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How to Replace a Smoke Alarm

Smoke detectors are found in just about every home, and for good reason. If a fire breaks out while your family is sleeping, or a neighbor’s house has caught on fire and the flames begin to infiltrate your home, a smoke detector can save your life. When smoke drifts inside of the detector mechanism, a chemical reaction occurs and triggers a loud, piercing alarm. This alarm is made to echo clearly throughout your house, signaling that it’s time to find an exit.

Installing a battery operated alarm is much more simple than one that has been wired into the wall, because all the homeowner really has to do is choose a location, screw in the alarm’s mount, and attach the smoke detector. Although this is the case, many homes still have smoke detectors attached by wires and replacing these models involves a few extra steps.

  1. Preparation
    Make sure that you turn off the power before you start any home electrical repairs, and only turn it back on after you have completed your project. Slide a step ladder or stool up to the wall or part of the ceiling near your smoke detector, and have your replacement close by. Make sure to wear shoes with traction, because even falling a short distance unexpectedly may cause an injury that could have been easily avoided.
  2. Removing Your Old Smoke Detector
    To remove the existing detector, grip it tightly and rotate it counter-clockwise. When you pull the detector away from the wall or ceiling, you’ll notice that there are three wires connected to a plug that attaches to your smoke detector. The plug is called a wiring harness, and the wires it holds together are black, white, and either red or yellow. Carefully remove the wiring harness from the smoke detector.
  3. Removing the Mounting Plate
    The next step is to unscrew the backing plate from the electrical box. There are generally two screws that secure it to the wall, which you can remove with a screwdriver. Then simply rotate the mounting plate until the holes slide into place over the screw heads and it can be removed. At this point there should be no more plastic attachments left on your wall or ceiling.
  4. Installing the New Detector
    A.)
    There is a chance that the smoke detector you have purchased comes with an adapter connected to three wires. If this sounds like your model, you can just plug the adapter and wires directly into the end of the wiring harness coming out of the hole. You should be able to hear them snap together when you properly connect them.
    B.) If your model does not come with an adapter, take notice of the wire nuts that connect the wires into the wall or ceiling. Unscrew these nuts and remove the wiring harness altogether. Take the new wiring harness that came with your new kit and match the color of your wires to the color of the wires coming from the ceiling or wall. Attach them using the wire nuts. (Make sure to attach them black to black, white to white, and red or yellow to the third protruding wire.)
    C.) Next, simply screw in the new backing plate that is included in your smoke detector kit and attach the smoke detector itself. Rotate it clockwise to secure it in place, then stand back and admire your work!

Every smoke detector comes with a test button, and at this point it is recommended that you try it out to make sure the installation is a success. Press and hold the button on the front of the detector for five seconds; if it emits an alarm, you’ve done the job right.

It’s important for homeowners to have their smoke detectors routinely inspected by an electrician or by themselves, in order to establish that it’s still functioning well. A detector that is broken, worn out, needs batteries, or has been incorrectly installed is of no use to you during an emergency. Smoke detectors have saved countless lives since they were invented, and knowing how to correctly replace one is very useful knowledge to have.

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