Smoke Alarm 101s

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Sound the Alarm

Do you know what your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms sound like? What should you do if either of these life-saving devices activate? 

  • Three out of five home-fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms.
  • More than one-third (37 percent) of home fire deaths result from fires in which no smoke alarms are present.
  • The risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms.
  • Colorado law mandates that homes are equipped with smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Source: National Fire Protection Association


What types of smoke alarms can I buy?

Ionization or Photoelectric

  • Ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms detect different types of fires, smoldering, smoky fires or flaming, low-smoke fires, respectively.
  • Since no one can predict what type of fire might start in their home, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends that both types be used in homes, especially near sleeping quarters.
  • Dual-sensor models also exist. These can sense both types of fires.

Batteries or Hard-Wired

  • Nine-volt alarms get their power from a battery. This battery must be changed regularly. Also, many hardwired alarms have a 9-volt battery backup, so the alarm works even if the power goes out.
  • Ten-year alarms feature a permanently embedded long-life battery. This battery can NOT be removed without destroying the alarm. You must replace these alarms entirely after 10 years.
  • Other alarms are hard-wired, meaning they draw power from the house's electrical system. These alarm systems often are interconnected, meaning all alarms will go off in an emergency. Many have batteries in them as a  backup.
  • In addition to these differences, there are also specialty alarms for people with hearing loss. These alarms may have strobe lights that flash and/or vibrate to alert those who are unable to hear standard smoke alarms when they sound.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Poudre Fire Authority doesn’t install, maintain, inspect or repair hardwired smoke alarm system. However, you may contact any of the following third-party companies that may be able to provide assistance with hard-wired smoke alarm systems:

  • Fort Collins Handyman: 970-599-1121
  • Brad Co.: 970-231-1904
  • Handyman Matters: 970-482-0660
  • NoCo Home Services: 970-480-1112

Where do I put smoke alarms in my home?

  • Install smoke alarms on every floor of your home, in every bedroom/sleeping area, and in the hallway outside of each sleeping area.
  • Choose smoke alarms that communicate with each other, so that if one alarm sounds they all will.
  • Place smoke alarms on the ceiling or high on the wall. Be sure to put them in a place where you can still reach them to do monthly tests or to change the batteries. Check the manufacturer's instructions for information about the best place for your alarms.
  • Only qualified electricians should install hard-wired smoke alarms. 


How do I take care of my smoke alarm?

Is your smoke alarm still working? A smoke alarm with a dead or missing battery is the same as having no smoke alarm. A smoke alarm only works when it is properly installed and regularly tested. Take care of your smoke alarms according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Below are some general maintenance tips.
  • Replace the whole alarm after 10 years.
  • Test the alarm every month.
  • Dust or lightly vacuum your alarm every few months, to ensure they are free to dust.
  • If you need help changing your alarm batteries and are physically unable to do so yourself, PFA may be able to help after you fill out this form.
    • This service is only for residents with physical restrictions (body or age). Poudre Fire Authority doesn’t install, maintain, inspect or repair hardwired smoke alarm system. Please see the handyman companies, listed above, that can service these systems.
  • Nine-volt battery and hardwired alarms: Replace the batteries every six months (many people use daylight savings time as a reminder.)

What do I do if my smoke alarm sounds while I'm cooking or showering?

Never take the battery out of your smoke alarm. Disabling a smoke alarm or removing the battery can be a deadly mistake. If a smoke alarm sounds while you're cooking or taking a shower with lots of steam, you should:
  • Open a window or door to vent the smoke or steam.
  • Many alarms have a “hush” or "silence" button.
  • Wave a towel at the alarm to clear the air.
  • For a long-term solution, move the entire alarm several feet away from the kitchen or bathroom.

Why does my smoke alarm keep going off in the middle of the night?

  • This often happens in alarms that are nearing their 10-year expiration. As the sensors become less effective, the alarm can go off falsely. This means it's time to replace your alarms.
  • Often, this happens because the change in temperature trips an alarm's bad sensor.