Does pushing the test button on a smoke alarm test the smoke sensor device inside?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Using the test button on the smoke alarms around your home regularly to verify that they are functional is recommended by alarm manufacturers. The test button checks two parts of the system: it verifies that the alarm is receiving adequate electrical power to function and that it will go off if activated by the smoke sensor. 

    But the test button does not test the sensor to verify that it will properly respond to smoke in the air and activate the alarm. There are aerosol cans of non-combustion “smoke” that cost around $10 and are approved to actually test the sensor inside the alarm. But most people aren’t going to go to all that trouble and will simply push the test button once in a while—which is, by the way, all that most manufacturers recommend doing. 

   There is a second safety precaution, however, that manufacturers recommend, and that is replacing the alarm when it is 10 years old. Ten years is the rated lifespan of the sensor. By that time it will have been operating continuously for 87,600 hours, and also accumulated a layer of dust on the internal components. So, whether the sensor is still functional is iffy at best.

    Most smoke alarm manufacturers mark the date of manufacture or the date of the 10-year anniversary for alarm replacement on the back of the alarm. We check alarms that aren’t obviously new for manufacture date during a home inspection, and call them out for replacement if they are older. The back of the Firex smoke alarm in the photo at the top of this page, for example, has a stamp indicating it was manufactured on March 1, 2005, and is therefore past the end of its rated 10-year lifespan.

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Here’s links to a collection of our blog posts about SAFETY: 

Why is it important to use "cabinet screws" to mount the upper cabinets in the kitchen?

Is the door between an attached garage and the house required to have a closer (self-closing device)?

Can the smoke sensors in a home security/fire alarm system replace the smoke alarms required by the building code?

Should I get a lightning rod system to protect my house? 

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

What is aging in place? 

How do I safely remove a dead rodent (rat, mouse or squirrel) from the attic?

What is the minimum height of a ceiling fan above the floor?

Should a smoke alarm be installed in the kitchen? 

Why is a double cylinder deadbolt lock on an exterior door a safety hazard? 

Why are rubber washing machine hoses a safety risk?

What can I do to avoid kitchen accidents and injuries?

Where are smoke alarms required to be located? 

Are carbon monoxide alarms required to be installed in homes in Florida?

Are old vinyl tile floors dangerous?  

How can I use safety checks to limit my tenant liability for a rental house?

Do you inspect for trip hazards around the home? 

When should I replace my smoke alarms?

• Why is an anti-tip device now required behind the range? 

• What are the hazards to avoid when going into an attic? 

• What are the warning signs of a dangerous deck?
    Visit our SAFETY page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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