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Texas Department of Insurance
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June 2, 2022

How to know what your smoke alarm is telling you

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Just about everyone has woken up to the sounds of a smoke or a carbon monoxide alarm going off in the middle of the night. But what do those chirps and beeps mean?

We talked to the National Fire Protection Association to find out what the noises mean and how to keep your family safe.

What do all those different sounds mean?

Alarms have different sequences of beeps. A smoke alarm is a three-beep sequence. Carbon monoxide (CO) alarms have four beeps. There’s also a single chirp, which either means your battery is low, or the detector needs to be replaced.

Many newer detectors have a voice. Research shows people are more likely to wake up when they hear a voice. Even the loudest alarm may not wake up a teenager, but a voice may help.

When should I replace the battery in my smoke or CO detectors?

All alarms have a manufacture date or an expiration date on them, or you can find it online. It’s important to replace your alarms within 10 years of that date. Older alarms may last only five years. You don’t want a vintage smoke alarm.

Test the alarms each month and replace the batteries each year. Then replace the alarms themselves within 10 years.

What about people who don’t wake up easily or have hearing loss?

There are alarms for the deaf and hard of hearing with either a bed-shaker that goes under your pillow or a strobe light. They also include traditional alarms, in case that person has a visitor or people with hearing live with them.

Where should I put new alarms?

Inside and outside each bedroom or sleeping area. Some people sleep on a couch or in a recliner due to physical issues or for other reasons. Have smoke alarms anywhere people sleep, and on each level of your home.

With CO alarms, you also need one in your garage. You may have a generator there, or a vehicle that you accidentally leave running. A lot of new cars are very quiet or can turn on and off automatically. So, it’s good to have an alarm in the garage.

You should also take a portable alarm with you when you travel. A lot of hotels and vacation rentals don’t have alarms. We’ve seen some vacation disasters where entire families died due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

What do I do if a smoke or CO alarm goes off?

  • Have a family escape plan.
  • Practice it during the day and at night.
  • Pick a meeting place. Make sure it’s not near the road if you have small children.
  • If someone with mobility issues lives with you or visits, make sure they can get out of the house. They should be on the lowest floor