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Install a Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Installing a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm is a simple way to plan for your family's safety.

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Fire and Carbon Monoxide Threats

Smoke and flames from a fire are easy to see, but a fire that begins in a vacant part of the house or starts in the middle of the night can spread undetected. Once a fire starts, it can grow quickly.

Carbon monoxide (CO) poses an invisible threat. It's a colorless, odorless gas produced by any fuel-burning appliance or fixture — such as a furnace, water heater or fireplace. Carbon monoxide can build up in the home from malfunctions or improper venting in these devices. It can also accumulate if the home is sealed for energy efficiency, reducing the exchange of inside and outside air. An attached garage in which a vehicle is running can also allow carbon monoxide to enter the home. The gas is dangerous because it replaces the oxygen in the air and, when inhaled, creates a toxic compound in your body. For more on carbon monoxide, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Carbon Monoxide Poisoning information.

A combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm — also known as a smoke and carbon monoxide detector — can warn you when either threat is present and help protect you and your family as well as your home.

Where to Install a Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for placement of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Locations include:

  • On each floor of the home
  • In each bedroom
  • In each hallway close to sleeping areas — if a hallway is longer than 40 feet, place devices at both ends
  • At the top of stairways going to an upper floor
  • At the bottom of stairways going to a basement

Check your manual for installation locations to avoid and information on how far to install the alarms from furnaces, heaters, stoves, water heaters and other devices.

Some smoke and carbon monoxide alarms allow you to wirelessly connect compatible units so all linked units sound an alarm when one detects a threat. This functionality can warn of hazards in remote areas of the house. If you install linkable units, pay attention to the range and placement restrictions for the linking feature.

In addition to battery-powered smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, there are hard-wired models that connect to your home wiring. A hard-wired device requires electrical connections at an available junction box.

Installing a Battery-Powered Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Follow the installation and maintenance instructions that came with your device. Here are the basic steps:

Step 1

Using the mounting bracket of the device as a template, trace the mounting holes onto the wall or ceiling where you are installing the unit, then place the unit away from drilling dust and debris.

Step 2

Drill a hole at the center of each mounting hole tracing. Your manual will specify the proper bit size.

Step 3

Place screw anchors in the holes and set them flush with the wall or ceiling. If necessary, use a hammer to gently drive the anchors into place.

Step 4

Align the holes in the mounting bracket with the anchors. Secure the mounting bracket to the wall or ceiling with the included screws.

Step 5

If your smoke and carbon monoxide alarm uses replaceable batteries, insert them, making sure you match the battery terminals to the correct terminals in the unit.

If your device has a built-in battery, activate it. There should be an activation switch on the unit.

Depending on the alarm model, the power indicator light may flash or the unit may beep briefly when it begins receiving power.

Step 6

Attach the smoke and carbon monoxide alarm to the mounting bracket.

Step 7

Test the unit. Typically this will involve pressing and holding a button to activate a test alarm sequence. For specific steps to follow if the unit does not sound when tested, consult the manual.

Test each alarm following the manufacturer's instructions and recommendations. Immediately replace any unit that does not test properly.

Setup and Maintenance

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm.

Depending on the alarm model, there may be other procedures you need to follow, including:

  • Wirelessly linking compatible units in your home
  • Setting up voice notification and location features
  • Setting up the unit to work with a home management system
  • Using optional battery and mounting locks

In addition to weekly testing, a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm needs regular maintenance to keep it clear of dust. Don't use water, cleaners or other chemicals on the unit.

If the alarm does not have a built-in battery, use only battery types specified by the manufacturer. Write the installation date on the batteries with a permanent marker. Change them at least once every six months.

Keep your manual in a readily accessible location so you can reference it easily for instructions on replacing batteries, reprogramming it or interpreting notifications.

Responding to an Alarm

Have an evacuation plan for your family so that everyone knows what to do in an emergency. Identify a single gathering point outside the home. Practice evacuation periodically, determining the fastest and safest paths to your gathering point.

If the alarm activates:

  • Leave the house immediately.
  • Make sure that all family members are out.
  • Call 911 from a safe location to report the problem.
  • Stay out of the house until emergency responders tell you it's safe to return.

If the problem is carbon monoxide, have a trained technician check any appliances that can generate the gas.

Other Considerations

Make sure you and your family are familiar with the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your home:

  • Learn the available features and how to use them.
  • Understand how the units respond to threats so you can quickly interpret alarms.
  • Learn how the device indicates situations such as loss of power, low batteries and end-of-life.
  • Know the lifespan and initial power-up date of each unit and replace units at the proper time. Some units alert you when they reach the end of their lifespan.
  • After an alarm, follow manufacturer's instructions for resetting or replacing your device.