Smoke Alarms for Your Home
Smoke alarms help to keep you safe from fire at home. When there is a fire, smoke spreads fast. Smoke alarms provide an early warning. This warning helps you and your family to get out quickly. Working smoke alarms are required by law in all residential buildings in Chicago.
Building Owner (Landlord) Duties
Building owners must provide required smoke alarms. Building owners must replace smoke alarms if they fail, malfunction, or reach the end of their service life.
Building owners must test smoke alarms in common areas on a regular basis. Common areas include spaces such as laundry rooms, hallways, and stairways shared by more than one tenant.
Building owners must test smoke alarms that are part of a building fire alarm system on a regular basis. Building owners must replace back-up batteries in smoke alarms that are part of a building fire alarm system.
Building owners must also notify occupants in writing about the occupants’ duty to test and maintain the smoke alarms within their homes.
Occupant (Tenant) Duties
Occupants must provide and keep working batteries in smoke alarms that are powered entirely by removable batteries or that require a removable back-up battery.
Occupants must test smoke alarms within their homes on a regular basis. If a smoke alarm is not working, the occupant must promptly notify the building owner in writing.
Building owners face fines of $500 to $2,000 per day, per violation, if they do not provide working smoke alarms at required locations. The reason for lack of working smoke alarms does not matter.
It is against the law to tamper with, deactivate, or remove a required smoke alarm. Violators can face criminal penalties, including jail time.
If you live in a building in Chicago that does not have working smoke alarms, contact 3‑1‑1. In residential rental buildings, the Department of Buildings will inspect and take action against building owners found to be breaking the law.
To report an immediate danger to yourself or others, always call 9‑1‑1.
For homeowners, 3‑1‑1 may also be able to refer you to programs that provide low- or no-cost smoke alarms. Some homeowners may be eligible for free in-home smoke alarm installation.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Effective Are Smoke Alarms?
In the United States, residential fire deaths have decreased steadily as the number of homes with smoke alarms has increased. In recent years, nearly sixty percent of home fire deaths occurred in homes without working smoke alarms.
Smoke alarms give you early warning of dangerous conditions, but it is also important to have a home fire escape plan.
How Many Smoke Alarms Do I Need?
Most houses and apartments need more than one smoke alarm. The exact number depends on the number of levels (stories) and the number of rooms where people sleep (bedrooms).
Where Are Smoke Alarms Required?
Inside of houses and apartments built before 2018, a smoke alarm is required outside of and within 15 feet of each room where a person sleeps (bedroom).
Inside of houses and apartments that were built or significantly remodeled in 2018 or later, a smoke alarm is required both inside of each room where a person sleeps (bedroom) and at a location outside of and within 15 feet of each room where a person sleeps (bedroom).
In all houses and apartments with multiple stories (levels), at least one smoke alarm is required on each story or level, including basements.
In all apartment buildings, a smoke alarm is required at the highest level of every shared indoor stairway.
In newer and larger apartment buildings, smoke alarms are often connected to a building fire alarm system. This does not affect location requirements.
Where Are Smoke Alarms Not Allowed?
To reduce nuisance alarms, ionization-type smoke alarms cannot be installed within 10 feet of cooking appliances and photoelectric-type smoke alarms cannot be installed within 6 feet of cooking appliances. To reduce nuisance alarms due to steam, neither type of smoke alarm can be installed within 3 feet of the entrance to a room containing a bathtub or shower.
Smoke alarms cannot be installed within 4 inches of the place where walls meet the ceiling, because lack of air movement in these corners may decrease responsiveness.
What Type of Energy Source Is Required for My Smoke Alarms?
If your house or apartment was built in 1984 or earlier, your smoke alarms are probably powered entirely by batteries. Since the mid-1980s, newly built or significantly remodeled houses and apartments in Chicago must have smoke alarms that are connected to the building’s electrical system (hard-wired) with a battery for back-up in case of a power failure.
The original type of battery-powered smoke alarm has removable batteries that need to be changed every six months. This type of alarm fails if residents forget to change the batteries or forget to replace the batteries after silencing a false alarm. In the early 2000s, a new type of battery-powered smoke alarm became available with a long-lasting battery sealed inside and a button to silence false alarms. These new “sealed-battery” alarms last up to 10 years. When sealed-battery alarms reach the end of their useful life, they will chirp to indicate it is time to replace the entire device.
In 2020, Chicago’s City Council adopted an ordinance to phase out smoke alarms that are only powered by a removable battery. (This does not apply to hard-wired smoke alarms that contain a removable back-up battery). Installation of new removable-battery smoke alarms is illegal starting January 1, 2023. When an existing removable-battery powered smoke alarm malfunctions or reaches its 10-year expiration date, it must be replaced with a sealed-battery smoke alarm. This means all existing removable-battery smoke alarms in Chicago must be replaced with sealed-battery or hard-wired smoke alarms by January 1, 2033.
What Are “Interconnected” Smoke Alarms?
The smoke alarms within your house or apartment may be “interconnected,” either by wires or wirelessly. This allows all the individual smoke alarms within your home to work as a system. If one alarm goes off, the rest will follow. This helps to provide an earlier warning if smoke is first detected in a remote area, such as a basement.
For houses and apartments built or substantially remodeled in 2018 or later, interconnected smoke alarms are required within each unit.
Are There Different Types of Smoke Alarm Sensors?
Yes. There are two main types of smoke alarms sensors: ionization sensors and photoelectric sensors. Ionization sensors respond faster to small smoke particles, while photoelectric sensors respond faster to large smoke particles. Both types of sensors will detect smoke from common household fires and provide adequate time to escape.
Smoke alarms are also available with both ionization and photoelectric sensors in the same unit, but these are more expensive than models with a single type of sensor. If the choice is between buying one dual-sensor alarm or two single-sensor alarms, more alarms is the better choice.
Do I Need to Test the Smoke Alarms in My Home?
Yes. Every smoke alarm comes with a “test” button. Residents should use this button to test the smoke alarms inside their home regularly, at least once a month.
Make sure everyone in your home understands the sound of the smoke alarm and knows how to respond.
Do not attempt to test your smoke alarms by burning objects to generate real smoke or holding a lighter, candle, or open flame near the smoke alarm.
If a smoke alarm is not working, make sure it is replaced right away.
How Do I Maintain the Smoke Alarms in My Home?
If your smoke alarms are powered by removable batteries, you should replace the batteries every six months. This does not apply to hard-wired smoke alarms (which require less-frequent replacement of the back-up battery) or sealed-battery smoke alarms.
It is also recommended that you gently vacuum your smoke alarms at least once a year. This will help to keep the openings to the sensing chamber free of dust, residue from cooking vapors, and insects.
Never paint smoke alarms. Paint, stickers, or other decorations can keep smoke alarms from working.
How Can I Stop My Smoke Alarm from Going Off When I Cook?
If your smoke alarm regularly responds to smoke from cooking, there are several options for handling this problem. First, make sure the smoke alarm is installed at least 10 feet away from where you are cooking. You can also replace the smoke alarm with one that has a button that will silence it for a few minutes. (Newer devices are required to have this feature). Moving a ceiling-mounted smoke alarm to a wall can also reduce nuisance alarms. If the smoke alarm is the ionization type, another option is to replace it with a photoelectric sensor alarm. Photoelectric sensors are less sensitive to the smaller particles usually found in cooking smoke.
Do I Need to Replace the Smoke Alarms In My Home?
Smoke alarms that are 10 years old have reached the end of their service life and must be replaced. Most smoke alarms indicate the date of manufacture on the back. A smoke alarm monitors the air 24 hours a day. At the end of 10 years, it has gone through over 3.5 million monitoring cycles. After this much use, components can wear out.
This applies to both battery-powered and hard-wired smoke alarms.
If you are a tenant, your landlord is responsible for replacing the smoke alarms every 10 years. If you notice that your smoke alarm is more than 10 years old or malfunctioning, notify your landlord in writing immediately. If your landlord refuses to replace a smoke alarm that is malfunctioning or more than 10 years old, contact 3‑1‑1.