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Smoke Detectors and Apartment Fire Safety

In accordance with the International Building Code® and the National Fire Protection Association, (NFPA®), smoke detectors are required in all apartment complexes. Studies have shown that 80% of deaths from fire occur in the home. 

According to the NFPA®, residents of apartments where smoke detectors are installed and maintained are 40% less likely to die in a fire than those without smoke detectors. For this reason, it is crucial that tenants and landlords understand the basics of smoke detector placement, maintenance and wiring. 

Where to Install Smoke Detectors

According to NFPA® guidelines, new apartment buildings should have one smoke detector installed in the following locations: 

  • One outside each bedroom
  • One inside each bedroom
  • One on each level of the building 

In existing buildings, one smoke detector is required outside each grouping of bedrooms and one on each level. Although the standards are not as strict for existing buildings, NFPA® recommends adding a smoke detector inside each bedroom to meet the current standards. 

Review these best practices for the appropriate placement of smoke detectors:

  • Mount 4"–12" from the ceiling
  • If ceiling mounted, mount 4" from the nearest wall
  • If vaulted ceilings, install at the highest point of the ceiling
  • Do not place in areas of high heat and humidity (e.g. boiler rooms) or areas used for cooking; placement in these areas may result in false alarms, which commonly cause occupants to disable the smoke detector
  • Do not place where there is a high volume of air moving (e.g. near a ceiling fan), these locations could delay activation
  • Units should be installed in accordance with manufacturer's instructions and listed or approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory

How to Maintain Smoke Detectors

Perform routine maintenance to increase the reliability of smoke detectors. Each detector includes manufacturer's recommendations for testing the device. Review these tips for proper maintenance of smoke detectors: 

  • Activate the test button at least once per month
  • Change batteries each year, sooner if there is a "chirping" or other sound indicating the battery is low
  • Never remove batteries without immediately replacing them
  • Never disconnect the AC power source on hard wired detectors
  • Vacuum smoke detectors once or twice a year to remove dust and debris
  • NFPA® recommends replacing smoke detectors at least every 10 years

Hardwired Smoke Detectors 

Apartment smoke detectors that are hardwired offer advantages and disadvantages. If smoke detectors are wired into the building's electrical system, occupants need not concern themselves with changing batteries. 

Smoke detectors can also be wired together, causing all detectors to sound an alarm whenever smoke is detected anywhere in the building. A disadvantage to hardwiring is the risk of a power failure, which manufacturers have addressed by offering a battery backup system that will operate during a power outage.

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