DennisBeaverDecember 10, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver

No doubt you’ve got a smoke alarm somewhere in your house or apartment, but do you know where they need to be placed or how many you should have? Try this test of your smoke alarm knowledge:

1. By 1975, most states required one smoke alarm to be installed in a dwelling. How many are required now?

2. True or false: “While I certainly could install one in each bedroom, placing the alarm in a hallway leading to bedrooms satisfies legal requirements.”

3. True or false: “If my smoke alarm chirps like a bird, this means it is working correctly.”

4. True or false: “When mounting a smoke alarm, try to place it close to heating or air-conditioning vents.”

5. True or false: “Regardless of who manufactures a smoke alarm, due to Federal Law, there is virtually no difference in any of them, so buying the most or least expensive will still provide the same level of protection.”

With the help of Tarsila Wey, Manager of Brand Marketing at First Alert, and Chris Ekk, Fire Chief for the City of Hanford, California, we’ve got answers to those important questions, beginning with that chirping sound.

“Dennis, you would be surprised at how many people are unaware of the significance of a chirping noise coming from a smoke detector,” Chief Ekk tells You and the Law. “That sound is telling you the battery is about to die.”

He continued, “Often, when responding to a medical call — someone fell, for example — we hear the alarm chirping and ask residents if they are aware of what it means. Most do not and are surprised to learn that when the chirping stops, the battery is dead.

“As our engines carry batteries, we fix the problem and often replace outdated alarms. So, with older alarms that require battery replacement, just think, ‘Daylight Savings Time Change = Replace Your Smoke Alarm Battery.”

Battery replacement

First Alert’s Wey points out, “To solve this battery problem, our industry developed non-removable, non-replaceable batteries which can power an alarm for 10 years. So, unless you have a hard-wired alarm system, all alarms sold today are making battery replacement a thing of the past, are required in California and a number of other states.”

Wey underscores the importance of the location of your smoke alarms. “It’s not a matter of numbers, instead, location is critical. The law in California and most states require one in each bedroom, in hallways which lead to bedrooms and on each level of the house, including the basement.

“They need to be mounted in a place which gives the alarm adequate exposure to smoke. So, if you mount your alarm on the ceiling, it must be 4 inches from the wall. And, if mounted on a wall, alarms must be 4-12 inches from the ceiling.”

She cautions, “But do not install a smoke alarm near draft areas, such as windows or heating and air conditioning ducts and vents. If you are unsure about placement, never hesitate to call your local fire department as they will be glad to help.”
Does it matter how much you spend on a smoke alarm, or are they all pretty much alike?

As we learned from Chief Ekk, you can bet your life — and that of your family —on it mattering a great deal.

“When you are thinking of your family’s safety, the place to save money isn’t on a smoke alarm,” Chief Ekk maintains, “Because there are real differences in how they function and the precious time given to evacuate your home.”

The chief explained these differences, and how they affect an alarm’s ability to sound that warning.

We learned that there are two primary types of residential smoke alarms which use either ionization or photoelectric sensors. Each detects different types of fires.

“An Ionization smoke alarm can quickly detect the small amounts of smoke produced by fast flaming fires, such as cooking fires or fires fueled by paper or flammable liquids, while photoelectric detectors typically respond faster to a fire in its early, smoldering stage — before the source of the fire bursts into flames.

“Photoelectric detectors are more sensitive to the large combustion particles released with slow, smoldering fires, which usually occur at night when people are asleep. For these reasons, smoke alarms using both types of sensors are becoming more popular,” he notes.

Consumer Reports Magazine recommends dual sensor alarms, of which there are many on the market. We will look at carbon monoxide alarms in a future story. is well worth a visit.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.