HEALTH

Do Smoke Detectors Expire – Why – and What’s the Shelf Life?

It’s a common question. “Do smoke detectors expire?” Yes, over time they lose sensitivity. The last thing you want is a weak smoke detector in your room while sleeping soundly at night.

Here’s what you need to know…

The smoke detector works in the background, mounted on ceilings or walls while it constantly and continuously measures the air around it – just waiting to alarm (hopefully never!).

It works hours, days, weeks, months, years – never ending.

HOWEVER, eventually at least until one of two things will happen…

1. The batteries go dead.
2. It degrades – expires – due to its effective shelf life.

Tip: A good habit: Replace smoke detector batteries during a notable time of the year such as the New Year, January 1.

Otherwise, this might happen to you:

My husband just keeps delaying the installation of new batteries; despite the fact that I buy them, leave them out, and remind him.

He seems to prefer getting awakened in the middle of the night to respond to the incessant chirping.

~ Deb

Did you know that smoke detectors lose their effectiveness over time?

Smoke Detector Shelf Life

The U.S. Fire Administration says most smoke detectors installed today have a life span of about 8-10 years. After this time, the entire unit should be replaced.

Tip: Write the date of purchase with a marker on the inside of your smoke detector’s (battery compartment) so you will know when to replace it. Some of the newer detectors already have the purchase date written inside.

Why Do Smoke Detectors Expire?

UPDATE 1
Someone asked why there’s a 10 year shelf life when the shelf life of an ionization smoke detector’s “Americium 241” has a half life of over 400 years. Good question.

The NFPA recommendation may have to do with degradation of the electronic component sensors aging and/or the reliability thereof. Also, a dual sensor smoke alarm additionally includes a photoelectric sensor which may be degraded over time.

UPDATE 2
“It is the sensors that fail after a given amount of time, not so much the electronic circuitry or the radioactive ionization source. The sensor modules rely on an electro-chemical reaction to smoke/CO, they get saturated over time depending on exposure and also just plain start breaking down.”

About Smoke Detectors (Important!)

There are many different brands of smoke alarms available on the market but they fall under two basic types: ionization and photoelectric.

IONIZATION alarms sound more quickly when a flaming, fast moving fire occurs.

PHOTOELECTRIC alarms are quicker at sensing smoldering, smoky fires.

DUAL SENSOR alarms combine ionization AND photoelectric into one unit (recommended).

Because both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms are better at detecting distinctly different yet potentially fatal fires, and because homeowners cannot predict what type of fire might start in a home, you might consider installation of both ionization and photoelectric or dual sensor smoke alarms.

Each type detects a certain type of fire better.

Ionozation detectors work better for quick moving/burning fires. Photoelectric, works better for smoldering/smoky fires.

Rather than “guess” or try to rationalize what type of fire you might have in YOUR home, where YOUR family lives, you would be better protected having detectors that do both! THAT’S why!

Also CO detectors (carbon monoxide). CO doesn’t rise like smoke. Just put them on each level/floor/part of your house that you live in, especially in or near the bedrooms, and you will be covered.

~ Fire Fighter Brian

Best Dual Sensor Smoke Alarm:

The following smoke alarms are what I have installed in my own home. I have several of the AC (hardwired) units and I’ve also added a few battery powered smoke alarms in other locations.

Dual-Sensor >> Battery Powered
(view on amzn)

Dual-Sensor >> AC Powered (hardwired) with Battery Backup

[ Read: Dual Sensor Smoke and Fire Alarm, and Why They Are The Best ]

I replaced 2 detectors in January. Brand new ones. And thank God I did! Last Thursday, in the middle of the night, my pellet stove malfunctioned causing a fire. Fortunately, the smoke detectors worked like a charm, and I was able to control the fire. Could have been totally different had I not replaced my old ones!

~ a MSB commentator

Another Use For A Smoke Detector:

One commenter said, “I don’t need to test my smoke alarms, I seem to set them off inadvertently quite often cooking! I have never caught anything on fire, but I guess the occasional light smoke is enough to set them off. At least I know they work!”

Another said, “A running joke at our house. The alarm goes off and dinner is nearly ready!”

I’m a Firefighter and owner of a smoke detector installation company. Most of the major points have been addressed.

In case no one read the owner’s manual of the new detectors, most major brands (Kidde, BRK, First Alert, Fire X, etc) have a hush feature so when you do burn dinner, you can just push the button on the cover and silence the alarm for 10 minutes. Hopefully that is enough time to clear the air or else you need give up on cooking all together.

~ Jon D.

I thought my dual smoke detectors worked fine because every time i made toast they would go off! Everyone joked it was an automatic dinner bell!

But then my dishwasher caught fire. There was smoke hanging 3 ft. off the ceiling and flames shooting out from under the cabinet!

CRICKETS! Not a sound out of any of them! (but they went off again the next day when i was broiling) Batteries – good. Test button – works! The smoke detector was 7 yr. old. We immediately replaced all of them.

PLEASE REPLACE OLD DETECTORS! You can’t trust them.

~ a MSB commentator

Fire Escape Plans
You should have escape plans and make sure everyone in the household knows them.

Fire Extinguishers
Have several fire extinguishers!
Consider one in the bedroom and one near the kitchen (at least!).

[ Read: How To Put Out A Grease Fire ]

[ Read: Carbon Monoxide is Winter’s Silent Killer ]

Clarification: I (and many of us) use the terms Smoke Detector and Smoke Alarms interchangeably. Although they aren’t technically the same thing.

“Smoke Detectors” are connected to an Alarm Control Panel, installed by an alarm company, inside a residence or in a multi-family dwelling with a large commercial Fire Alarm Control Panel. Apparently if this is the case, the 10 year replacement rule does not apply, unless the manufacturer says otherwise. 

The rest of us typically have 120vac interconnected “Smoke Alarms”, that must to be replaced every 8-10 years. Just saying…

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18 Comments

  1. My 3 cents worth.
    I have a moderate 1800 SqFt home.
    In it are 8 Smoke Alarms, all tied togeather along with the 115V system. Meaning if one goes off, all 8 go off.
    Why 8 you ask?
    1. Greatroom
    2. Hall
    3. Bedroom
    4. Laundry room
    5. Office
    6. Furnace/Waterheater room
    7. & 8. Under the house Crawspace
    A little excessive I’m sure… ever burn your hand picking up a hot skillet? Imagine that over 90% of your body….

    I replace them all every 10 years… period
    Replace Batteries every year
    Test them once a month.

    And yes I have Fire Extinguishers in the home also…. BUT don’t die trying to put out a fire, something small…. sure… NOT a roaring blaze, stuff is not worth your life…

    Lastly, don’t die in a house fire, tis a horrible thing.

    1. NRP & Blue,
      We have about the same amount of CO/smoke detectors as you do per square foot (4 in a 900 sq ft cottage), intallations all meet code and are tied together .What about combustible gas monitors?? We have two, one in the laundry/mechanical room and one in the kitchen.

      1. Minerjim:
        I have 4:
        1 under the house, 1 in Hall, 1 in Equipment and other in the Laundry room.
        Again probably over kill, but the alternative is heartbreaking

        1. NRP & Blue,
          yes the alternative is heartbreaking. I have lost a number of friends to CO both in and out of the mine. House fires where folks are lost leave a trail of tears for generations.

          1. Miner Jim ,,,,,,if I remember correctly CO is what got some of the guys at sunshine ,when we went down we found men sitting at a lunch table with coffee out slumped over dead, did not look like they knew it happend ,

          2. OH,
            Yes, exactly what happened. A fire in a working smoldered over a weekend, finally burned through a wooden bulkhead, releasing smoke and a high concentration of CO into the incoming fresh air streams. In some places concentrations were thought to be so high, one breath killed them. Self rescuers (PPE that turns CO into CO2) got so hot from high concentrations it burned miner’s mouths. When the miners took them off, they were done for. I worked as an engineer at that mine 9 years after that tragedy, joined one of their mine rescue teams. I have lost friends and brother miners to CO. Very sad, but it still happens in and out of the mine.

  2. Great info! We are in the process of selling our house and looking for land to buy and moving into a 5th wheel or mobile home while we save up and cash flow construction of a new house. Are the carbon monoxide alarms better located at ground level? We are paranoid about living in a trailer so close to our solar battery and propane.

    1. Adam,
      Manufacturers recommend placing CO detectors high on the wall or on ceiling (follow the directons in the carton). Carbon monoxide is just a bit lighter than air, but usually mixes up with air around the house. So, that said, buy em’ and get them up. Oh, and worried about propane? you might want to buy a combustible gas monitor also and have it located in the lower half of the trailer, as combustable hydrocarbons are heavier than air. (mine are plugged into outlets along the floor).

      1. I had thought CO was slightly heavier. I learn something new every day! My CO detectors the type that plug into an outlet – and outlets are all typically about 18″ above the floor. Oh well…

        1. Ken,
          CO is just slighty lighter than air, but unless the air in the room is dead still, it will not readily rise to the ceiling. It mixes up pretty well with normal air currents. Your detectors on the outlets should do fine.

  3. I worked for a number of fire alarm manufacturers over the years and besides the comments about electronics fatigue it was way too common to find photoelectric smokes to be desensitized by dirt and dust. This was due to how the photo cell is mounted in the detector and the normal dust found in a residential home either made them more sensitive or if left like that for awhile it made them dead to smoke since the light source was covered with dust/dirt. 10 years is about right for replacement.

  4. Ok so I replaced it. How do I properly dispose of the old one? Americium 241” has a half life of over 400 years. Do I just Keep it in the garage for 10 thousand years?

    1. Not me,
      I believe you are supposed to wrap it in paper and put it in trash. Should be instructions on how to dispose with new unit. Amount of Americium very small and is not haz waste. Do not burn it.

  5. Good info
    Fire extinguishers should also get checked and replaced when needed too

    I also have those emergency fiberglass fire blankets by bed, by wood burning stove…

  6. First, to me, “Shelf Life” means a warehouse storage/business market shelf or not used/activated yet for life protection. Now my comment. Two days ago I bought a new Smoke Alarm. The smallest print on the package stated *Manufactured on or before June 1, 2003. That’s over “17 years” on the sales Shelf!
    Is this Smoke Alarm really safe to use? Are the components that wear out due to ageing still good for the next 10 years? Is there no consumer protection law limiting amount of time in storage before use? The same model Smoke alarm it was intended to replace was just dated 2 months less than 5 years ago.
    The comments I’ve read here are very good from all the participants on this site. Thanks.

    1. 17 years old? I would return it immediately for a full refund.

      Shelf Life >> Expiration Date >> Terms often used “loosely”. But nearly everyone “gets it”…

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