Smoke Alarms and Home Inspections

How Important Are Smoke Alarms?

During the course of the home inspection I will be checking for the presence of Smoke Alarms. I cannot stress enough the importance of a functioning Smoke Alarm. Most people recognize and understand the importance of a functioning Smoke Alarm.

History of the Smoke Alarm

I remember when Smoke Alarms were first introduced in the 70's. Professionally installed smoke alarms for a typical three bedroom was in the neighborhood of $1,000 . As with most technology, the cost has been reduced substantially. Today you could protect the same house for less than $100. Pretty cheap investment for the first line of defense for your home.

Where Should You Put This Smoke Alarm?

You should install smoke alarms in every bedroom, in the hallways leading to the bedrooms, and on each level of your home, including the basement if you have one. Smoke alarms should be mounted on the ceiling 4” from the wall. Wall mounted smoke alarms should be 4-12” from the ceiling. Do not install near draft areas (windows, vents.). You should also have an escape plan for your family. Call your local fire department if you are unsure about placement.

 From the Cal Fire  website

From the Cal Fire website

Types of Smoke Alarms

There are several types of Smoke Alarms. I'm just going to mention the most common two. The basic battery operated smoke alarm will typically cost from $10-$20 each. They are usually installed using a screw driver, or sometimes just an adhesive pad. They operate with just a 9V battery, which should be renewed annually. They are "tested" by pushing a button which will sound a short audible "beep". This does not "test" the smoke sensor, it just test the audible alarm. This is the "test" typically done during a home inspection.


Hard-Wired Smoke Alarm

The "hard-wired" smoke alarm is actually connected to a 110 volt circuit in your home and may or may not have a battery back-up. I suggest that you purchase the model with the battery back-up. These will usually cost about $25-$30 each, and should be professionally installed by a licensed electrical contractor. These can be installed "in series". This means that when one alarm sounds, they will all sound the alarm.


Maintaining Your Smoke Alarm

- Clean regularly. Dust and debris will interfere with normal operation. 
- Replace batteries at least once a year. 
- Schedule regular maintenance and tests. monthly is recommended. 
- Never remove batteries to disable an alarm that sounds every time you cook. The alarm is      working fine, it's your cooking habits that may need investigating or adjustment. 


No! The life expectancy of a Smoke Alarm is 8-10 years. If yours are older than that, they should be replaced.  I usually recommend replacement if you don't know the age of the smoke alarm. A home inspection cannot determine the age of  all the smoke alarms. When you go to the store to purchase new smoke alarms, open the box of each one and check the date on the alarm. I have seen many on the shelf that were already one or two years old.

 The manufactured date is typically on the back of the smoke alarm

The manufactured date is typically on the back of the smoke alarm

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of information. As always if you feel uncomfortable performing any of these tasks, please consult a professional.  

About the author: Frank Rotte is the Founder of Certified Inspection Services, LLC in Bonsall, CA. Comments are always welcome! Please visit us on Facebook at