Smoke detectors can save lives, but they cannot change their own batteries.
Failure to safely replace and and dispose of 9 volt smoke alarm batteries can result in a house fire.
Having smoke alarms in the house is not enough – they must be functioning smoke alarms to do their job. Although 95% of Americans report having at least one smoke alarm in their home, two-thirds of home fire deaths happen in homes without a working smoke alarm. So most home fire deaths occur where no one remembered to replace smoke alarm batteries.
When to Replace the Smoke Alarm Batteries
Twice a year, traditionally when daylight savings begins and ends, replace smoke alarm batteries with new ones. Most hard-wired smoke alarms require batteries, too. If your smoke alarms have rechargeable batteries, use those “spring forward” and “fall back” clock-changing days to recharge them.
Safely Discard Used Smoke Alarm Batteries
Finished with those old batteries? Do not just toss the batteries into the trash! Why?
Batteries with any “juice” at all left in them have the capacity to start a fire if both the positive and negative terminals touch a metal conductor. Since both the positive and negative terminals are on the same end of a 9 volt battery, they are especially prone to starting a trash can fire.
Imagine a piece of foil, a tin can, a paper clip, steel wool, gum wrapper, bit of wire or any other metal item in your trash can. It’s not hard to visualize both terminals of a discarded 9 volt battery simultaneously coming into contact with such a piece of metal in your trash.
To prevent discarded smoke alarm batteries from inadvertently igniting a home fire (or a fire in the trash truck or landfill), simply prevent the terminals from being able to contact any metal. Here are three ways:
- Put electrical tape over the terminals before discarding.
- Put each battery in a separate plastic baggie before tossing it.
- Drop each battery into an empty plastic pill bottle, put the lid on, and then discard.
Another Exit Path for used batteries is to be taken to a recycling center. Great! But even as they await recycling, store used smoke detector batteries so their terminals cannot come into contact with metal.
It’s not just old batteries, of course, that can start fires. Keep all new batteries in their original packaging. When you take out one battery from a multi-battery package, keep the others in the package. And do not store batteries in that “junk drawer” that every household has. Loose batteries and anything metal that might be in that drawer (paper clips, hair pins, screws, bottle opener, scissors, you name it!), can make a combustible combination.
So when you change your clocks, replace smoke alarm batteries in your home and office. Then be careful not to start a fire with those batteries you have just removed.