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Smoke Alarms

Since it was marketed in the early 80’s, the smoke detector has helped reduce the average number of fire-related deaths from 180 to 70 each year.

The best way to save your life and the lives of loved-ones

The smoke detector is the best way to save lives. Verify its operation regularly, whether battery-operated or electric.

Periodically replace the battery or use, if possible, a long-lasting battery, like lithium.

Replace the detectors according to the recommendations of the manufacturer, generally every ten years. The manufacturing or expiry date is indicated on the housing. If the date is missing, do not take any chances, replace the device immediately.

How to choose a smoke detector

  • Ionization smoke detectors are the most common. They are installed near the bedrooms.
  • Photoelectric smoke detectors are installed near the kitchen, bathrooms and heating appliances, since they trigger fewer false alarms caused by steam and cooking vapours.
  • A smoke detector with a long-lasting lithium battery is a good choice. The battery, located in a sealed compartment, has a lifetime of ten years.
  • If an occupant is deaf or hearing impaired, the installation of smoke detectors combined with strobe lights and sound is recommended.
  • In new constructions, the smoke detector must be connected to the electric system. Ideally, it should have an emergency battery in case of a power failure.
  • The ULC logo must appear on the smoke detector, indicating that the device meets Canadian standards.

The smoke detector does not detect carbon monoxide (CO): a CO detector is therefore also needed.

Where to install a smoke detector

The audible signal must be heard clearly in all bedrooms, even when the doors are closed, or in all the rooms of an apartment. 

  • Install a smoke detector on each floor, including the basement.
  • Install one in the corridor, near the bedrooms.
  • Install one in each bedroom where people sleep with the door closed.
  • Install one near the staircase.
  • Make sure that all occupants hear the smoke detector when they sleep. Otherwise, install a smoke detector in the rooms where people cannot hear it.
  • Never remove a battery from a smoke detector that triggers alarms too frequently: it is probably located too close to the stove or bathroom. Move it slightly away from the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Install a smoke detector at the cottage/cabin. In pro rata, there are more fire-related deaths at the cottage/cabin than the main residence.
  • If each floor measures more than 10 metres (35 feet), install two detectors per floor; one at each end.

How to install a smoke detector

  • Install the device on the ceiling, at a minimum of 10 cm (4 in.) from the wall, or on a wall, at a distance of 10 to 30 cm (4 to 12 in.) from the ceiling.
  • Install the detector at a distance of 100 cm (40 in.) from a ventilator, air conditioner, vent or air return. The air movement caused by these devices can push the smoke away and hinder the operation of the detector.
  • Make sure that there are no obstructions in the possible trajectory of the smoke to the detector. For example, install the detector on the lower part of a beam and not between the beams, where the smoke could fail to find its way.
  • A smoke detector connected to an alarm central ensures a faster response from firefighters. Ensure you are properly connected, especially when modifying your telephone or electric system (high speed Internet, IP telephone).
  • Have a professional electrician interconnect all electric smoke detectors in the home. Thus, when one triggers an alarm, they all initiate an alarm, regardless of where the fire is located. You will gain precious minutes to evacuate.

How to maintain a smoke detector

The battery

  • Replace the battery when the detector issues an intermittent audible signal. Use the type of battery that is recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Never use a rechargeable battery, unless recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Replace it when you move into a new home.
  • If possible, use a long-lasting battery, such as lithium.

The device

  • Gently vacuum, using a soft brush, the outside and inside of the housing of a battery-operated detector at least once a year. An electric detector must not be opened; clean the outside only.
  • Never cover the detector with paint.

How to verify a smoke detector

Battery-operated or electric detectors, at home or at the cottage/cabin:

Once a month

  • Press the test button for a few seconds. An audible signal must be heard immediately. Otherwise, change the battery.
  • Verify the detector after your return from vacation or after you have been absent for more than 7 days. The audible signal indicating a low battery does not sound more than a week.
  • Verify the smoke detectors that are connected to a surveillance central. Inform the service supplier and follow the instructions provided.

Once a year

  • Verify its capacity to detect smoke by exposing it to smoke produced by a candle that has been put out, placed at a reasonable distance, or smoke generated from burning incent or a cotton thread, inside a safe container. With time, corrosion, dust and grease can build-up in the device and hinder its proper operation. 

Caution: Remain VERY vigilant when using incandescent material to produce smoke so as not to damage the device, or start a fire.

When to replace a smoke detector

  • Replace it 10 years after the manufacturing date indicated on the housing. If the date is missing, do not take any chances, replace it immediately.
  • Replace the detector if it is damaged, painted or if it does not issue any signal when changing the battery or during the smoke detection test.
  • Replace it if the battery is leaking or the battery terminals are corroded.

Carbon monoxide detectors have a shorter lifetime than smoke detectors.

How to dispose of your old smoke alarms

Smoke alarms can be thrown away with other household waste.

According to the ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs:

  • No radiation passes through the metal box containing the sealed source.
  • The amount of gamma radiation emitted by a smoke alarm ionization chamber is very low.
  • It is best to remove the smoke alarms by burial. However, incineration with household waste poses no danger to the population according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission United States.
  • The elimination of smoke alarms by citizens is sporadically contributing to a good dispersion of radioactive sources in landfills.
  • It is best not to picking up smoke alarms when household hazardous waste collection because it helps to concentrate rather than disperse them.

Responsibilities of owners and tenants

  • Owners must install, in each apartment, a smoke detector that operates per floor, as well as detectors in the corridors and staircases.
  • In an apartment building, the tenant is generally responsible for the maintenance of the smoke detector and its battery. However, this responsibility may constitute an agreement between the tenant and the owner when signing the lease.
  • Municipalities can also regulate the responsibilities in terms of smoke detectors.

Additional tips

  • Have an evacuation plan and make sure that all occupants are familiar with it; plan an exercise drill at least once a year.

In case of a fire:

  • Leave quickly, crawling if there is smoke.
  • Head for the meeting point.
  • Never return inside a building when there is smoke or if there are flames.
  • Dial 9-1-1 once outside.

Smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide and CO detectors do not detect fires. Purchase both types of detectors for more safety if you have one or several carbon monoxide sources in your home.

If you are undertaking major renovations or if you are building a new home, have a sprinkler system installed. The sprinklers combined with smoke detectors considerably reduce the risk of fire-related deaths.

Last Updated: September 21, 2011

Gouvernement du Québec, 2016
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