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State Fire Marshal: Proper Smoke Alarm Placement Makes Crucial Difference

Monday, January 23, 2017 | 09:43am

NASHVILLE – Working smoke alarms should be part of every Tennessean’s home. As the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office continues our “Get Alarmed, Tennessee” smoke-alarm installation program during the high-risk winter months, consumers should remember that properly installed smoke alarms enhance early fire warning and can mean the difference between life and death.

Unfortunately, some consumers often don’t keep their smoke alarms working. Alarms installed in the wrong places can result in frequent nuisance alerts and may lead a resident to disable the alarm, leaving them unprotected in the event of an actual fire.

The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) statistics indicate that in half of reported home fires in which smoke alarms were present but did not operate, batteries were missing or disconnected. Nuisance alarms were the leading reason for disconnected alarms.

“Smoke alarms can save lives, but they have to be working and properly installed,” said State Fire Marshal and Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “The placement of a smoke alarm plays a major role in the overall safety of a home. We urge Tennesseans to closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing smoke alarms.”

Refinements to smoke alarm installation instructions have been made in the past decade to help keep alarms safe distances from nuisance sources such as cooking appliances or showers. Another advancement includes the addition of a hush feature on smoke alarm devices. A hush button allows the resident to temporarily silence an alarm that is set off by a nuisance source. The hush button is to be used only after you have confirmed there is no danger present, such as an incident of burnt toast.

While it’s always important to follow the specific manufacturer’s placement instructions for the alarm you have, consider these general guidelines when installing smoke alarms:

  • Smoke alarms should be installed at least 10 feet from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking.
  • Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings (remember, smoke rises). Wall-mounted alarms should be installed not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling (to the top of the alarm). Alarms mounted on the ceiling should be installed at least four inches from the wall or corner. If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm within three feet of the peak but not within the apex of the peak (four inches down from the peak).
  • Don't install smoke alarms near windows, doors, ceiling fans, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.

The SFMO offers these additional smoke alarm safety measures from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA):

  • Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Test alarms monthly and replace batteries once a year or when a low-battery alarm chirps. Replace all smoke alarms, including alarms that use 10-year batteries and hard-wired alarms, when they’re ten years old or sooner if they do not respond properly when tested.
  • Install smoke alarms on each level of your home, outside each sleeping area and inside each bedroom. Alarms need to be heard by every resident inside whether they are wide awake or fast asleep.
  • Interconnect your smoke alarms so that a fire detected by any smoke alarm will sound an alarm at every location where a smoke alarm is installed. Interconnection can be done using hard-wiring or wireless broadcast technology. Interconnected smoke alarms provide early warning of fires that are still far away or are located on the other side of a door or wall that may block sound. This is particularly important in larger or multi-story homes, where the sound from distant smoke alarms may be hard to hear, especially when an individual is sleeping.
  • Develop and practice an escape plan so that everyone in the home knows what to do if the smoke alarm sounds. That includes planning a second way out from every room in your home. Every household that develops and practices an escape plan with two ways out from every location improves its time to escape in every type of fire.

Tennessee residents can request a free smoke alarm by visiting For more information on making your home fire-safe, download and print the State Fire Marshal’s home fire safety checklist