Placing a smoke detector in your home provides the benefit of knowing you and your family are protected in case of a fire. There are certain rules and regulations that you should be aware of while placing one to ensure it’s done correctly. This is not something that should be overlooked. Consult a professional if you feel uncomfortable doing this yourself.
In general, a smoke detector should be placed a minimum of 4 inches and a maximum of 12 inches from the ceiling when being mounted on the wall, and a minimum of 4 inches from the side wall when mounted on the ceiling. A smoke detector also should be more than 18 inches from a corner, and a minimum of 3 feet from a ceiling fan. In addition, a smoke detector should not be mounted on an uninsulated exterior wall and should be more than 3 feet from a vent that recirculates air. A smoke detector should also be mounted in the hallway outside of the bedroom. And if the hallway extends more than 40 feet, then two smoke detectors need to be placed on either side of the hallway.
Installing a Smoke Detector on a Vaulted Ceiling
When installing a smoke detector on a vaulted ceiling, it is important to pay close attention to exactly where it is mounted for maximum protection. Starting at the top of the ceiling, either the flat part or the point (depending on your ceiling), place your measuring tape flush (with the top) and measure down 4 inches vertically. From those four inches up do not place the smoke detector. Now measure 36 inches to across to the midpoint of the ceiling, or you can think about measuring 6 feet (72 inches) from the slanted edge to slanted edge. What I usually do is place the measuring tape on one slanted end of the ceiling, and move the measuring tape down until I hit a 6-foot span from slanted edge to slanted edge. Do what works best for you! Below I have created two visuals to assist you on the placement for two different styles of vaulted ceilings.
This is done to prevent the smoke detector from being in the dead air where smoke will not flow, causing the detector to not go off.
Something to keep in mind about the type of detector you buy for a vaulted ceiling is how often you have to replace the batteries. I didn’t want to have to get up on a ladder once a year to replace the batteries so I would consider buying a long-lasting smoke detector with a preinstalled internal battery. Which lasts about 10 years, or consider having it hardwired for added convenience. I use the Alert Pro 10-Year Battery Smoke Detector Fire Alarm for my vaulted ceiling, its worked great for the past few years!
Why Do These Regulations Exist
These rules and regulations relating to the positioning of smoke detectors might seem arbitrary at times, but they are put in place to provide you with the maximum amount of protection from fires. The four-inch minimum spacing requirement that smoke detectors have from ceilings and walls relates to how the smoke travels up walls and across ceilings. If smoke were to perfectly ‘stick’ (for the lack of a better word) to the wall and ceiling as its transitioning between them, then the four-inch minimum requirement would not exist. But alas, due to the properties of smoke and how it travels up a wall and across a ceiling there is a small gap in which the smoke would not pass into, making the smoke detector useless.
This is the case for the majority of regulations surrounding the placement of a smoke detector. The 18-inch from a corner prevents this same effect mentioned earlier where due to the characteristics of the flow of the smoke would create a pocket of air without enough smoke to actually set off the detector. The same thing applies to it being placed 3 feet from a fan, and 3 feet from a fan (the tip of one of its blades to be specific), because of the risk that smoke will not reach the smoke detector.
One of the regulations that I couldn’t figure out until it was explained to me by one of my friends (that is a contractor), was the rule where the smoke detector could not be mounted on an uninsulated exterior wall. The explanation that I was given and later verified is that if the wall was an uninsulated and on the exterior of the house then the weather would affect the batteries inside the battery-powered smoke detectors. Which makes sense since if your phone has ever been left out in the cold car it will lose its charge quickly, and in the heat, your phone will power down to prevent damage to the battery. Batteries do not like extreme weather, and so this regulation makes perfect sense.
Two Different Types of Smoke Detectors
The two different types of smoke detectors (at least in how they detect smoke) are ionization smoke detectors and photoelectric detectors.
Ionization-based smoke detectors use a radioactive material called Americium between the leads of a circuit. Due to the radioactive material, the chamber (of conductive Americium ions) is able to pass current through the circuit during normal operation. During a fire, the smoke that enters the detector carries ions that change the electrical conductivity of the chamber and thus changes the current through it. This change is detected, and the smoke detector goes off as a result.
Photoelectric type detectors instead use a light source (usually a bulb) directed into a light-sensing chamber inside of the smoke detector. As smoke enters the chamber, the light from the bulb is no longer able to reach the light-sensing chamber which in turn triggers the alarm.
Testing/Maintaining Smoke Detectors
Testing a smoke detector is relatively easy. Press and hold the test button and wait for the annoying but useful beeping. You should be checking your smoke detectors at least once a month. And charging batteries once or twice a year ensures that your smoke detectors perform as expected. Usually to help me remember when to change them I will do it when daylight savings times starts and ends. Setting clocks back or forward usually helps to jog my memory that the batteries have to be changed out, but do it whenever it works best for you.
Smoke Detectors (Hardwired vs Battery)
If you’re considering whether to purchase a battery-operated or hard-wired smoke detector you should consider a few points. Hard-wired smoke detectors are as their name suggests hard-wired into your homes electrical system, which is convenient if you hate having to worry about replacing a smoke detector’s batteries. However, hard-wired detectors are also more expensive when factoring in the cost to pay an electrician to run the wires. Your power could also go out, which would require you to pay attention to the backup batteries that are in the hard-wired detectors.
So the convenience you gain from not having to replace batteries as frequently worth the upfront higher cost you pay for a hard-wired smoke detector. In my opinion yes! But don’t let that discourage you from using battery-operated smoke detectors. As long as you and your family are protected, that’s the important part.
Best Hardwired Smoke Detector – First Alert Smoke Detector Alarm – Hardwired with Backup Battery (From Amazon)
Best Battery-Operated Smoke Detector – First Alert Smoke Detector and Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarm (From Amazon)
Finding the Exact Regulations in Your Area
Where you live will also affect the requirements as far as which kind you can use, so it’s smart to look on your municipalities website as to the exact rules and regulations you should follow. For example, California requires its homes to have hard-wired detectors if the house was built after 1992.
To find the exact regulations in regards to smoke detectors in your municipality I’ve had the best luck searching Google for “Name of your County” followed by “Smoke Detector” in a new tab, so you can come back and reference the diagrams.