Smoking Hot

So in college, there was a massive fire in our administration building.   It was plain and simple scary. 

(photo source)

Ever since that time, I was very very aware that fires happen.  Fires happen when you aren’t looking.  They are like cellulite.  All of a sudden you see it happen outta nowhere and scream and cry.  Except with fires, you wish you had only lost your self-confidence in a bathing suit because fires can take much much much more. 

Thankfully in college everyone was safe and the only loss was historical and monetary.  Noone was hurt.  But that’s not always been the case.  My older brother was a volunteer fire fighter in his small town and he told us about the dangers of fire and smoke in a very realistic way.  Basically he scared the poo outta us.  I mean, if my huge and strong and uber-masculine brother could be brought to the point of tears over a home fire, why the heck would I ever ignore that kinda threat!?  Ignoring or shrugging it off would be like strapping on Lady GaGa’s meat suit and camping in the African plains.  It’s dangerous.

That’s why I got really excited when the folks at Universal Security Instruments (USI) emailed me to ask if I would be willing to write a few fire-safety related articles for them.  I checked out their products and felt like anyone who worked hard to improve fire and smoke technology was my kinda people. 

I also asked them if they would be willing to send me some of their products.  You know me and free stuff.  I have no shame.   

They sent me as many as I needed for this new house.  I’ve never felt so safe.  And grateful.  Because with two little ones in this house, you can never be too safe. 

Since I have already blogged about putting up battery operated fire alarms in the past, this time I decided to share how easy it is to replace the hard wired fire alarms.  Here’s our current hard wired fire alarm…

Jer began by shutting off the power at the breaker.   Then he removed the alarm by twisting it off.  A handheld voltage tester (this is something every DIYer should have in their arsenal!) is the easiest way to make sure it was safe to touch while still keeping your hair. 

Inside your hardwired fire alarm, it’s really simple.  There are three wires from the connector that are capped to the three wires from the wall.

Using a screwdriver, you just remove the old mounting bracket and then reattach the new one.  Then you remove the caps and the old connector. 

The new connector is basically just a little plastic bit that has three wires coming out of it (it’s the thing down there with pinhole looking things).  Connect the wires according to the directions.

Then you attach the quick connector (that little plastic bit with the bunch of pin holes in it) to the smoke alarm.  Jer just pushed and twisted the new cover in place.  There are usually pull tabs on new fire alarms that enable it to be activated.  Pull those suckers off.

Then you just check the batteries (with a flashlight or your iphone light because dang the sun goes down so early now) and turn the power back on.  Our instructions told us to hold the button down and the fire & smoke alarm is now activated. 

The awesome part about a hard wired alarm is that when one alarm goes off….they all go off.  So that means when you are in bed asleep (if you are like me, you are a bear in the hibernation of it’s life) you actually have a chance to get awake and out of the house before you have smoke creeping up your covers.  

We also took a lot of time deciding how many fire alarms would actually be suitable for our home.  We put them in recommended areas on each floor. 

The best tip we can give ya about placement of fire alarms is to go in each room and think about where a fire could start and if you would be warned in time to get out. 

That’s how we decided to put one in the hallway between the Jill room and the Play nook.  We knew that if a fire started in that play nook room, we wouldn’t know about it until the smoke consumed all of the Jill’s room (err…Will’s room) and possibly the Jack room.  That could be two sleeping children asphixiated with smoke before we even heard an alarm.  SCARY. 

We also decided to put an alarm in the little sitting room off our master because of the recommendation of USI.  We have a fire place and a big tv in there…two biggies. 

Please do this.  I am really pleading with you here.  This is really important.  And it only takes a few minutes to check your fire alarm batteries and to see if you have enough to keep you and your family and your pets safe.  I know I joke alot…so does my brother…but if you could see his face when he talked about crawling into a black abyss of a room to pull out a perfectly healthy twenty year old male who had collapsed on the floor and the fear of not being able to get him out in time…you would understand how fast a fire could take everything from you. 

As far as how I feel about these new alarms….really really good.  After I read about ionization alarms and photoelectric alarms, it’s clear to me how fast flaming fires and slow smoldering fires are different and how the smoke is detected differently.  I want to be warned of both, right?!  Well that is what the USI alarms do…case closed. 

disclaimer – I was compensated to review USI fire alarms…but in no way, shape or form was I asked to give a positive review or told what to write.  And just to be completely honest, I would have done this post anyway…it’s fire prevention month afterall :)  



  1. Allie says

    I’ve never had to replace hardwired smoke detectors, so thank you for this! In my area, Minneapolis, it’s required by code to have a smoke detector in each bedroom so this surprised me that you don’t? Or are those just the placements of the hardwired ones?

    • says

      According to code here, we just need one outside of main sleeping areas and one on each floor. I think it’s a great idea to have one in or just outside the door of each bedroom (we do now!).
      xo – kb

      • Janie says

        I’m glad you’ve added more now. Maybe you could mark them in your pics?

        We had a fire once, and and my opinion on code for it is that if there is a place somewhere that requires them in each room in single family buildings, that must be for a reason, so I’ll follow that rule, too. It’s not like insulation which could easily be climate dependent.

        I’m really pleased to see these detectors, though. When we bought our house a few years ago I couldn’t find detectors that were both ionised and smoke detecting, plus would all go off if one did (when we had our fire it took a long time to hear the alarm through a closed door on another floor). I had to get the set that would all go off, then also get a few of the other kind as backup.

    • Melissa says

      In MA, we’re required to have hardwired smoke detectors in each bedroom in addition to the common areas (not sure what the reqs are…thank goodness for my wonderful husband who reads up on (and complies with) all of that). We’re also required to have carbon monoxide detectors in the house (I believe that law went into effect about 10 years ago or so).

  2. BornInaZoo says

    Code here in my Michigan city requires that every bedroom has a smoke detector and any room that has a gas appliance has a CO/smoke detector … all wired in series (so if one goes off they all do). While I understand the safety reasons (my brother is also a volunteer firefighter), it is most annoying because when when one of the backup batteries goes dead in one they all start beeping. It as not as annoying for me (1 bedroom & kitchen on the main floor with the water heater, furnace and dryer located in the same room in the basement) as it is for my sister (4 bedrooms, furnace & water heater in the basement, kitchen on the main floor, dryer on the upper floor).

  3. says

    We have a rental property attached to our home, so the local fire safety code mandates that we need to have smoke detectors in almost every room in our house. I kind of like the security of it….until I accidentally burn something on the stove and then it’s a nightmare! Seriously though, fire safety is so important and I think you’ve motivated me to re-hang one of the alarms that recently fell off the wall!

  4. Bethany Hicks says

    I was surprised when you posted this photo of the Ad Building and thought I recognized it as the college where I graduated from: Bryan College, Dayton, TN. Are you a Bryan Lion, too? I graduated in 91. I have followed your blog for about a year now and am thrilled to think that we might share this connection.

  5. says

    Our fire detector ran out of batteries today (and we replaced them). Totally agree – they are sooo important. Our house is only 1600 square feet and we have three. I’m glad you are spreading the word about their importance!

  6. Summer says

    Everyone should also check their local building code for fire alarm placement information. For example, our village requires an alarm in every bedroom, but our house was built before that requirement. We added battery alarms shortly after moving in. It’s good to stay current!

  7. Mandy says

    I actually just had an alarm system installed and they were able to install smoke detectors that hooked into our alarm system. Now, even if a fire starts when we aren’t home the fire dep’t will be called and hopefully the fire can be put out quickly before our house is gone. Home safety is definitely something most people don’t think about until it is too late!

  8. Bec says

    It’s actually compulsory here in NSW Australia (possibly country wide) for all homes to have fire alarms (not sure how they actually police it though!)

  9. Erica says

    Thank you for this post Katie! We just got hardwired smoke detectors installed in our house and I feel much safer when I go to sleep at night. Don’t forget about carbon monoxide detectors too.

  10. Jennifer says

    Hi Katie! Long time lurker…first time commenter. I completely agree with everything you’ve written tonight, and just thought I’d throw in my thoughts as well. As a residential architect – I spec a smoke detector in every bedroom as well as one outside each sleeping area near the bedrooms (like in the hallway outside of the jack and jill rooms). Make sure you have a smoke detector on every level and if you have any gas appliances in your house (cooktop, furnace, hot water heater, etc.) please put a carbon monoxide detector on each level of your house as well. It’s the silent killer and your family is too cute not to protect! The smoke detectors per bedroom don’t need to be hardwired – but you should have one per level that is. This is all per code now, which thankfully is pretty stringent in this very important area! :)

  11. Hannah C. says

    I think it’s great that you’re brining awareness to fact that people neglect to check their fire alarms on a regular basis. :) I was showing my husband (certified firefighter) your house layout, and he was a little concerned by the main floor. Mainly the fact that it looks like there isn’t a smoke detector in your kitchen or near the fire place in the living room. The closer a detector is to the primary sources of fire, the earlier the detection. I don’t mean to criticize, so I hope it doesn’t come off that way.

    • says

      There is one near the fireplace on the main floor…it’s in that room between the fireplace and the kitchen. Per the USI instructions, it said use only photoelectric sensors in areas of normal combustion (kitchen, furnaces, hot water heater)…and so we decided one on either side of the kitchen doors would be best. There is also one on the second floor…right above the fireplace living room….that room has a huge ceiling so it’s like there is one on both levels in that room if that makes any sense. I definitely think our home probably could use a live-inspection from a local firefighter!
      xo – kb

  12. Michelle says

    Dear Kaite,

    I love your hilarious writing but thank you immensely for being serious about this one… my husband and I lost everything in a house fire (in a 4plex caused by our downstairs neighbor) a couple of years ago. I was 7 months pregnant and home alone. We are still recovering, financially and emotionally. I was just grateful my baby was still in my belly and I only had my cat to get out and I didn’t have to leave him behind in order to get my baby out. From the time I became aware that there was a fire until my entire home was completely wall to wall smoke was about 1 minute. Scary stuff.

  13. Cayce says

    Thank you for your post Katie. As someone who lived through a house fire this was very touching and personal to me. My childhood home burned to the ground when i was 16, there were 5 of us inside sleeping at the time. We all jumped from the house and none of us were injured. Thank God. Our smoke detectors never went off. We will never know why they didn’t go off, but most likely it was because they were dead. We later found out that smoke detectors have a short life span, 7-10 yrs. So please everyone check them regularly and replace them without a moments hesitation. It is a good idea to check them on daylight savings times, that way you are doing it twice a year.
    We all lived that night because our family dog woke us up! Only because of her did we all live. My mother threw her out the window before herself, so she too was safe.
    Thanks again Katie for this important post.

  14. April says

    Two of our best friends, a newlywed couple, had their house burn to the ground this summer..right here in small town Georgia. They were at the lake when a firefighter called to tell them that nothing was left. The five-year-old a/c unit just worked a little too hard in the 100F heat and sparked, starting what became a massive, engulfing fire that would leave nothing but ash.

    I understand now that fire isn’t something that “happens to other people.” Everything that these people valued is gone – photos, computers, wedding stuff…everything. So while clearly it’s most important to protect you and and your family, also consider storing photos online and keeping documents and priceless materials in a fire-proof safe.

    They are still working through the insurance process four months later. What a disaster!

    Thanks for reminding us about fire safety, Katie. It could very well save a life.

  15. Barbara says

    I am just wondering if the smoke alarms are hard wired and an electrical fire breaks out, say in the electrical panel usually located in the basement, all the electrical supply to the house will be shut off and the alarms would be disabled. Maybe a couple of the alarms should remain battery operated. I’m no expert what does your brother think Katie? My husband & two boys almost lost our lives to carbon monoxide poisoning back in the 80’s(cracked heat exchanger on the furnace) we were lucky, so please tell all your readers carbon monoxide detectors are crucial, this stuff can kill you while you sleep.


    • says

      Oh did you see how we checked the batteries in the hardwired ones? That is a back up power source just in case. We would still have fire alarms – they just wouldn’t be interconnected anymore.
      And yes, I hope everyone checked out the old post about installing battery operated alarms because there is an entire section about carbon monoxide detectors. Thanks for the reminder Barbara!
      xo – kb

  16. Sky says


    You went to Bryan in Dayton? Crazy! I lived there during Middle School! So funny – no one has ever heard of Dayton :)

  17. Laura says

    As soon as I saw that first picture, I gasped! A fellow alum! I graduated from Bryan in ’07. What a small world!

  18. Maddy says

    In my state in Australia, wired smoke detectors are mandatory in all new homes and in rentals (as are RCD’s – safety circuit breakers) . However there must still be a lot of homes that dont have them as there are still tragedies. Our regulations also say that we have to get a licenced electrician for even the most simple installations, such as what Jer did. So it would cost a lot more for the installation than the appliance itself and a lot of people (mistakenly) have other spending priorities….
    Also they advertise April 1 as the day to replace the battery in batteried alarms “dont be a fool”… or something like that. What irks me though is that although it is recommended on the packaging, to return an obsolete detector to the store you purchased them for disposal as they have radioactive components, the chain stores know nothing about that (i suspect putting them in the regular rubbish…)

    • says

      That is crazy! It’s so different here! In our old house we had one…ONE!…on each floor…that was it…and since the basement wasn’t finished…it wasn’t required…so it’s weird to hear how things are all around the world!
      xo – kb

  19. Annie R. says

    Ours are hardwired in too, which was NOT fun when my baby boy was about 7 months old and ALL of them started going off in the middle of the night because the one in the basement had malfunctioned- did I mention it was December in Wisconsin?! BRRRRR Anyways, after determining there was no need for alarm (ha- punny!) we had to figure out how to get those things quiet- but there was NO where in the house for me to go that would be quietish for my baby- they were so loud! So, I guess I know they’ll wake us up at least?

    Looking forward to hearing about your new baby! :)

  20. says

    I, too, am surprised that you don’t have at least a battery operated smoke detector inside of each bedroom. Even if it isn’t required by local fire codes, it’s a good idea to have them.

    Maybe you could edit the post to talk more about why you did/didn’t put more sensors on the main floor of the house too? I see that you started to explain in the comments but I think some people may get confused about why you don’t have alarms in your kitchen or in the room with the fireplace. At first glance it seems like there aren’t enough, considering the size of your home. We have almost the same number of detectors as you do, except we live in a 1300 sqft, one story home. But we just have battery operated smoke/CO2 detectors. So maybe that’s why? I just think for something as important as fire safety, you can’t explain too much!

    Thanks for bringing this issue to light for so many people that may not have thought about it otherwise.

  21. Debbie says

    These floor plans reminded me that we have not seen a video of your house since you bought it. I forget what the upstairs looks like. Can you do an update?

  22. Kim in Iowa says

    A very good reminder about the dangers of home fires! I just saw a story on the Today show comparing the differences of ionization and photoelectric sensors and was so amazed at how long it took for the ionization-only detectors to even go off – the room was engulfed in smoke long before they started beeping. But with the photoelectric sensor it went off very early on – and this was with just a smoldering cigarette in couch cushions. While we have detectors inside every bedroom, along with hard-wired alarms on each floor, I’m making sure ours are a combo of ionization and photoelectric. So scary to think about what can happen!

  23. says

    Most building codes require one smoke detector per bedroom, one per hallway on each floor, at least one per floor – even if there are no bedrooms – and one in the basement and one in the attic. All hardwired, interconnected and with battery backup. I would consider moving detectors into each bedroom, even if they are not required. The biggest concern would be a fire starting in a bedroom at night – if there is no detector inside the bedroom then by the time it triggered an alarm in the hallway it might be too late for the resident in the bedroom.

    Seriousness aside, it is a royal pain when one starts beeping in the middle of the night and you have to track around the house to all 8+ detectors and figure out which one is about to go. Small price to pay for the peace of mind though.

  24. Faye says

    That first picture is why I engineer fire protection systems for a living. I fully believe that each and every building and home should be equipped with the fire protection system to save people first and foremost, protect the fire fighters risking their lives and lastly to protect the building, surrounding buildings and items inside. Fires can be very unpredictable and I highly recommend anyone looking to build a new home to seriously think about this.

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