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Proper Placement of Smoke Detectors

By Kevin Vitali | August 12, 2021

Every home should have smoke detectors placed properly throughout your home. There is no question smoke alarms will help keep your home safe.

Many new building codes are quite strict about the placement of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The placement of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms is a simple and cost-effective way to protect your home and family in the event of a fire or equipment malfunction.

If your home has not been built in the past 20 or 30 years there is a good chance your alarms are not hard-wired for both carbon monoxide and smoke detection and over the years they may have been removed or disabled. You should certainly make an assessment of your home and determine if you are adequately protected.

Even if your home is hardwired for smoke and CO detectors it is still a good idea to assess the placement and number of alarms you have.

Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

We all know that smoke is created from fires and fires are not something we want in our homes, as smoke usually leads to a fire.

But you may not know that carbon monoxide is produced by systems that burn fossil fuels like a homes furnace or water heater. Carbon monoxide is odorless, tasteless and colorless. CO poisoning can cause serious health issues and even cause death if gone undetected for a period of time.

When assessing your home for smoke alarms it is the perfect time to check your home's carbon monoxide detectors at the same time.

Proper Placement of Smoke Alarms

Proper placement of your detectors is important. Check with your local fire department about their requirements for smoke and CO alarms in your home. Consider the following when determining proper smoke detector placement:

  • You should have at least one smoke detector per level of your home and it should cover up to 1200 sq feet of living space. For example, a two-level home consisting of 4000 sq feet. would leave approximately 2000 sq feet per level, meaning each level should have an absolute minimum of 2 smoke detectors per floor. The second floor will have bedrooms and multiple detectors but the first floor may be overlooked and would require a minimum of two.
  • Each bedroom should have a smoke detector.
  • Each hallway outside of a bedroom are should have a detector. Sometimes bedrooms are in separate sleeping areas. For example, the first floor may have a master bedroom while the rest of the bedrooms are upstairs. Each separate sleeping area should have a detector in the outside area of each sleeping area.
  • Every hallway leading to a bedroom should have a smoke detector.
  • There should be a smoke detector at the bottom of every staircase but not inside the staircase area itself. Remember smoke rises with the heat of a fire. Heat and smoke will seek out staircases to rise.
  • Do not use dual alarms or ionization within 20 feet away of a kitchen or bathroom. If you are within 20 feet of a kitchen or bathroom use a photoelectric only alarm to avoid false alarms.
  • Do not place alarms near vents or windows.

Make sure you mount smoke alarms so they are secure and can't be easily removed. The following is a minimum don't be afraid to add additional smoke alarms as you see fit like furnace rooms or laundry rooms, two areas where fires can start.

It is best to place your smoke detectors on the ceiling and at a minimum distance of a foot away from the walls and corners. Do not place a smoke detector in your garage but consider heat alarms. The exhaust from your car can set off the alarm.

Types of Detectors

There can be many styles and types of smoke detectors and configurations and it can get confusing. If you go to your local hardware store or Home Depot you will find a confusing assortment of alarms to choose from. Each type of detector may have appropriate use in your home depending on the location of the alarm and the age of your house.

Combo Alarms- Combination fire alarms are both smoke and CO detectors in one. They can combine both alarms into one housing.

Voice Activated- Voice-activated alarms are combo alarms that inform you if the threat is from smoke or carbon monoxide

Photoelectric Smoke Alarms- Photoelectric alarms are best for slow-burning smoldering fires.

Ionization Smoke Alarms- Ionization alarms are equipped with sensors that are better for fast-burning fires.

Dual Smoke Alarms- Dual smoke alarms use both photoelectric and ionization sensors for detecting the presence of smoke. A dual detector can offer the most protection but should be avoided near bathrooms and kitchens due to the excessive steam produced from these rooms.

Hardwired- Hardwired systems are connected to your home's electrical system for its main power source, with a 9-volt battery for backup. If one alarm goes off, they all go off.

Wireless- Wireless alarms are relatively new. They communicate with each other wirelessly and when one alarm goes off they all go off. This notifies occupants of a home in rooms far from a fire that they should leave the home.

10 Year Sealed Batteries- Many units that are battery operated only seal the battery so it cannot be removed, leaving a nonworking alarm.

Follow Your Local Requirements

Many states and municipalities have very specific requirements for smoke detectors and CO detectors in a home. Make sure you check local and state laws and follow the manufacturer's instructions before deciding on the final placement of your smoke detectors. Also, bear in mind that many states require a Certificate of Compliance upon the sale of the home. The local fire department schedules a visit and determines if you have the proper placement and types of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

Massachusetts smoke detector requirements vary greatly by age. A home built prior to 1975 does require hardwired, interconnected smoke alarms. They can be battery operated. But homes built after 1975 require all smoke alarms to be hardwired and interconnected.


Not only is important to have the right number and proper placement of smoke alarms it is equally important to maintain them in proper working order. Batteries die, sensors get dirty and alarms just get old. A malfunctioning alarm could be the difference between life and death during a fire or an equipment malfunction.

The International Association of Fire Fighters recommends that at a bare minimum, you check your alarms twice a year on daylight savings. When you move your clocks forward or back, change your batteries and test for proper operation. You certainly could perform regular testing on a more regular basis like once a month.

It is also recommended you change the alarms every ten years to ensure maximum protection for your family members.

If a battery is chirping or providing a false alarm make sure you check your battery and if it continues replace the entire alarm.

And as a matter of common sense, do not remove batteries or the alarms themselves because they are a nuisance. Many of today's battery-operated alarms come with a 10 year sealed battery to prevent disabling the alarm. The IAFF reports:

"In half of reported home fires in which smoke alarms were present but did not operate, the batteries had been removed or the alarm was disconnected due to dead battery alerts or nuisance alarms."


There is no question that fire and CO alarms save lives. Start by making sure you have proper placement of smoke detectors and C0 alarms as well. And make sure you maintain them on a regular basis.

But take it a step further and include a fire safety plan for your entire family that would include proper alarms, fire extinguishers, procedures, a fire escape plan and a place to meet if occupants leave a home during a fire.

And don't disable alarms!! they can't save a life if they are disabled!

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About Kevin: Kevin has been a full time agent for almost 18 years.Kevin works the Haverhill MA Real Estate market as well as Essexand Northern Middlesex Counties in Massachusetts.Kevin is a regular blogger who enjoys educating consumers about how to make the most of their next home purchase or sale.Kevin can be reached at 978-360-0422.
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