heat exchanger in our old trusty furnace or a blocked exhaust vent in a new furnace can make us ill or even kill us.
The best units for carbon monoxide detection typically plug into a wall outlet and have a battery back-up. Placing units in bedroom hallways is considered the minimum. I recommend placing a unit near interior furnaces and water heaters. Again, the best and cheapest insurance does not have monthly premiums.
I am amazed at the number of homes without any detectors these days, as well as homes with missing batteries. Please check grandma and grandpa’s house for detectors and test their batteries. The effort and $10 or $20 that you spend may save a life.
Remember, the fire department is only a few minutes away, but it is the smoke that is our biggest problem and most commonly the killer. The sooner we know that there is smoke, the safer we are, and the quicker our fire department will be there to help.
When buying new detectors to replace all older units, install them in all sleeping rooms and remember several things:
• Locate detectors on all floor levels and in all sleeping rooms.
• Change batteries twice a year for battery-powered units.
• Change batteries annually for house-wired units.
• Replace all detectors over 10 years old.
• Install carbon monoxide detectors in bedroom hallways and in basements with furnaces.
• Dispose of batteries and detectors as hazardous waste.
• Test monthly and vacuum annually.
•Detectors save lives.
Steve Bryan is the owner of Home & Building Services, Inc. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 232-2473.