Smoke Alarms

smoke alarm
Smoke alarms save lives - 65% of home fire deaths happen in homes with no smoke alarms that work or no smoke alarms at all. When there is a fire, smoke spreads fast and you need smoke alarms to give you time to get out. Smoke alarms are the single most important item to help you survive a fire.
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Smoke alarms are vital to have in your home.

Smoke alarms that are properly installed and maintained play a vital role in reducing fire deaths and injuries. Having a working smoke alarm cuts the chances of dying in a reported fire in half. 

While fire doesn’t have to happen, when it does, early warning is imperative for escape. The smoke alarm laws in Oregon have become more complicated in recent years. Here are the facts to help sort it out and make your life safer.

Smoke Alarm Facts

In January of 1998, Oregon law changed for smoke alarms. Where we once asked citizens to change their smoke alarm batteries each time they changed their clock, the advent of the 10 year lithium battery has changed all that.

ANY smoke alarm that has reached the age of 10 years has lost much of its reliability and should be replaced. The replacement must be an Oregon legal smoke alarm in one of three configurations:

  • Ionization Type that contains a long life lithium battery and a hush feature
  • Photoelectric Type that contains a conventional 9-volt battery (no hush feature required)
  • Either Type of smoke alarm can be hard-wired into the electrical system so no battery is needed (a conventional back-up battery alone may be included and Ionization still need the hush feature)
  • A combination Ionization/Photoelectric smoke alarm may also be available, combining the best qualities of each alarm.

Never change the battery in a new technology smoke alarm. The battery will be good but the alarm unit itself simply does not work reliably for longer than the 10 year life span (dust build up in the sensing chamber, reductions in effectiveness of radioactive elements in ionization types, and failure of electronic components). Smoke Alarms using lithium batteries are not under warranty when the battery is replaced.

Ionization smoke alarms also have a hush feature. This is a button that silences the alarm when nuisance smoke or shower steam accidentally set it off. By pushing the button, it will silence the device for up to 15 minutes before it resets itself. Taking the battery out to silence the alarm is no longer needed!

None of these features reduce the need to test every smoke alarm every month. There is no guaranteed lifespan for a lithium battery so you may only know it is dead when the test does not sound the alarm. Also, new alarms have the date recorded on the back so their age can be tracked.

Owners of Rental Dwelling Units and Condominiums

In accordance with ORS 479.270 - The owner of any rental dwelling unit or the owner's authorized agent shall be responsible for supplying, installing, and maintaining the required smoke alarm or smoke detectors. 

The Oregon Structural Specialty Code (OSSC) regulates condominium dwelling units the same as apartments.  All references to apartment buildings in this guide include condominiums.  The authorized agent will document at least one of those tests on an annual basis. Written documentation of the testing shall be maintained and presented when requested by the Fire Marshal's Office.  The form below can be used as a record of the required smoke alarm testing.

ORS 479.270 The owner of any rental dwelling unit or the owner’s authorized agent shall be responsible for supplying, installing, and maintaining the required smoke alarms or smoke detectors and shall provide a written notice containing instructions for testing of the devices. The notice shall be given to the tenant at the time the tenant first takes possession of the premises.

ORS 90.325 Tenant duties (1)(f): Test at least once every six months and replace batteries as needed in any smoke alarm, smoke detector or carbon monoxide alarm provided by the landlord and notify the landlord in writing of any operating deficiencies.

Safety Tips

  • Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement. Interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
  • Carbon monoxide alarms are not a substitute for smoke alarms.
  • An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires, and a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, both types of alarms or a combination alarm (photoelectric and ionization) should be installed in homes.
  • Test alarms at least monthly by pushing the test button.
  • Place smoke alarms on ceilings. Smoke rises: the higher up the alarm is, the sooner it will warn you of smoke. Avoid the space within 12 inches of a wall (if on the ceiling). If wall mounted, the top must be at least 4 inches below the ceiling and the bottom not more than 12 inches below the ceiling.
  • Replace batteries in all smoke alarms at least once a year. If an alarm “chirps”, warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.
  • Replace all smoke alarms, including alarms that use 10-year batteries and hard-wired alarms, when they are 10 year old or sooner if they do not respond properly.
  • Be sure the smoke alarm has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Alarms that are hard-wired (and include battery backup) must be installed by a qualified electrician.
  • If cooking fumes or steam sets off nuisance alarms, replace the alarm with an alarm that has a "hush" button. A "hush" button will reduce the alarm’s sensitivity for a short period of time.
  • An ionization alarm with a hush button or a photoelectric alarm should be used if the alarm is within 20 feet of a cooking appliance.
  • Smoke alarms that include a recordable voice announcement in addition to the usual alarm sound, may be helpful in waking children through the use of a familiar voice.
  • Smoke alarms are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing . These devices use strobe lights. Vibration devices can be added to these alarms
  • Smoke alarms are an important part of a home fire escape plan.
  • If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm near the ceiling's highest point.
  • Don't install smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.
  • Never paint smoke alarms. Paint, stickers, or other decorations could keep the alarms from working.
For additional Smoke Alarm information or to inquire about Portland Fire & Rescue’s Free Smoke Alarm Program, call our Smoke Alarm Hotline number at (503) 823-3752.


Smoke Alarm Hotline

phone number503-823-3752Leave a message 24/7; we will return your call within 3 business days.

Portland Fire & Rescue - Public Education Office