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By Abbey Orzech
Updated on Jun 10, 2022
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff, Staff Editor.
Battery-operated smoke detectors can be installed without any electrical work, but hard-wired smoke detectors will require a connection to your home’s AC electrical circuit.
Smoke detectors are an essential home feature and act as a base defense against house fires. They should be installed in several locations on each level of your home to help prevent or mitigate a potential house fire.
Not all smoke detectors are the same, though, and installing a battery-powered detector is different from the electrical work involved in installing a hard-wired detector. To help you through the steps of putting up your smoke alarm is Jerry, the super app for car and home insurance.
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Where to place your smoke detectors
The location of each smoke detector is important and should not be decided at random. Since smoke detectors are generally the first alarm of a fire, you don’t want to position your detectors somewhere that smoke won’t reach right away. In general, the best places for your smoke alarms are:
- Any sleeping areas like bedrooms and living rooms.
- The basement.
- The attic.
- Near the kitchen but far enough away from the stove and oven that cooking smoke won’t set it off. Ideally, about 20 feet away from your range.
- On the ceiling. If this is not an option, place the detectors between 4-12 inches down the wall. Try not to place them near the corners of the room where pockets of dead air may form and prevent smoke from reaching the detector.
How to install your smoke detector
After you’ve identified the best places for your smoke detectors, it’s time for the installation process! Before you climb on top of the chair or step ladder, though, make sure you have the proper tools:
- New smoke detector
- Wall anchors
- Wall screws
- Wire stripper, cutter, and nuts
Once your tools are assembled, follow these steps to install your smoke detectors.
1. For hard-wired detectors, turn off the power
Since you’ll be working with electrical wiring for a hard-wired smoke detector, it’s crucial that you turn off the power lines you’ll be working with. To do this, shut off the appropriate breaker on your electrical panel. It may say “fire alarm” or it may just be on the same line as your lighting.
2. Install the mounting bracket
The mounting bracket is typically a sturdy piece of plastic that attaches to the ceiling or wall before the detector. It acts as an anchor for the smoke detector and makes it easier to install the wiring or change the batteries.
For battery-operated smoke detectors, you will drill two holes in the ceiling that match the anchoring holes in the mount. You can use your pencil to mark where the holes should go. Insert wall anchors into the holes and screw on the mounting bracket with a screwdriver, making sure the bracket is secured but the screws aren’t over-tightened.
If your home is equipped with hard-wired smoke detectors, there will likely be a mounting bracket already attached to the electrical box. Use your screwdriver to unscrew the previous bracket, then install the new one in the same place, pulling the wires of the electrical box through the mount. Be careful not to over-tighten the screws when installing the new bracket.
3. Attach a power source
If you have battery-operated smoke detectors, you’ll just need to locate and open the battery bay door. Identify the correct positioning for the new battery with the “+” and “-” orientation signs, insert the new battery, and close the battery bay door.
Some detectors already come with a battery ready to go, in which case you may need to locate and pull the small activation tab to connect the battery.
If you’re working with a hard-wired smoke detector, ensure that the power to the circuit you’re working with is switched off. Then, take the wiring harness of your new detector and attach them to the wires of the electrical box.
To do this, use your wire strippers to expose the harness wires first, and then use the wire nuts to connect all the wires based on the color-coded system: black wire to black wire, white wire to white wire, and either yellow wire to yellow wire OR yellow wire to red wire.
Hard-wired detectors may also include a backup battery that requires you to pull an activation tab to work, so check for that as well.
4. Attach your smoke detector
After the power is hooked up, attaching your smoke detector is relatively simple. You’ll just have to line up the detector with the mounting bracket and turn it clockwise until it clicks into place. Once the connection is established, you may hear a beep or see a light turn on.
5. Test the power
For hard-wired smoke detectors, you’ll need to turn the appropriate breaker back on.
To test the alarm, hold down the button on the detector. If it beeps, you’re all set! If not, you may need to recheck the wiring, recheck the battery positioning, change the battery altogether, or make sure the detector is securely attached to the mounting base.
How to maintain a smoke detector
It’s important to perform regular maintenance on your smoke alarms. Installing smoke detectors once and then forgetting about them will leave them at risk for damage or malfunction down the line.
It is recommended that you test your smoke detector at least once a month. Hold the button down until you hear the alarm. If you don’t hear the alarm, you’ll need to troubleshoot the issue.
For battery-operated smoke detectors, change the battery two times a year unless your detector takes a lithium-ion battery, in which case you should change it every ten years.
It’s also a good idea to dust the alarm at least once a year to remove debris that may hinder the detection abilities.
Finally, make a note of the manufacturer-placed expiration date of your smoke detector and change it out accordingly.
Does home insurance cover smoke damage?
Thankfully, under most circumstances, smoke damage is covered by home insurance. It’s usually a named peril along with fire damage.
However, most policies will implement a maximum coverage limit for smoke damage, so check with your agent to understand the max coverage you could receive in the event of a fire.
If you check out your current coverage and decide your insurance policy could use some upgrading, head to Jerry!
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Where should I install smoke detectors?
Smoke detectors should be installed in bedrooms, living rooms, hallways, attics, basements, garages, and around the kitchen—but at least 20 feet away from the stove.
How do I know when to change the batteries in my smoke detector?
Most smoke detectors will alert you to a dead or dying battery by beeping or “chirping” that sounds different from the actual alarm.
However, even if your detector doesn’t beep, it’s a good idea to change the batteries twice a year unless you have a lithium-ion battery, which can last ten years.