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September is National Preparedness Month, when FEMA and promote planning ahead for emergencies. Many times when we think of an emergency, we think BIG. Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornado, a disastrous ice storm, etc. No doubt, these are big emergencies, but do we take the time to plan for other smaller things? Or even better, take the time to help prevent a disaster.

Little things like making sure the smoke detector is functional, ensuring the carbon monoxide (CO) detector has fresh batteries, keeping an fire extinguisher nearby (and knowing how to use it) can help prevent a life changing catastrophe.

Smoke and CO Detectors

Over 3600 fires are reported every day — in the United States alone! A functioning smoke detector is your best option for getting your family out safely.

There are an average of 430 unintentional deaths by carbon monoxide each year.

In many newer homes, smoke detectors, or dual smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, are often hardwired into the home’s electrical system. These will include a battery backup to continue to provide protection in case of a power outage.

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In addition to hardwired options, today’s technology allows smoke detectors to be ‘smart’ and connect with your phone. So if you are away from  home and the alarm sounds, you can find out exactly where the smoke or CO problem is.

Many smart detectors are also available in a non-hardwired version.

Whether your detectors are hardwired or strictly battery operated, checking the batteries is important. Have you done this lately? If not, step away from the computer and test, or replace, them now. 😉

A good habit is to replace the batteries in your detectors when the time changes, provided you live someplace that follows Daylight Savings Time (don’t even get me started on what I think about the time change twice a year, but it is a helpful reminder for checking batteries).


If your detectors are not hardwired, remember, smoke rises. Smoke detectors should be placed within a foot of ceilings. If you have a vaulted ceiling, avoid the pitch. Instead place several feet below so the detector can accurately read smoke. Your smoke detector should be placed ten feet from a cooking area.

Each bedroom should have a smoke detector. There should also be a smoke and carbon monoxide detector outside of each sleeping area and on every level, including in the basement. If your space is very large or doesn’t include sleeping areas on each level, you may need multiple detectors per floor in order to provide the correct coverage.

Photoelectric or Ionization?

A photoelectric detector uses light to detect fire. These detectors are best for smoldering fires.

An ionization-type smoke alarm is generally more reactive to flaming fires.

For best protection, you will want to use both photoelectric (smoldering fire) and ionization (flaming fire) detectors. Good news! Dual sensors include both, many will also include carbon monoxide detection.

The Nest Protect claims to be the smoke alarm other alarms look up to. It’s a smart, dual-sensor smoke and carbon monoxide detector. It is available in battery only or 120v hard wired. The cost is on the upper end, but according to the almost 3000 five-star reviews on Amazon, it’s well worth the cost. It even has a motion sensor night light! Mercy.

Using a Nest Protect in multiple areas of the home would definitely be an investment. For us, we’ve chosen a combination of detectors on each level in order to accommodate for smoldering (photoelectric detector), flaming (ionization), carbon monoxide (we love the kind with a digital display), a dual photo and ion, and dual photo and CO.

A great option to consider is an alarm with a voice warning. One of our dual alarms, the one nearest our son’s room, has this option. This could be especially helpful in the middle of the night when we’re groggy from sleep and not sure what is going on.


The risk of dying in reported home fire is 54% lower in homes with working smoke alarms than in homes without alarms or alarms which do not work. (NFPA)

Batteries are the top two reasons for non-working alarms. Either the battery is disconnected to prevent a nuisance alarm or the batteries are dead. Do you test your batteries? I’ve read reports as many as 90% of households do not test their smoke (or CO) detector batteries on a regular basis.

Testing monthly to ensure each alarm is working as it should could save your life. Changing out batteries for fresh is also important. We’ve developed a habit of replacing the batteries each spring and fall with the time change. In order to help remember this, I’ve set a reminder on my digital calendar. Admittedly, it may still be a few days after the time change before it happens, but it does happen.

Be sure you have fresh batteries at the ready. Buying in bulk or using Amazon’s subscription plan can help. And be sure you know what type of battery to buy. While my smoke alarms use 9V, my CO detector uses AA.


If you do have a fire, the early warning of an alarm could save your life. What you do after the alarm sounds can also be a contributing factor. Have you practiced with your children so they know what to do?  Here is an excellent article from National Fire Protection Association on making, and practicing, a fire escape plan with children. And this is a very helpful short article with tips to survive a fire.

For a small fire, a fire extinguisher can save lives and your home. Remember, a fire extinguisher has limitations. It is important to know how to use it, and it is important to use the right type of extinguisher for the fire. NFPA does not recommend teaching children how to use a fire extinguisher.

If your CO alarm goes off, don’t ignore it. Open your windows and doors right away, go outside and then call the fire department, gas company or HVAC specialist to check for a gas leak. Also, be sure to watch for signs that your family is being affected by carbon monoxide, such as headaches or dizziness. The best way to prevent CO poisoning is to have your furnace and other gas appliances inspected every year to make sure they are running properly and safely.

Prepared, Not Scared.

The 2019 theme from is Prepared, Not Scared. Simple every day steps can give you amazing peace of mind. Visit for more information on National Preparedness Month.  And here’s a downloadable fire safety checklist to help adults and children prepare a plan for a home fire ahead of time.


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