Time for New Smoke Detectors?
Scott Caron shows when and how to replace smoke detectors
Our house has interconnected smoke detectors that were installed when the house was built 15 years ago. I think they need to be replaced, but how do I go about it?
—Brenda Moore, Harrisburg, PA
All smoke detectors lose sensitivity as they get older. That’s why every unit comes with a 10-year expiration date. Yours are overdue for replacement, but now you can take advantage of the latest detector technology.
For instance, your existing system is linked by wires. Today’s smart detectors like the Nest Protect communicate with each other wirelessly. The Nest also notifies and obeys commands from your smartphone, sniffs out carbon monoxide, and talks to you. It can even tell the difference between smoldering fires, open flames, burning toast, and bathroom humidity, and that means fewer false alarms.
Fortunately, replacing interconnected devices isn’t that difficult, if you don’t mind climbing a stepladder. First, shut off their power at the main circuit panel. Your detectors have backup batteries, but they operate on 120-volt house power. Just twist off the old detector and disconnect its plug (top left). Do the same steps in reverse if you’re going to install the same kind of detectors that you have now.
If you go with a high-tech detector like the Nest, remove the old base plate, cap the unneeded interconnect wires, put a new pigtail (supplied) on the house wiring, and mount a new base plate to the ceiling. Next, use an app to assign the detector’s location to your phone so you’ll know where the problem lies when the alarms go off. Finally, plug the pigtail into the back of the new detector (shown) and twist it onto the base.
Repeat those steps for all the other detectors. Once the power is back on, your house will be safe for another 10 years.
Shown: Master electrician Scott Caron, left, owner of Caron Electric, unplugs an out-of-date smoke detector that’s wired to a house-wide detector network. He replaced it with a new smart detector that also monitors carbon monoxide levels.