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When should I replace an older smoke alarm, even if it appears functional?

Published: April 07, 2014 12:15 PM

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Q. I have two homes equipped with hard-wired smoke alarms, original equipment now about 17 years old. The alarms respond appropriately to the test buttons. But the instructions on a battery-operated alarm say it should be replaced in 10 years. What about mine?—William Pohlmann, Manitowoc, WI

A. The life expectancy of smoke alarms is generally 10 years, after which point their sensors can begin to lose sensitivity. The test button only confirms that the battery, electronics, and alert system are working; it doesn’t mean that the smoke sensor is working. To test the sensor, use an aerosol can of smoke alarm test spray that simulates smoke. But even if the 17-year-old smoke alarms in your homes can still detect smoke, we recommend replacing them with new models.

Check our smoke alarm buying guide and Ratings to find the most effective models. And send your questions to ConsumerReports.org/askourexperts.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the May 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
   

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