Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Smoke Alarms Save Lives


Toxic smoke and fumes kill. In a house fire, it is the flames that do the structural damage, but smoke is the primary danger to people. The majority of deaths in fires come from smoke poisoning or inhalation.

Modern homes contain many materials, such as wood, wool, nylon and plastics, which when burning, produce heavy smoke and toxic fumes such as carbon monoxide and cyanide gas. These materials can smoulder for extended periods of time, producing substantial smoke and fumes before they burst into visible flames. Ottawa Home Inspectors see exposed styrofoam in basements frequently.

If you are asleep when a fire starts, you could suffer from smoke inhalation before you wake up. In fact, the combination of toxic smoke and gases and reduced levels of oxygen in the air can make waking up extremely difficult and in some circumstances, tragically impossible. So, it is essential to install and maintain working smoke alarms that will detect the smoke and sound an alarm.

ib42 Ottawa Home Inspections - smoke alarm
Smoke alarms should sound the alarm
Research indicates that house fires today burn faster and kill quicker than house fires 30 years ago. Research in the 1970s showed a safe escape time of 17 minutes. In 2005, this has decreased to an escape time of 3 minutes, or less in some circumstances. This drastic drop in escape time is primarily due to the contents of our modern homes, such as furnishings, that burn faster and more intently. This reduced escape time highlights the need for home fire escape planning and performing periodic practice drills.

  • Over 90% of residential fires in Ontario are preventable.
  • An injury is reported in 1 out of every 17 preventable home fires, and not all injuries are reported.
  • 1 out of every 100 preventable residential fires is a fatal fire.
Research from 1995 to 2004 regarding preventable, fatal residential fires in Ontario indicates:
  • 35% of fires - a smoke alarm was present and operated.
  • 25% of fires - a smoke alarm was present and did not operate.
  • 21% of fires - no smoke alarm was present.
  • 19% of fires - smoke alarm operation was undetermined.
This research pertains to 609 fatal fires that occurred in Ontario from 1995 to 2004. In about 50 per cent of fatal home fires, there was no smoke alarm warning. In the majority of these fatal home fires, it was determined a dead battery or no battery installed was the reason for the smoke alarm failing to activate.

Statistics also indicate the holiday season between November and the end of January to be the highest point of the year for fires and related fatalities. From November 1, 2004 to January 31, 2005, alone there were 35 fire fatalities in Ontario. This highlights the need to exercise extra caution during the holiday season when we may be most distracted. (Statistical Source: Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal)

Visit the Ontario Fire Marshal's website to learn more about Ontario Smoke Alarm Status in Residential Fires.


Ottawa Home Inspectors often hear people use the terms smoke alarms and smoke detectors interchangeably. However, there is a difference between the two. What's the difference?

A smoke alarm is an all-in-one, self-contained device, with a detector, which senses the products of combustion (smoke) and sounds an audible, and sometimes visual warning or alarm. Smoke alarms are widely used in residential settings. Put simply, a smoke alarm detects smoke and sounds an alarm.

A smoke detector is strictly a sensing device only, which senses the products of combustion (smoke) and sends a signal to a building’s fire alarm system to activate an audible, and sometimes visual warning or alarm. Smoke detectors must be connected to a building’s fire alarm system and are NOT a stand-alone unit. Put simply, a smoke detector senses smoke only and must be connected to a fire alarm system control panel. Smoke detectors are a detection device only - not an alarm.

A third device is a heat detector.  There are two methods for detecting fire from the presence of heat; Fixed temperature heat detectors operate when the ambient temperature increases sufficiently to a predetermined level where the heat detector will operate; or a rate-of-rise heat detector operates when the ambient temperature increases over time equal to or greater than the rate of change the detector was manufactured to operate.



There are two types of technologies used in smoke alarms to detect the presence of smoke or the products of combustion. Smoke alarms will employ one or both of these types of technologies. Each type of detector has its advantages and disadvantages.

Ionization smoke alarms activate more quickly for fast, flaming fires with little visible smoke. Photoelectric smoke alarms are particularly more responsive to smouldering fires and the dense smoke given off by foam-filled furnishings.

When properly installed and maintained, both types of alarms alert you to a fire and save lives. As in all things relating to your family's safety, buy the highest quality smoke alarm your budget will allow. Do not select a detector based solely on its low cost.

Smoke alarms are designed to be battery-powered or powered by a permanent connection to the household alternating current (AC) electrical supply (110v).  It is important when replacing smoke alarms that the correct type is installed. Smoke alarms that are installed with permanent electrical connections, also known as direct-wired or hard-wired smoke alarms, cannot be replaced with battery-powered units.

When purchasing a smoke alarm, look for a product that has been manufactured and tested to an acceptable standard, indicated by a marking for the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (U.L.C.), or Underwriters Laboratories Incorporated (cUL) as below.

Ionization Smoke Alarms

Ionization smoke alarms use a small amount of radioactive material (americium) that ionizes the air between two electrically charged metal plates, causing a current to flow between the plates. When smoke enters the chamber, it changes the flow of current, which is detected and activates the alarm.

Ionization smoke alarms activate more quickly for fast, flaming fires with little visible smoke.


  • Less expensive to purchase than other types of smoke alarms
  • Very good with fast flaming fires with little visible smoke
  • Suitable for general use
  • Less prone to false alarms due to dust and steam
  • Some models have a hush or temporary silence feature that allows silencing without removing the battery
  • Some models are available with a long life battery
  • Very susceptible to nuisance alarms due to cooking
  • May be slow to respond to slow smouldering fires
  • Contain radioactive material

Photoelectric Smoke Alarms (or Optical Smoke Alarms)

A Photoelectric or Optical smoke alarm sees the smoke. They operate on the principle of light scattered from the surface of particles. Smoke entering the sensing chamber reflects light onto the sensor, which triggers the alarm. Because large particles have much more surface area than small particles, a photoelectric smoke alarm is more sensitive to the large smoke particles produced in a smouldering fire.

Photoelectric or Optical smoke alarms are particularly more responsive to smouldering fires and the dense smoke given off by foam-filled furnishings. See illustrations below:

NOTE: The term photoelectric does not refer to the power source for the smoke alarm. The power supply can be battery or direct-wired on the household electrical current (110 volts A/C). Both types are available.

  • Good for slow smouldering fires and white or gray dense smoke
  • Less prone to cooking nuisance alarms
  • Contain no radioactive material
  • Suitable for general use
  • Prone to nuisance alarms from dust and insects - must be kept clean
  • More expensive to purchase
In the normal case, the light from the light source shoots straight across and misses the sensor. When smoke enters the chamber, however, the smoke particles scatter the light and some amount of light hits the sensor, activating the alarm.

To aid in choosing the correct smoke alarm, look for the letter P or the word photoelectric on the packaging or description of the smoke alarm.

Combination or Dual Sensor Smoke Alarms

Combination Ionization / Photoelectric (Optical) alarms combine the two technologies, ionization and photoelectric, to detect the presence of smoke or products of combustion. An alarm can be activated by either of the sensors within the unit. A combination Ionization / Photoelectric (Optical) alarm gives you the benefits of both types of technologies.

These smoke alarms are still prone to false alarms from cooking and steam due to the ionization component.
Combination Smoke Alarm / Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Smoke alarms that combine carbon monoxide detection and smoke detection capabilities are also available in a single unit. These units incorporate different sounding alarms, or in some cases voice alerting of Fire / Fire or Warning Carbon Monoxide when detecting the presence of smoke and/or carbon monoxide. Note: Carbon monoxide is a silent killer, as it is invisible, odorless, and colorless. If a combination smoke alarm / carbon monoxide alarm is used, it must be installed on the ceiling to ensure that it will detect smoke effectively. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Which type of alarm is more effective?

To achieve ULC listing, both alarms must be tested to the same standard and meet the same requirements. Photoelectric or Optical smoke alarms may respond slightly faster to smoldering fires, while ionization alarms respond slightly faster to flaming fires. Since you can't predict the type of fire that will occur, it is difficult to recommend which is best. Both alarms will detect all types of fires that commonly occur in the home.

TIP: Installing both types of smoke alarms in your home can enhance fire safety.

More details can be found here at the Fire Safety Council web site

Battery-Operated Smoke Alarms and Direct-Wired or Hard-Wired (A/C) Smoke Alarms

A 9 volt or AA alkaline battery powers most battery-operated smoke alarms. Some manufacturers also offer battery-operated smoke alarms powered by a long-life lithium battery. These long-life smoke alarms with extended life batteries or power cells are designed to provide up to 10 years of service without battery changes. Regardless of the manufacturer's suggested battery life, it is important to replace batteries (or smoke alarm) as soon as the low battery alert is activated! Many factors, including temperature, installation location, and how well smoke alarms are cleaned and maintained, can shorten battery (or smoke alarm) life. First Alert offers the SA305N ionization model below:


The Ontario Building Code has required direct-wired smoke alarms be installed in all new home construction since 1986, with amendments and additional requirements over the years.

Section Power Supply(1) Except as permitted in Sentence (2), smoke alarms shall be installed by permanent connections to an electrical circuit and shall have no disconnect switch between the overcurrent circuit device and the smoke alarm.

Effective March 1, 2006, it is the law for all Ontario homes to have a working smoke alarm on every storey and outside all sleeping areas. With this previously announced Fire Code amendment in effect, it is hoped there will be a reduction of the number of preventable fire-related injuries and fatalities. The amendment covers single family, semi-detached and town homes, whether owner-occupied or rented

When smoke alarms are being replaced, the replacement unit must not reduce the level of detection required by the Building Code in effect at the time of construction of the residence, or by municipal by-laws in effect before the Fire Code adopted this requirement. This requirement is contained in Sentence of the Fire Code. In other words, existing direct-wired or hard-wired smoke alarms or electrically interconnected smoke alarm installations must be maintained to provide the same level of protection as originally required. Any replacement smoke alarms must be of a type comparable to the original or better. Any smoke alarms installed in addition to the requirements of Section 2.13 of the Fire Code are permitted to be battery powered.

Direct-connect smoke alarms can be interconnected or linked to one another either wired or wirelessly, which means that should one smoke alarm activate in the home it will automatically sound the alarm on all smoke alarms within the home that are connected. People who sleep with their bedroom doors closed or may have difficulty awakening to a smoke alarm sounding outside the sleeping area should strongly consider installing interconnected direct-wired smoke alarms in their home.


Remember, smoke alarms connected directly to your home's electrical power supply (110 volt AC) will not work during hydro (power) outages unless they have a battery back up feature. Some older models of these alarms do not have an internal battery backup.

Find out what type of alarms you have in your home and ensure you are protected by battery operated smoke alarms in the event of a power failure in your home.

Smoke Alarms for the Deaf, Deafened or Hard of Hearing

Both the Ontario Building Code and Ontario Fire Code require the installation of smoke alarms in residential occupancies. By definition, a smoke alarm must sound an audible alarm to alert the home's occupants. Unfortunately, an audible alarm may not alert an individual who is deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.

There are numerous smoke alarms available on the market today that address the specialized needs of these individuals. Some devices utilize a bright flashing strobe light, as well as an audible alarm, to alert the residents in the event of a fire. Due to the electrical supply requirements to operate these strobe lights, they must be wired directly into the home's 110 volt AC electrical system. Some models have a 9 volt battery backup that will ensure the audible alarm will activate in the event of a power failure, however the battery will not activate the strobe light.

Additional options also exist that allow the individual to connect their smoke alarms to an alerting system that may incorporate a flashing strobe light, vibrating pager, vibrating bed shaker and/or rist band to alert the resident to the emergency. Other suitable options are also available.

A catalogue detailing all available options for the deaf, deafened or hard of hearing is available through The Canadian Hearing Society. (www.chs.ca).

Smoke Alarms featuring HUSH Control Feature

Cooking vapours and steam can sometimes activate a smoke alarm when no fire emergency is present. These are considered nuisance alarms and are the primary reason for people illegally disabling their smoke alarms by removing batteries or disconnecting the power supply to their smoke alarms. This practice of disabling a smoke alarm is extremely dangerous and against the law!

The Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal has introduced a website, http://www.makeitstop.ca/ , giving detailed instructions on ways to eliminate nuisance alarms. As well, smoke alarm manufacturers offer smoke alarms with a HUSH or PAUSE feature that allows the resident to temporarily silence the nuisance alarm. Generally, the HUSH feature will silence the alarm for approximately 7 minutes and then automatically reset itself. The smoke alarm will indicate that it is in HUSH mode by use of a periodic chirp or a visual indicator, such as a flashing LED light.

NOTE: Dense smoke will override the HUSH control feature and sound a continuous alarm to alert you to a fire emergency.

CAUTION: Before using the HUSH feature, identify the source of the smoke and be certain a safe condition exists.


The Ontario Fire Code requires all single family, semi-detached and town homes in Ontario, whether owner-occupied or rented, have a working smoke alarm on every storey of the residence and outside all sleeping areas. Failure to comply with the Ontario Fire Code smoke alarm requirements could result in a ticket of $235 or a fine of up to $50,000 for individuals or $100,000 for corporations. The Ontario Fire Code specifies that "no person shall intentionally disable a smoke alarm so as to make it inoperable". This includes, but is not limited to, removing the battery. A tenant, or any other person, who intentionally disables a smoke alarm is guilty of a provincial offence and may be subject to a fine.


Homeowners are responsible for installing and maintaining smoke alarms.


Landlords are responsible for ensuring their rental properties comply with the law. They must also provide tenants with a copy of the smoke alarm manufacturer's maintenance instructions. A can be downloaded from the Ontario Fire Marshal's website.


Tenants of rental properties should contact their landlord immediately if their occupancy does not have the required number of smoke alarms, or if there are any problems or concerns with the alarms. A Smoke Alarm Maintenance Information for Tenants and Occupants in Rental Units information sheet can be downloaded from the Ontario Fire Marshal's website.


The Ontario Fire Code requires all single family, semi-detached and town homes in Ontario, whether owner-occupied or rented, have a working smoke alarm on every storey of the residence, including the basement and outside all sleeping areas. Smoke alarms are not required in individual bedrooms unless required by the Ontario Building Code at the time of construction. However, to help ensure ultimate protection, we encourage smoke alarms be installed in each bedroom within the residence. Where bedroom doors are closed at night, smoke alarms should be installed in each bedroom.

One smoke alarm is required to be installed in each storey of a home and adjacent to any sleeping areas within the home. As illustrated below, a storey can consist of more than one level. When a home contains multiple sleeping areas, a smoke alarm must be installed to protect each separate sleeping area. This may necessitate additional smoke alarms on some levels of a split-level home. The following illustrated example of a split-level home, indicating required smoke alarm placement, is provided for clarification. Note that since smoke rises, the smoke alarm serving the 1st storey is installed in the upper level of that storey.


One smoke alarm is required to be installed in each storey of a home and adjacent to any sleeping areas within the home. When a home contains multiple sleeping areas, a smoke alarm must be installed to protect each separate sleeping area. In some home construction, such as with split-level homes, a storey may consist of more than one level. Normally, one smoke alarm would suffice to serve both levels of a split-level storey, except in the case where both levels contain separate sleeping areas. In that instance a smoke alarm must be installed on both levels containing sleeping areas.

The following illustration of a split-level home and the required smoke alarm installations is provided for clarification.


NOTE: Both the upper and lower levels of the 2nd storey require smoke alarm installation due to separate sleeping areas contained on both levels. However, only one smoke alarm is required to service both the upper and lower levels of the 1st storey since neither level contains a sleeping area. Also note that since smoke rises, the smoke alarm serving the 1st storey is installed in the upper level of the 1st storey.

  • Read and familiarize yourself with the manufacturer's instruction manual. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for installing, testing, and maintaining smoke alarms.
  • Smoke, heat and combustion products rise to the ceiling and spread horizontally. In order for the smoke alarm to properly sense the presence of smoke, the ideal location is on the ceiling in the centre of the room. Ceiling mounting is preferred in ordinary residential construction.
  • When installing the smoke alarm on the ceiling, ensure it is a minimum of 10cm (4 inches) from any wall.
  • If wall mounting is necessary, use an inside wall, ensuring it is a minimum of 10cm (4 inches) below the ceiling, but no lower than 30.5cm (12 inches) below the ceiling.
  • If the hallway serving the bedrooms is more than 9 metres (30 feet) long, install smoke alarms at both ends of the hallway.
  • Install smoke alarms at both ends of a room if it is more than 9 metres (30 feet) long.
  • In stairways with no doors at the top or bottom, install smoke alarms anywhere in the path of smoke moving up the stairs. However, always install smoke alarms at the bottom of closed stairways, such as those leading to the basement. Dead air trapped near the closed door at the top of the stairway could prevent smoke from reaching the smoke alarm if installed at the top of the stairway.

Locations To Avoid Installing Smoke Alarm

  • Do not install smoke alarms in dead air pockets, for example within 10cm (100mm - 4 inches) of where a ceiling meets a wall or a corner of a room. See the illustration:


  • Do not install a smoke alarm within 1 metre (3 feet) of a doorway to a kitchen or bathroom, forced air ducts used for heating or cooling, ceiling or ventilation fans, air conditioner units or other high airflow areas.
  • Do not install the smoke alarm where drapes or other objects may block the sensor.
  • Do not install in the peaks of vaulted ceilings, A-Frame ceilings or gabled roofs. For A-Frame type ceilings, install the smoke alarm 10cm (4 inches) below the peak. See the illustration below for clarification.
  • When installing a smoke alarm in a room with a sloped ceiling, position it 90cm (36 inches) horizontally from the highest point, as illustrated below, since dead air at the peak may prevent smoke from reaching the unit.
  • Electronic noise may cause nuisance alarms. Install smoke alarms at least 30 cm (12 inches) away from fluorescent lighting.
  • Avoid excessively dusty, dirty, greasy or insect-infested areas. Dust particles and insects may cause nuisance alarms or failure to alarm.
  • Do not install in areas where the temperature is colder than 4.4ºC (40ºF) or hotter than 37.8ºC (100ºF). Extreme temperatures may adversely affect the sensitivity of the alarm, as well as diminish the lifespan of the battery, if so equipped.
  • Do not install in areas where the relative humidity is greater than 85% or within 3 metres (10 feet) of showers, saunas, dishwashers or any other steam-producing appliance. Very humid areas along with steam can cause unwanted nuisance alarms and adversely affect the battery, if so equipped.
  • Do not install smoke alarms in your garage. Combustion particles produced when you start your automobile will cause unwanted nuisance alarms.


  • Avoid installing smoke alarms in or near kitchens and bathrooms where steam or cooking are present;
  • If a smoke alarm is installed within 6 metres (20 feet) of a cooking appliance it should be a photoelectric (optical) smoke alarm or one that incorporates a HUSH silencing feature;
  • Keep ovens and stovetop burners clean to eliminate minor smoke flare-ups;
  • Clean out accumulated crumbs from the bottom of toasters and/or toaster ovens and turn down the timer setting;
  • Use the kitchen vent hood fan, that exhausts to the outside, when cooking to remove steam and smoke during cooking;
  • Use bathroom ventilation fans, that exhaust to the outside, to remove steam build-up;
  • Relocate the smoke alarm from the ceiling to a spot on an adjacent wall;
  • Move the alarm further away from the source of the nuisance alarm;
  • Replace ionization type alarms with photoelectric (optical) alarms.
  • If your alarm does not have a HUSH feature, use a towel or newspaper to fan the alarm to dissipate the smoke or steam.


To tell if you have a Photoelectric or Ionization type detector, look on the front, back or the inside of the unit for the following:
The word Photoelectric or the symbol P or the word Ionization or the symbol I. (See image below)
Any indication of the unit containing radiation indicates it is an Ionization detector.



Smoke detectors are designed to make a chirping noise once the battery needs changing. Newer smoke alarms retain some errors in a processor. The smoke alarm should clear errors after the battery is changed, but it may continue to chirp even after you change the batteries. This also occurs in smoke alarms powered by electricity with a battery backup. If this happens, the only way to stop the chirping noise is to manually clear the error from the processor by resetting the smoke alarm.

How to Reset AC Powered Direct-Wired Smoke Alarms with Battery Backup

STEP 1 - Turn off the main breaker in your home's breaker box to turn off the electrical current running to the smoke detector. The breaker should be clearly labeled at the breaker/panel box.

STEP 2 - Take the smoke detector off its mounting bracket on the ceiling and disconnect the power harness connected to the smoke detector. Usually you need to twist the smoke alarm slightly to release it from the mounting bracket and pull on the harness to disconnect it from the smoke alarm. See image below:

NOTE: Some smoke alarms may have the battery access on the front as in the image above (right).

STEP 3 - Remove its battery, then press the TEST button and hold it down for 15 seconds. An alarm will sound briefly, then the alarm will silence.

STEP 4 - Replace the battery in the smoke alarm, reconnect the power harness and put the smoke alarm back on its mounting bracket. Turn the breaker on at the breaker box. The alarm(s) will chirp one time to indicate power was restored to the unit(s).

How to Reset Battery Powered Smoke Alarms From Chirping

STEP 1 - Take the battery out of the smoke detector.

STEP 2 - Press the TEST button and hold it down for 15 seconds. An alarm will sound briefly, then the alarm will silence.

STEP 3  - Put the battery back in the smoke detector. The detector will chirp one time to indicate the battery is connected.

Press the TEST, Silence or HUSH button to reset the smoke detector if it has a blinking red light.

A smoke alarm with a 10-year power cell will chirp when the power cell begins to fail. These power cells are not batteries and cannot be replaced. Manufacturers advise replacing the entire unit once the chirping begins.


First always check to make sure there is no fire or smoulding anywhere in the home.

In the event of a false alarm, never remove the battery or disconnect the power source. Simply fan the smoke or steam away from the smoke detector until the alarm stops. Some detectors have a button you can push to temporarily silence the alarm.

The smoke alarm may be dirty. Clean the unit with a vacuum cleaner - dust particles can and often do set off false alarms.

The alarm may also need to be moved or replaced. It could be too close to the kitchen, bathroom, or heat register. If the alarm appears to be defective, replace it as soon as possible.



The basic test for battery powered and hard wired smoke alarms is to press the TEST button on the alarm (indicated by the red arrow above). When the test button is pressed, the alarm should sound. If it fails to sound, make sure that the battery is installed correctly or install a new battery. If the alarm still fails to sound, replace the smoke alarm with a new one or follow ahard wired testing procedures from the mnaufacturer.

Pick a familiar, meaningful date to help remind you each month, such as a birth date or anniversary. A broom handle or cane can be used to depress the test button eliminating the need to climb a ladder or stand on a chair.

Most models have easy-to-find test buttons on their covers.  (see photo above)

STEP 1 - Alert all members of your household that you are testing the alarm first, unless you would like to use the opportunity for a fire drill. If your smoke detector is hardwired to a monitored security system, be sure to notify the security system's company that you are performing a test before you test the alarm. You don't want the fire department showing up at your door.

STEP 2 - Have someone go to a part of the house or apartment that is as far from the smoke detector as possible when conducting a function test, to determine whether the alarm can be clearly heard at that distance

STEP 3 - Push and hold the test button for a few seconds. The smoke alarm produce a loud, ear-piercing siren.

STEP 4 - Test every smoke alarm in your home every month. Always test alarms after battery changes to ensure that the unit is working.

NOTE: There are other methods to test the smoke alarm:
  • Check with real smoke. Light a match and blow it out directly under the smoke detector. Then, put the match in a glass of water to make sure it's out. The detector may take several moments to sense the smoke and go off. If it doesn't react, replace the batteries and test again. If the device still does not react, or it's a hardwired unit, the  unit may need to be replaced.  
  • Smouldering incense stick
  • A smouldering cotton string placed in an ashtray - be sure to put the cotton in a glass of water to make sure it's out.

CAUTION: Smouldering materials used to test should be disposed of in a manner that does not create a fire hazard.

Testing procedures may differ slightly between models. If you have the owner's manual for your multi-station smoke detector system, read it to determine the testing procedure for your particular model.
  1. A broom handle or cane can be used to press the test button eliminating the need to climb a ladder or stand on a chair.
  2. Test all smoke alarms after being away from home for more than 3 days (alternate 7 days). The low battery chirp may have activated while you were away from home and the battery is dead, leaving you without protection.
  3. Never test a smoke detector by holding an open flame up to it. This can damage the detector or set it on fire.
  4. Never disable a malfunctioning or hypersensitive smoke detector. Instead, replace it with a new unit or a different model.


Install a new battery at least once a year, or as recommended by the manufacturer. Install a new battery if the low-battery warning sounds or if the alarm fails to sound when tested or whenever the low-battery warning sounds. One good way to remember to change your smoke alarm battery is when you change your clock (in the fall or spring) - change your battery too!


All smoke alarms wear out. If your alarms are more than 10 years old, replace them with new ones.

Newer smoke alarms have the replacement date on the exterior of the unit. See below, expires in 2020.


Smoke detectors have a service life or expiration date of 8-10 years or sooner if the fail while testing.. To check the age of your smoke detector:  
  • Look on the back or the inside of the unit for a date of manufacture sticker or stamp.
  • If there is no date listed on your alarm, replace it. See below:

Radioactive Label Indicating an Ionization Alarm is
most likely more than 10 years old and should be replaced.

Ionization Label and Date Code on back of unit

Radioactive Label Indicating an Ionization Alarmon back of unit

Photoelectric Label and Date Code on back of unit

  • Read and familiarize yourself with the manufacturer's instruction manual. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for installing, testing, and maintaining smoke alarms.
  • Ensure the smoke alarm is secure and unobstructed.
  • Install a fresh battery in your smoke alarms at least once a year or whenever the low-battery warning sounds.
  • For proper operation, smoke alarms must be kept clean and free of dust, cobwebs, etc. Never clean your smoke alarms using water, solvents or cleaners as they may damage the unit. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions at all times. Clean your smoke alarms by gently vacuuming them using the soft brush attachment on your vacuum. For battery-operated smoke alarms vacuum the outside only; do not try to open the unit. For electrically connected (direct-wired) smoke alarms, disconnect the power to the unit, open the alarm cover and gently vacuum the inside of the alarm, and then reconnect the power supply to the alarm. This cleaning should be done at least twice a year. Test your smoke alarm after cleaning to ensure it's working. (Ontario Fire Marshal's SITE - AC powered smoke alarms should only be vacuumed externally and no attempt should be made to open the case. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions at all times. If specifically recommended by the manufacturer, open the battery cover on battery operated smoke alarms and gently vacuum the circuit board.)  
  • Clean the exterior of the smoke alarm to remove dirt and grease following the manufacturer's instructions. Most manufacturers suggest using a damp cloth only. 
  • Never paint a smoke alarm. Paint can seal the vents and interfere with the sensor's ability to detect smoke, hampering its proper operation.  
  • Replace smoke alarms if they fail to operate properly when tested.  
  • Replace smoke alarms every 8-10 years from the date of manufacture or sooner if the fail while testing. The date of manufacture is noted on the smoke alarm.
  • Hire an Ottawa Home Inspector for a maiintenance inspection

Ensure that your children recognize the sound of your home's smoke alarms and know what to do when they hear that sound. Develop and practice a home fire escape plan with your family.

Research has shown that children tend to sleep much more deeply and longer than adults. The sound of a smoke alarm may not penetrate the deep sleep patterns of children. As children can be deep sleepers, caregivers should never assume that activated smoke alarms would awaken and alert their sleeping children. As part of their home fire escape plan, caregivers must make it their responsibility to awaken and evacuate children in the event of a fire.

You may have recently seen news reports on television showing children sleeping through the sound of smoke alarms, but awakening rather quickly to the sound of a familiar, abrupt voice coming from a smoke alarm with voice recording capabilities. Although smoke alarms with voice recording capabilities may seem like a good idea, the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office is not aware of any voice recording smoke alarms that have met the Canadian standard for smoke alarms, CAN/ULC-S-531, Standard for Smoke Alarms, or that they will consistently awaken sleeping children. We understand that Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is currently reviewing this product, and that Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) approval will be sought in the future.

Use discretion when recording a message. It is important that the message be applicable to any and all fire situation.


The radiation source in an ionization chamber detector is a very small disc, about 3 to 5 millimeters in diameter, weighing about 0.5 gram. It is a composite of americium-241 in a gold matrix. The average activity in a smoke detector source is about one microcurie, 1 millionth of a curie. This is comparable to the background radiation already present in many materials.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has confirmed that individual smoke alarms containing americium 241 may be disposed of in the regular garbage. However, if the smoke alarm contains radium or if there are large numbers of smoke alarms to be disposed of, more than 10 units, they should be shipped to the Low Level Radioactive Waste Management Office for disposal.


Before you leave

When you are planning your vacation, plan for your home safety too. Make sure you check that all stoves, ovens, and electrical appliances have been turned off or disconnected. It's a good idea to unplug television sets, radios, computers, DVD players, etc. when you are away. If lightning storms occur or there are strong electrical surges they could damage your electronics or start a fire. Make sure that if you put lamps on timers that they use the correct wattage bulb and that it is well away from any combustibles.

When you come home check your smoke alarm as soon as you can, the batteries could run down or it could fail while you were away.

At the Hotel or Motel

If you will be staying in a hotel or motel, make sure it has smoke alarms installed. It's more preferable to have a hotel or motel that has a fire sprinkler system in it too. If there is no fire sprinkler system, request a room on the lower floors.


A comprehensive monitored home security plan should include a smoke alarm.

The monitored smoke alarm is not the standard kind you buy in a hardware store. These smoke alarms not only emit a loud noise when activated but also send a signal to the control panel of your home security system.

Most monitored smoke alarms allow for one or two short time delays, in case of a false alarm -- such as burning food on a stove. This gives users time to key in a code to disarm the system, or notify the alarm company by phone.

In the case of fire, the control panel of your home security system will activate a central alarm that is loud enough to alert occupants and nearby neighbors. The monitoring service automatically is contacted.

Many home monitoring services do not try to phone homeowners first for verification of a fire. Time is too critical for saving lives and your home. Instead your local fire department is summoned immediately.

Check with the home security company to find out if customers must pay fees for false fire alarms. Some cities and towns also impose fees on homeowners for false home security alarms, because of the cost to dispatch emergency services to your home.


The Nest Protect is heading up a new generation of smarter and easier to control fire alarms

So what's new about the Nest Protect versus a typical smoke alarm? Heads-Up and Nest Wave are two features designed for the Nest Protect that solves a common problem that inevitably happens while living with smoke alarms. With the Heads-Up system, the Nest Protect lights up yellow, sends a mobile notification, and announces in a human voice that smoke and/or carbon monoxide levels are rising. This gives homeowners time to identify and address the problem without a screeching alarm going off"

With Nest Wave, when the alarm is going off, users can silence an alarm with just a wave of a hand two to eight feet away. This allows for a safe and calm manner of silencing the alarm without having to scramble for a chair or step ladder and a magazine to wave wildly, like we've all done with smoke alarms.

The Nest Protect also includes a carbon monoxide detector, which is now becoming required by law in many states and provinces. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer, as it is invisible, odorless, and colorless. Heating and cooking equipment are common sources of carbon monoxide throughout the home, as are vehicles and generators running in the garage without proper ventilation and air flow.

With its built-in Wi-Fi connection, the Nest Protect can communicate with additional units throughout the home, announcing which room an alarm might be sounding from. Wi-Fi connectivity also allows the Nest Protect to send notifications, check battery and sensor status, adjust settings, turn on/off the Pathlight built-in night light, as well as information on what to do in case of an emergency, all from compatible smartphones and tablets.

The wave of the things to come …

Remember, change your clocks, change your batteries.


Plenty of References:


Inspected by 42 Home Inspections - Kanata and Ottawa surrounding area 


  1. I think an alarm which has dual sensor is better. It can detect both types of fire (without smoke and with smoke), increasing the safety level of the house owner. People must change the batteries on a timely basis. And last but not the least, everyone must know and practice what they are suppose to be doing which the alarm rings.

    Arnold Brame
    Health and Safety Risk Assessments

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