Tips for testing smoke detectors

Household 2 min read

A working smoke detector can help keep you and your family safe, but a malfunctioning one may have devastating consequences. As part of preventing house fires, it’s important to regularly test your smoke detectors to ensure they’re working properly. Edward Mulholland, sergeant at arms, Local 22 Philadelphia Firefighters’ and Paramedics’ Union, explains how to test a smoke detector, when you should do it, and what to look for.

How often should I check my smoke alarms?

It depends on the smoke detector’s power source. If your smoke detectors are hardwired into your home’s electrical system or have sealed ten-year lithium-ion batteries, you should check them twice a year. Mulholland recommends testing them in the spring and fall when you turn the clocks forward and backward or as a part of seasonal home maintenance.

He advises checking smoke detectors with replaceable batteries (e.g., 9-volt, “AA,” etc.) quarterly and replacing the batteries twice a year whether they’re good or not. However, if you have a smoke detector with replaceable batteries in your home, Mulholland suggests getting rid of it. “I’d recommend you get a lithium battery [smoke alarm],” he said.

How to test a smoke detector

It’s important to test your smoke detectors to ensure they are working properly. To test a smoke detector:

  • Press the button on the unit to activate it.
  • If it works properly, press the button again to turn it off.
  • If it doesn’t, you may need to replace it, depending on the type you have.

If you have a hardwired smoke detector or a unit with a sealed ten-year lithium-ion battery and it doesn’t work, replace the entire unit. If you have a smoke alarm with replaceable batteries, change them and re-test it. If it still doesn’t work, replace it immediately.

How often should you replace smoke detectors?

Most hardwired smoke detectors and units with a sealed ten-year lithium-ion battery have a lifespan of ten years. After that, you should replace smoke detectors even if they still work during your smoke alarm testing. If it shows signs of malfunctioning before the ten-year mark, replace it, no matter how old. Smoke detectors that use replaceable batteries may have a shorter lifecycle. No matter what type, check the manufacturer’s instructions for details about when to replace it.

Other considerations for smoke detector testing

Functioning smoke detectors can save lives by giving you and your family time to get safety. Learn more fire safety tips, how to use a fire extinguisher, and how to prevent a house fire.

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