Smoke Alarm Installation

installing smoke alarmsHome fires produce smoke and other dangerous gases that are very hot and rise. Smoke alarms must be installed on the ceiling or high on a sidewall to provide the earliest possible warning. NFPA 72 recommends installing smoke alarms on every level of the home, in each bedroom and outside each sleeping area. When installing alarms, follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Here’s a quick review:

Where to install smoke alarms: It is recommended that smoke alarms be installed on every level of the home, including basements, in each bedroom and outside each sleeping area. The preferred location for smoke alarms is on the ceiling close to the center of the room. Smoke alarms mounted on walls shall be located not farther than 12 inches from the adjoining ceiling surface. Please refer to the diagram below:

where to install smoke alarms

National Fire Protection Association

For vaulted ceilings, the installation should be 12 inches vertically down from the highest point of the ceiling but not more than 36 inches and as close to the center of the room as possible. In multistory homes, install smoke alarms at the top of the first-to-second floor stairway and on the basement level.

NFPA Tip Sheet on Smoke Alarm.

Where NOT to install smoke alarms: Nuisance alarms are the main reason that smoke alarms are disabled.2So when choosing the location for smoke alarms, avoid these locations which can cause the alarms to signal:

  • In kitchens, or within 10 feet from a cooking appliance
  • Near poorly ventilated kitchens
  • Within 6 feet of furnaces or water heaters
  • Within 3 feet of forced air heating or cooling vents
  • In or near damp or humid areas such as laundry rooms or bathrooms
  • Near exterior doors or windows
  • Porches, in garages, attics or spaces that are not climate controlled.

IMPORTANT: Some people sleep in spaces that are not bedrooms. Ask people where they sleep, and install alarms and alert devices based on where they sleep. In Oklahoma, a long-term smoke alarm project has installed many alert devices next to recliners with the “bed” shaker in the recliner, where the person sleeps.


Take time during the home safety visit to talk with the residents about maintaining their alarms and explain that a disabled smoke alarm could cost them or someone they love their life. All smoke alarms no matter the style — battery operated or hard-wired — need to be replaced at least every 10 years. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. If a smoke alarm constantly has nuisance alarms, relocate it per the manufacturer’s installation instructions rather than removing it permanently. This most commonly is an ionization alarm too close to the kitchen. Install a photoelectric alarm to provide the family protection and to reduce nuisance alarms when they burn a pizza, for example.