Installing, maintaining, and disposing of smoke alarms

By now the benefits of having multiple operational smoke alarms installed in your home is widely known. “Simply put, smoke detectors save lives,” says Gila County’s Community Development Director Scott Buzan. “Most home fires happen at night when occupants are sleeping.” A 2014 report published by the National Fire Protection Association stated that three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fire in homes with no smoke alarms or with none that worked. There is no argument that smoke alarms are important, but where is the best place to install a smoke alarm, how do you maintain them, and how do you dispose of them when they have met their life expectancy? Gila County Community Development accumulated the following information to help answer these questions.


• Ionization and photoelectric are the two types of smoke alarms currently being manufactured.  Ionization alarms are generally more responsive to flaming fires while photoelectric alarms respond to fires that begin with a long period of smoldering.  For best protection, it is recommended that both types be installed.

• Choose smoke alarms that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory.

• Smoke alarms should be installed in each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including a basement.  

• On levels without bedrooms, install alarms in the living room, den or family room or near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations.

• Smoke alarms installed in a basement should be installed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level.

• Smoke alarms should be installed at least ten feet from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking.

• Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings.  Wall-mounted alarms should be installed not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling to the top of the alarm.  Refer to the alarm manufacturer’s installation instructions for additional information.

• Don’t install smoke alarms near windows, doors, ceiling fans, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.

• Never paint smoke alarms.

• Interconnected smoke alarms using hard-wiring or wireless technology offer the best protection.  When one alarm sounds they all sound.  Interconnected smoke alarms should be from the same manufacturer.

• Combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are now available.  Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for installation information.

• Retain the manufacturer’s instructions for reference.


• Smoke alarms should be maintained according to manufacturer’s instructions.

• Test smoke alarms at least once a month and replace the battery every year.

• Due to dust buildup inside the smoke alarm which can desensitize the sensors, it is recommended they be replaced after 10 years or be replaced if the alarm chirps after you have replaced the battery or if the alarm doesn’t sound when tested.  All interconnected alarms should be replaced with the same brand even if some are still working. The date the alarm was manufactured is located on a label installed on the back of the alarm.

• Smoke alarms with non-replaceable 10-year batteries should be replaced when the alarm chirps, warning the battery is low.


• Recycling is almost always preferable to disposal in a landfill.

• Both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms have circuit boards which contain materials not suitable for landfills.  In addition, ionization alarms also have a very minute amount of radioactive material which does not pose a threat to human health and should not be disposed of in a landfill.

• Some manufacturers will recycle their brand of smoke alarms.  Consult the manufacturer’s website for additional information.

• Gila County landfill sites Buckhead Mesa and Russell Gulch offer electronic disposal bins at no charge for disposing of smoke alarms including those with 10-year lithium batteries.

• Alkaline batteries may be disposed of in either landfill.

If you would like additional information, please contact Gila County Community Development at 928-402-4224.

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