Officials say cold weather brings fire risk, so here’s how to test your smoke detectors

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Cold weather brings greater risk for fires, say officials from Huntsville Fire & Rescue.

They say with all the holiday cooking and attempts to stay warm, things sometimes go wrong. It's important to arm your home with ways to keep you safe if that happens, recommends Michael Jaco, Assistant Fire Marshal.

"A smoke detector is by far the most important thing you can have because it gives you that early warning," he said. "You know, you may not even wake up and get that opportunity to escape. So it's very critical to have that working smoke detector and know that it's in good working condition."

The National Fire Protection Association says that 3 of every 5 home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (38%) or no working smoke alarms (21%).  Officials say it is very important that you make sure each one in your home is effective.

The first thing to do is a test.

"There's a button on the front. It's marked 'test weekly,'" said Jaco. "Just push and hold that and it's as easy as that to test your detector. That alone could save your life."

Jaco said there are other ways you can make sure it works, too. If you want to go beyond the test button approach, you can purchase "canned smoke," or an aerosol spray used to test detectors by simulating smoke.

"It's a clean smoke. it won't build up on the detectors," said Jaco. He recommends using that twice a year to make sure your detector can actually detect smoke.

Jaco also says you should make sure your detectors aren't too old. Older homes might have detectors that go beyond their shelf life and can put you at risk.

"The detector itself has a shelf-life of 10 years. The National Fire Protection Association recommends you change it out every 10 years," noted Jaco. "And the detector gets dirty. If you're smoking inside the home, you have the nicotine that builds up in there. And dust itself can delay detection."

Here's your timeline to smoke detector functionality:

  • Change batteries every six months. Some people do it every time you spring forward or fall back for Daylight Saving Time
  • Routinely (weekly, biweekly) test the alarm and battery with the test button
  • Replace your detector every 10 years. If it has a long-lasting, built-in battery, replace the detector when you hear it chirping to indicate that the battery is low

For more information about smoke detector maintenance, click here.