Smoke detectors: importance, use and maintenance

Smoke detectors are the main safety devices that might save lives and protect against the detrimental consequences of fire. These small devices can quickly detect a larger amount of smoke that generally means there is a source of fire.
Unfortunately, a survey carried out in 2023 showed that not all residents of Estonia were concerned about their safety and 5% of them did not have any smoke detectors installed in their homes.

The main function of a smoke detector is the early sounding of a warning. This is what informs the people about the potential threat, helps evacuate quickly and assume the required safety measures before the fire becomes uncontrollable. This is particularly important at night, when people sleep and the likelihood of them noticing the impending danger is very low.

According to the data of Estonian Rescue Board, during 2023, in dwelling buildings, 361 fires arose and were extinguished resulting in 34 deaths. 

According to If’s home insurance claims statistics, an average claim due to a fire in an apartment amounts to Eur 11,700, and in a dwelling house – to Eur 32,000.

Please be reminded that smoke detectors are the necessary safety devices helping detect the beginning of a fire early on and protect the occupants and their property. Smoke detectors are mandatory in dwelling buildings since 2009.

How many and what smoke detectors should be installed?

On the market, various smoke alarms and fire safety systems are available. Usually, the price of self-contained smoke detectors starts from Eur 6. Depending on the size and layout of your home, even a few smoke detectors might suffice to ensure the safety of your home. This is a minor however particularly effective investment in the safety of yourself and your family.

When selecting a specific model of the fire alarm, it is important to go for certified and high-quality products, which, when installed and maintained properly, can ensure safety in your home for up to 10 years.

Is it enough to have a single smoke detector in one of the rooms of your house or apartment?

The number of smoke detectors depends on the size of your home. If you live in a single-room apartment, then even one smoke detector will be enough; however, they are effective in a limited space. This is why they should be installed in every room, and bedrooms are particularly important. Exception applies to the kitchen only, where the smoke detector might start sounding an alarm whenever you are cooking and generating some smoke, although there is no risk.

How to choose a smoke detector?

  • When choosing a smoke detector, it is important to take into account the place in which it is to be used: apartment, house, or summer cottage. This helps decide which type of the smoke detector would be the most appropriate.
  • First, detectors should be certified, i.e. have a CE marking and an indication of the standard number: EN 14604:2005.
  • For the apartments, smoke detectors with a sensor that reacts to the increased amount of smoke are sufficient. As the sensor is triggered, an alarm sounding a 80-90 dB signal switches on as well as a blinking light that warns the people who are hard of hearing about danger.
  • If there is a fireplace, furnace or boiler at home that uses solid fuel, it is worth selecting a combined smoke detector with the carbon monoxide detection function. These have additional electrochemical sensors that are triggered once hazardous levels of carbon monoxide are detected in the air.
  • In premises with gas furnaces or cookers, it is advisable to choose detectors able to identify the leak of liquefied or natural gasses and their mixtures. Devices of this type are recommended for homes where children and seniors live.
  • For summer cottages or garden houses, it is advisable to get self-contained smart smoke detectors that are remotely-controlled.

What is the difference between smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?

Smoke detectors detect smoke only by using an optical measurement system; these devices continuously check whether there are any smoke particles suspended in the air and how many. When the threshold level is exceeded, a signal will be sounded.

Carbon monoxide detectors constantly measure the level of carbon monoxide in the room. The CO gas is odourless and invisible; thus, carbon monoxide detectors are essential for those who burn solid fuel in their boilers to heat their home.

When gas is used at home, it is recommended to get a gas detector installed. Although gas used in households have specific odour, human nose is not an adequate sensor in case of danger.

Installing smoke detectors

Where would you advice to install the smoke detectors?

Smoke detectors are to be mounted onto the ceiling or near the highest point of a sloping roof. The best place is at the centre of the room. It is important to see to it that the device should not be obstructed. Furthermore, keep in mind that humidity and dust reduce the effectiveness of the device.

What is the right way to install smoke detectors?

The majority of smoke detectors are standalone models that do not require electric wires for functioning. Such smoke detectors are supplied energy from traditional or rechargeable batteries. A smoke detector’s operation time might vary from one year to ten, subject to quality.

If the smoke detector is to be mounted onto the ceiling, there is no need to drill any holes – it can be attached using a double-sided adhesive tape. Before installing a smoke detector, it is very important to read the user manual, which provides the instructions of use and explains the maintenance and preventive testing procedures that must be performed periodically.

Maintenance of the smoke detector

How should a smoke detector be properly maintained?

Standalone smoke detectors that are used the most often should be tested periodically and this is recommended to be done at least once per month. For this, testing mode is used. Testing is performed by pressing the test button. A sound alarm signals that the detector is functioning.

The key is not to forget to replace the detector batteries regularly (annually). Frequent beeping of the detector is a sign that the battery is dying. In this case, check if there are any other reasons triggering the detector (such as small insects, dust etc.). They should be cleaned or removed; otherwise, the batteries of the smoke detector should be replaced.