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Take these simple steps to ensure your alarm systems are working properly

(Flickr/Tom Hentoff)

Many homes have alarm systems to warn residents about fire and smoke, carbon monoxide or radon as well as intruders trying to break in.

Fortunately, these problems are rare, and alarms don’t sound often. So, we may even forget they are there.

But it’s still important to check and test alarms and detectors periodically to make sure they work when a real emergency comes along.

Here are some ways to ensure that your alarm systems are working properly.

Smoke detectors

Once a month, press the test button on a free-standing smoke detector. Expect to hear an ear-splitting sound. If the device doesn’t sound, or the sound is weak, replace the detector batteries. Batteries should be replaced at least once a year. Smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years. Hardwired detectors can be tested in the same way.

Some homeowners advise doing a “crisis” test by using smoke to ensure that a system is operating correctly rather than assuming detectors will work. You light a candle and allow it to burn for a few moments. Blow it out and hold the smoke stream about a foot below the detector. Don’t get too close to the alarm or you might damage it. Make sure the alarm goes off in every room if you have an interconnected system. Press the button on the detector afterward to shut off the noise. You can also buy canisters of “smoke” at a hardware store to use in your testing.

If you have a security system in your home, call the security company in advance to find out how to do a crisis test without having a fire truck drive up to your door.

Carbon monoxide detectors

As with smoke detectors, press the test button on the devices once a month to ensure that they work. A carbon monoxide detector is always needed in homes with gas furnaces or other gas burning appliances.

However, you can’t do a “crisis” test — because you don’t want to emit deadly carbon monoxide gas in your home. Replace the batteries in the detectors once a year and replace the detectors themselves after a few years.

Security alarms

To test security systems, call the central monitoring center for your alarm system to see if it can switch your system to test mode. Secure your windows and doors and then open them one by one. Every time you trigger a device, a signal should go to the security monitoring center. Check with the center to verify that they received signals from your doors and windows. If the test fails, request a maintenance visit.

Radon detectors

Radon gas is radioactive, colorless, odorless and tasteless but can cause cancer.

In homes where radon may have intruded, detectors are generally installed at the lowest level of the home where people spend time.

Use them far away from windows and doors and avoid kitchens, bathrooms or laundry rooms. It is difficult to know if sensors are working correctly. You need a certified professional to assess the test results and provide recommendations for removing radon from your home.

Rosie on the House

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