Smoke detectors: Expiration dates loom, replacement needed?

The U.S. Fire Administration recommends testing smoke alarms monthly. Undated | Public domain photo made available by U.S. Fire Administration website, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — It’s a common theme this time of year. Change the battery in your smoke detector when you change your clocks. That’s good advice. But it’s not enough.

“Like anything else, over time, (your smoke detector) may … malfunction,” St. George Fire Capt. Scott Peacock said. “The way a smoke detector reads, it’s kind of like your garage door sensors. You know, the sensor that shines light from one side of your garage door to the other? The smoke detector works in the same fashion, in that it shines a light inside the detector and as smoke goes up in, it obscures that beam, and that’s what sets your detector off.”

And that’s why you should look at the back of your detector, Peacock said.

Smoke detectors have an expiration date. It’s on the back by where the batteries go and it’s a date code. As a detector ages, its ability to detect a fire decreases dramatically.

Check the back of your smoke detector to see if it's more than 10 years old. If so, replace it. Undated | Photo licensed under Creative Commons CC0, St. George News
Check the back of your smoke detector to see if it’s more than 10 years old. If so, replace it. Undated | Photo licensed under Creative Commons CC0, St. George News

So far this year across the nation there have been 1,463 home fire fatalities, with 32 of those occurring between Aug. 28 – Sept. 3, according to news reports compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration and posted on its website. Of those, 26 percent were adults 65 and older.

Smoke detectors should be replaced every 8-10 years, according to a checklist provided by the U.S. Fire Administration, which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

If your detector does not have a date code then its over 10 years old and should be replaced.

The other benefit to replacing your smoke detector? Technology improves over time. The smoke detectors sold today are less prone to false alarms such as cooking smoke and may even have features like wireless interconnection, so that when one detector goes off, all the detectors in your home would sound the alarm.

“Technology keeps advancing and changing,” Utah State Fire Marshal Coy Porter said. “(A study) found that while close to 90 percent of homes had detectors, over half of them didn’t work.”

Porter said there is a newer development on the market now that could keep you from having to change those batteries twice a year.

The U.S. Fire Administration recommends changing the batteries at least once a year - maybe at Daylight Saving Time or on your birthday. undated | Public domain photo made available by U.S. Fire Administration website, St. George News
The U.S. Fire Administration recommends changing the batteries at least once a year – maybe at Daylight Saving Time or on your birthday. undated | Public domain photo made available by U.S. Fire Administration website, St. George News

“They (the National Fire Protection Association) found that the technology (in detectors) had about a 10-year shelf life, and then the reliability started going down,” Porter said.

“The manufacturers came up with the idea, ‘Why don’t we just put a 10-year battery in a 10-year lifespan detector and then when you start getting the annoying chirps and burps and beeps, then it’s time to take the whole thing down?’ They just go bad and it’s cheaper to buy new than having to get it repaired.”

Porter laughed that this shoots down the idea his agency has been trying to get across for years, that of changing your battery when the clock changes.

“Not the real inexpensive ones,” Porter said. “Those you still have to buy the 9-volt batteries. Several of the manufacturers now have a 10-year battery, that when the battery dies, you just take the detector down and throw it away.”

Peacock said there are no inspections or laws regarding residential smoke detectors. Commercial buildings, however, have their smoke detectors inspected once a year and must replace outdated detectors immediately.

It’s peace of mind to know your smoke detectors are working to their full potential. Don’t let an old detector keep you from finding out about a fire in your home too late. Check the dates and replace them if needed.

Email: rwayman@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @NewsWayman

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • Larry September 7, 2016 at 6:46 am

    As a homer inspector, I would say this story is right on the mark! More often than not, I am writing up a discrepancy related to Smoke Detectors. I would also add that Carbon Monoxide detectors should also be installed in homes especially those with gas appliances, fireplaces and Yes, All Electric Homes with an Attached Garage!

    • .... September 7, 2016 at 7:44 am

      Absolutely agree with you 100%. all those precautions in my home. are kept up to date and I also have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and garage and the utility shed.
      this is good article

      • Bob September 7, 2016 at 12:56 pm

        Dump, they should hire u on to be the new county fire marshall

  • Bob September 7, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    i got the hard wired ones. i went and bought a bunch of new ones that looked identical to the old ones–figured i’d pop the old ones out and the new ones would go right in, but the new ones (that look identical to the old) are like 1/8″ larger and won’t fit into the old mount rings

    • .... September 7, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      Don’t move Dumbob because if you do then they will have to find themselves another village idiot ! God Bless You Dumbob

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