Renter Questions: How Often Should You Replace Smoke Detectors?

Smoke detectors are one of the most essential safety features in any residence. Over the years, they've saved countless lives by offering early detection of an in-home fire. These detectors are so valuable that most local governments require them to be installed and active in homes, and especially in rented units.


Smoke detector batteries need to be changed routinely to ensure their operation, but what some may not realize is that, over time, the smoke detectors themselves also need to be replaced. Some renters may not think of this need, but it's always wise to check on detectors and have them replaced when the time is right. Knowing how to replace a smoke detector - or, rather, how to get one installed as quickly as possible - will help keep your home protected at all times. Here's a guide to helping you identify old smoke detectors while guaranteeing the installation of a new unit.

The lifespan of smoke detectors

Generally speaking, smoke detectors have a lifespan of about 10 years. Regardless of the type of detector or the type of battery used, these devices can get faulty over time. It's always wise to replace aging detectors even if they're still functioning just because the risk of an undetected fire isn't worth delaying the nominal cost of a smoke detector. Whenever you move into a new unit, find out how old the smoke detectors are and use that lifespan to decide whether or not you want to upgrade.

Testing the detector for yourself

Testing smoke detectors is an easy process. According to, all you need to do is light a match and then blow it out just below a smoke detector. The smoke will drift up toward the unit and should trigger the alarm. If no alarm does sound, you're most likely dealing with a faulty smoke detector. That means it's time to install a new one.

Getting a replacement

Most landlords are eager to replace smoke detector units that aren't working properly, because the penalties for a lack of compliance are often very high. Renters should not have to pay for this replacement out of their own pocket -- the cost is one that should be absorbed by the landlord, unless renters want to replace a detector that is still functioning correctly.

If you do have problems getting your landlord to install a new smoke detector, you have several options available to you. You can take a harder line with your landlord and remind him or her of the laws governing smoke detector installation. In some parts of the country, you are legally allowed to replace the smoke detector yourself and deduct that cost from your next month's rent. And according to the U.S. Fire Administration, you can even contact your local fire department to see if they have discounted or even free detectors available to the public.

Whatever the case, don't delay in replacing an old smoke detector, regardless of how it's done. No one ever believes a fire will strike their home, but that attitude can have dangerous and even deadly consequences. Always stay prepared and practice proper fire safety to avoid one of those worst-case scenarios.

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