Testing and replacement of hard wired smoke alarms.
Hard wired smoke alarms and battery operated smoke alarms have very similar maintenance and testing requirements. Many people think that a monthly test is not required for the hard wired alarms but this is not the case. Both should be tested at least every month by pushing the test button. With hard wired alarms the test button may be in combination with the power light that is usually lit and found on the front face of the alarm. It may also be a separate button marked “test”. Some extremely old hard wired alarms did not have test buttons and this would also be a great reason to replace it.
A simple smoke test can also be done by lighting a candle, blow out the flame and hold the extinguished candle as close to the alarm as possible. Let the smoke drift into the alarm and this should also activate it. To stop the alarm you may have to fan it with a magazine or towel.
Smoke alarms should be vacuumed about every six months to remove dust and insects which are one of the prominent causes of false alarms. Alarms should also be replaced if they are damaged, if they have been painted or if they have been exposed to smoke and heat from a fire that may have occurred in the home.
Hard wired and battery operated alarms generally have a manufacturers recommended life expectancy of no more than 10 years and they suggest replacement at this point. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when replacing hard wired alarms:
- If you are not comfortable with some basic electrical repairs such as changing a light fixture it would be in your best interest to have an experienced electrician do the job.
- If your home has more than one hard wired smoke alarm, you will almost always find that the alarms are wired together, or interconnected. This feature was required in homes which were built around the mid 90’s and later. The basic function is that when one alarm is activated (for example in the basement) all the other alarms throughout the home (such as the main floor and bedroom levels) will also go into alarm to provide earlier warning to someone that may be sleeping on a level which is remote from the fire. If your home has this feature and you make an improper connection when replacing the alarms, you may disrupt this important benefit. If you are doing the job yourself be sure to test all alarms for the interconnection by pushing the test button on each alarm and having someone stand near the other alarms to ensure they are working.
- If the alarms are interconnected you must ensure that any units that are being replaced are compatible with any that are not being changed. An alarm from one manufacturer may not function correctly with an alarm from another manufacturer. The best thing to do is replace all alarms at the same time.
- The Ontario Fire Code also requires that if you are replacing hard wired alarms you must replace them with a hard wired alarm. The code requires that when replacing smoke alarms in a home you may not “reduce the level of protection provided in the building as required by the building code at the time of construction.” This means you can’t take down a hard wired alarm and put up a battery operated one in its place.
- When replacing hard wired alarms it is a good idea to consider some newer features that are available today which may not have been available when the homes were built, or that the builder chose not to spend the extra money on. One good feature is a built in battery backup. This ensures continuous protection, even during loss of electrical power. Another feature would be a “hush” feature which allows you to silence the alarm by pushing a button if it has been activated by small amounts of steam or cooking smoke. The alarm would silence for 10 minutes and then re-set itself. Unfortunately this feature does not work if the smoke or steam is very heavy or if it increases after you have silenced it. The silence feature only reduces the sensitivity of the alarm by about 50%, but it does not “turn off” the alarm.
- One last thing to consider is if you have areas that are prone to false alarms, such as near kitchens or bathrooms, you should consider an alarm that uses photo-electric detection. This is less sensitive to steam and cooking smoke but it is also slightly more responsive to smoke produced by a smoldering fire.