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HOME IMPROVEMENT : Smoke Detectors Are Sound Investments

December 22, 1990|From From Reader's Digest

News story after news story tells of fire fatalities that might have been prevented if smoke detectors had been in use.

Smoke detectors make a shrill warning sound when exposed to smoke. Since they are relatively inexpensive and easy to install, there is no reason any home should be without them.

Here's some basic information on buying and using these life-saving devices:


* "Ionization" detectors contain a tiny amount of shielded radioactive material. This material breaks air down into charged atoms through which a small current can flow. Smoke interrupts the flow of current, which sets off the alarm. An ionization detector responds more quickly to the fumes of a fast-burning fire.

* "Photoelectric" detectors use a small light beam that impinges on a light-sensitive photocell. The alarm sounds whenever smoke interrupts the light beam. The light bulb producing the beam lasts about three years; then it must be replaced. A photoelectric type of detector gives a faster response to smoke from a smoldering fire. It is also less prone to false alarms from innocuous kitchen fumes.

Either type of smoke detector may be powered by a battery (usually 9 volts) or house current.

Effective Use:

* Test your smoke detector about once a month to make sure it's operating properly.

To test, simply press the test button on the front of the unit. The alarm (a continuous blare) will sound as long as the test button is depressed. This test automatically checks the electronic circuit, horn and battery.

If the horn does not sound, replace the battery. If it still does not sound, have the detector repaired or replaced.

* When the smoke detector battery begins to weaken, it will sound a warning signal (usually intermittent beeps or chirps). Replace the battery immediately following the manufacturer's directions.

* Clean your smoke detectors yearly to remove dust, grease and other soil.

Where to Locate:

* In halls leading to sleeping areas.

* At the heads of stairs leading to living areas.

* In the bedroom of any smoker in your family.

* On the same house level as your kitchen, but not too near your appliances since everyday cooking can easily set it off. Caution: Never turn off a smoke detector because you are cooking something that will cause it to sound off. It's too easy to forget to turn it on again.

* Away from air currents (vents or radiators, for example), dead air corners and ends of halls.

* On the ceiling at least 20 inches from all corners or walls.

* On walls, at least 12 inches from the ceiling and the nearest corner.

Note: Don't paint the detector. Painting clogs the holes and reduces its effectiveness.

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