So, you’ve installed plenty of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at the cottage and you replace the batteries every spring and fall at Daylight Saving Time. Done and done! Or maybe not. Without regular TLC, your alarms won’t function properly. “There are three highly critical steps to caring for them,” says Sharon Cooksey of Kidde, a company that makes fire safety products.
A) Clean ’em
At the very least, once a year. Use the soft brush attachment on a vacuum to gently remove dust, pollen, and dead bugs. This stuff interferes with the sensors in the detectors and can lead to false “nuisance” alarms (annoying) and malfunctions (possibly deadly, if there’s actually a fire or CO leak). If you don’t have a soft brush attachment, or even a vacuum, you can use compressed air, says Cooksey. “Make sure to blow or vacuum through the openings around the perimeter of the alarm.” Wipe the outside of the unit with a damp cloth. Avoid detergents or cleaners. “They could damage the alarm,” says Cooksey.
B) Replace ’em
Because nothing lasts forever. Replace detectors at least every 10 years. If an alarm looks dingy—brown, dark tan, or grey—it’s a sign that it’s old, and may need replacing. If no one at the cottage can remember when a detector was last replaced…it’s also a sign that it’s old and may need replacing. Forgetting to replace old alarms—or not understanding that they need to be replaced at all—is unfortunately a key consumer oversight, says Cooksey.
C) Test ’em
By pressing the test button. So! Easy! Kidde recommends testing alarms weekly, but do it at least monthly or every time you get back to the cottage after having been away.
But wait, there’s more!
*Bring on the batteries Always have fresh ones with you when you arrive at the cottage, in case you need to replace them.
*Plagued by nuisance alarms? Take a look at where the detectors are located, and relocate them. Anywhere that’s steamy, dusty, dirty, buggy, or greasy is more likely to trigger false alarms.
*Location matters, part one Keep smoke alarms out of “dead air” pockets: where the ceiling meets the wall, at the tip of a vaulted ceiling, or in between exposed beams. Also avoid drafty areas or locations near ceiling fans—smoke can be blown away from the detector’s sensors.
*Location matters, part two Don’t install alarms in garages, porches, or unfinished attics (they get too cold, hot, and humid); near bathrooms or cooking appliances; or near fluorescent lights. “Their electronic ‘noise’ can cause nuisance alarms,” says Cooksey.
*Don’t take out the batteries Well, except to change the batteries.