As we prepare to spring forward on Sunday, March 11, now is a valuable time to check your smoke alarms and ensure they are installed and working properly. Some tips on installation:

Choose smoke alarms that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement.
On levels without bedrooms, install alarms in the living room (or den or family room) or near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations.
Smoke alarms should be installed at least 10 feet (3 meters) 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).
Don't install smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.
Never paint smoke alarms. Paint, stickers, or other decorations could keep the alarms from working.

Some tips on testing smoke alarms:

Test smoke alarms at least once a month using the test button.
Make sure everyone in the home understands the sound of the smoke alarm and knows how to respond.
Follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning to keep smoke alarms working well. The instructions are included in the package or can be found on the internet.
Smoke alarms with non-replaceable 10-year batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm right away.
Smoke alarms with any other type of battery need a new battery at least once a year. If that alarm chirps, warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.

Smoke alarms wear out just like other equipment in our home. Smoke alarms use sensors to identify smoke in the home, and the sensors can begin to fail after 10 years. Dust, cobwebs, debris and grease can impede the operation of the smoke alarm, costing valuable time in the alarms activation and diminishing your response time to extinguish a small fire, evacuate the home or call 911.

To determine the age of your smoke alarm, remove the alarm head from the wall or ceiling (but make sure you put it back in place before going to bed). Look for the manufacture date on the base. If your smoke alarm is less than 10 years old, check the battery, if it doesn’t work, replace the battery and re-install the alarm.

Take this crucial time right now to test and check your smoke alarm, your families’ safety depends on it. In today’s modern home you have less than 3 minutes to safely evacuate the home unless it is equipped throughout with a home sprinkler system. If you do not have a smoke alarm in your home please contact your local fire department.

— Ralph Sartain is a division chief for Ashland Fire & Rescue and can be emailed at