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You may not notice it's there until the smoke alarm goes off or something draws your attention to it. Considering the critical role smoke alarms play in fire safety, you owe it to yourself to take care of your fire alarms. You should also know how to test smoke alarms.

Here, you can learn how to test your fire alarms, the reasons for testing your smoke alarm, and the steps to test smoke alarms. You can also learn maintenance tips for smoke alarms, how to differentiate real from false alarms, and home fire safety tips. Keep reading to learn more!

Reasons for Testing Your Smoke Alarm

Here are some reasons to check or confirm your smoke alarm is working:

To know if it can be heard

Fire safety statistics indicate that over 50% of all deaths due to fire incidences take place between bedtime and the early morning hours. As such, a significant objective of testing smoke alarms is ensuring everyone in different areas – including beyond exterior walls – can hear it.

To fulfil laws for testing smoke detectors

You may be wondering if testing smoke detectors is compulsory. The smoke alarm test button and the 'hush' or 'silence' button have a purpose. There are smoke alarm laws in place that make it compulsory to test your smoke alarms regularly.

Your smoke alarms must be powered and functional to give adequate emergency warnings of potentially devastating fires. Therefore, some areas require you to test smoke alarm devices at least once per year. However, you can hit the test button once every month to ensure it's working.

To check the function of the test button

A smoke alarm test is an opportunity to confirm that the smoke alarm test button is working effectively. It would be best to verify the alert and how it sounds inside and outside the property.

To familiarise household members

Smoke alarm tests are meant to prepare building occupants for real emergencies. Your family members should know what the smoke alarm sounds like before an emergency occurs.

Steps to Test Smoke Alarms

There are different types, models, and brands of smoke alarms. However, you can still use the following generic steps to test your smoke alarms:

Step One: Prepare your household members

You don't want to scare your family or trigger a medical episode. It would help to inform them about the smoke alarm test drill beforehand.

Step Two: Choose a time

It is usually best to choose a time when most people are home. However, you should consider your neighbours if you are considering performing the test at night.

Step Three: Prepare your tools

You must get a ladder if necessary, as you may need to reach the alarm if it is placed high on the ceiling.

Step Four: Check for the mains power light

This is a green light that indicates that there is mains power. However, this step is only for mains-powered smoke alarms.

Step Five: Locate the test button

The prominent silence/hush button is meant to turn off the sound when there's a false alarm. However, the test button should be on the front of the unit. It is usually well-marked.

Step Six: Trigger the test

You may use aids such as a chair, ladder, and broom handle. Firmly push the test button to trigger the test. You may need to press and hold the button down for one to three seconds. The smoke alarm will sound.

After that, release the test button, and the smoke alarm will stop ringing after a few seconds. A chirping sound indicates that you need to change the smoke alarm battery. On the other hand, a functioning smoke alarm will give off a screeching full alarm sound.

If you're using smoke to test the smoke alarm, hold two ignited matches a metre beneath the smoke detector and wait for the alarm to sound. The smoke from the matches should cause the alarm to sound. If it doesn't, you need to replace the smoke alarm.If the alarm does not sound, check if you need to replace the batteries.

However, this measure is only for smoke alarms using batteries. Alternatively, or in addition, invite an electrician to replace the smoke alarm. They can also check the wiring and replace the smoke alarm batteries.

Step Seven: Test other alarms

You may not need to test other alarms if you're using an interconnected smoke alarm system, as all the alarms in your home will have sounded. Otherwise, you need to test the alarm on every level of your home separately.

Step Eight: Keep a record

It can be helpful to jot down your smoke alarm test details in the future. You can include the test date and each smoke alarm's status.

Step Nine: Perform a date audit

Smoke alarms usually have a replace-by date or a manufacture date. You need to replace the smoke alarm once every ten years. Remember that mains-powered smoke alarms use a battery backup. You can replace the battery once every year.

Step Ten: Maintain regular cleaning

You can follow a monthly smoke detector cleaning schedule. Clean any dust buildup with a vacuum cleaner or a soft cloth. Avoid using chemical cleaners so you do not contaminate the sensors.

Maintenance Tips for Smoke Alarms

Here are some tips to help you maintain your smoke alarm:

• Test the alarm batteries every month. Press and hold the test button for three to five seconds until you hear beeps.

• Keeping dust off smoke alarms helps to reduce false alarms. The smoke can also more easily reach the internal sensor. So clean the alarms every eight months.

• Check and replace batteries (lead or alkaline) every year.

• 10-year lithium battery-powered smoke alarms need to have the batteries replaced every ten years or earlier. Check the manufacturer's specifications.

False Alarms and Real Alarms Explained

A real false alarm occurs when your smoke alarm goes off without any smoke. Dust, dirt, air pollutants, insects in the alarm, or electrical faults can cause this. However, people sometimes describe alarms arising from nuisance smoke sources as false alarms. 

This may not be technically correct because the smoke alarm detected particles that could cause a fire. You need to set the alarm sensitivity correctly to increase the chances of your smoke alarm differentiating between a real fire and nuisance smoke. Examples of "real fire" test scenarios include smouldering wood, burning/flaming wood, and burning/flaming cooking oil.

Home Fire Safety Tips

You do not need only to concern yourself about commercial fire safety. Taking home fire safety and building fire safety seriously would be best. House fires cause a significant number of deaths every day. However, the use of home smoke detectors is reducing the number of fire-related deaths.

You can use the following home fire safety tips:

• Installing smoke detectors is an inexpensive way to protect your home and avoid being caught in dangerous situations.

• You can install a fire alarm on every level of your home. People install smoke alarms in attics, basements, sleeping rooms, and hallways.

• It makes sense to install interconnected smoke alarms. This way, all alarms will sound when a single one activates. Everyone can then evacuate on time.

• You may damage the alarm by using an open flame to test it.

• It may have a fault if your smoke alarm gives off low or erratic sounds. If it's still within the warranty period, get a warranty replacement from product support.

• Practice fire exit plans and escape plans with your household. Do this once or twice every year.

• Occasionally perform a sudden fire drill. 

• Do not decorate smoke alarms with stickers or paint. This can impair its functionality.

• If you are performing a safety test, let household members know how to test the smoke detector.

• If you push the test button and your alarm doesn't sound, you can see if you need the batteries. Or you can invite an electrician to check the wiring. This will help you ensure you have a properly functioning fire alarm.

• Avoid taking out the batteries of your smoke alarm to use in your TV remote. You may forget to replace them.

• Changing the batteries as you change clocks for daylight savings time is a good idea. This can help you with the replacement schedule.

• You should have a schedule for alarm testing, cleaning, and replacement.

Electrical Contractors Can Help With Smoke Alarms

After reading up on how to test smoke alarms, your next step might be to check if you need smoke alarm testing. The results may indicate a need for your smoke alarm repair, maintenance, or replacement.

If so, you must get a licensed electrical company with knowledge of smoke alarm legislation to come out and test your alarms. They can advise you on the best brands and types of smoke alarms and provide professional electrical services.

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