There is no doubt that properly installed and maintained smoke alarms play a vital role in reducing fire deaths and injuries. In fact, a recent study revealed that working smoke alarms double the chance of successful survival.
But what exactly do all the different beeps (or chirps) mean?
While it is always best to read your alarm’s manual, as some models may differ, there are generally four standard sounds that a typical smoke alarm, carbon monoxide (CO) alarm or combination (smoke and CO) alarm will make:
- One beep followed by a pause of 15, 30 or 60 seconds indicates a trouble condition, most often low batteries or other maintenance is needed
- Two beeps and then a pause of 30 seconds signifies that it is time to replace the entire alarm, not just the batteries
- Three continuous beeps mean the alarm senses smoke from a fire
- Four repeating beeps mean carbon monoxide has been detected
Since you only have approximately two minutes to escape once a fire starts, being familiar with these sounds will help you take the appropriate action.
In addition to this, it’s recommended that you test your alarms at least once a month to ensure they’re fully operational. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in one out of five homes where smoke alarms are present, none of the units work, mainly due to dead, missing or disconnected batteries.
Working smoke alarms should be on every level of your home, including inside every bedroom or outside sleeping areas and in the basement. In Canada, you’re legally required to have functional alarms on all home levels.
Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. If you don’t know how old your alarm is or when it was installed, the manufacturing date located on the back of the alarm is a good indication. However, if ever in doubt, replace the unit altogether and consider purchasing a combination (smoke and CO) alarm. Because CO is an odourless, tasteless and colourless gas, it is a ‘silent killer’ and its presence indoors can only be detected through the use of a CO detector.