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Is Covering a Smoke Detector Illegal? Facts & FAQ

smoke detector

Every state in America requires you to have a smoke detector in the home. However, smoking in the house and cooking can sometimes cause the alarm to go off. Smoke alarms that go off often can be a hassle, and many people wonder if it’s legal to cover them up. Unfortunately, the short answer is no. It is not legal to cover your smoke detectors but keep reading as we explain why not and what you can do to help prevent them from going off prematurely.

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Where Is a Smoke Detector Required?

Where is it required:

  • You need at least one smoke alarm protecting the living area and kitchen space, and it should be within 20 feet of a cooking appliance.
  • You need to smoke detector in every room designed for sleeping.
  • Having a smoke detector at the top of every stairway would be best.
  • If your home has a basement or attic, these areas also need a smoke detector.

How Does a Smoke Detector Work?

Smoke detectors use either a photoelectric sensor or ionization to detect the presence of smoke and fire in the home. Once it detects smoke, it sounds an alarm that you should be able to hear throughout the house, and many also have lighting that alerts you visually to a problem. Most units have a mechanism that enables you to test the battery and shut off the unit after you determine that there’s no fire. Most smoke detectors use battery power, but some can plug into the wall, and others, especially those in basements, connect directly to the house’s wiring.

a smoke detector in the ceiling
Image Credit: Zerbor, Shutterstock

Why Is Covering a Smoke Detector Illegal?

Covering your smoke detector will prevent it from operating correctly, impairing its ability to detect a fire and reducing the time that you have to escape or put it out. In many cases, a homeowners insurance payout will depend on properly working smoke detectors, so covering them will prevent you from getting a settlement. Covering the detector can even void your lease and get you thrown out of your home if you live in a rental apartment, as it puts the owner’s insurance policy at risk.

What Can I Do to Prevent My Smoke Detector From Going Off on Accident?

If your smoke detector is going off while you’re cooking, the best solution is to add more ventilation to your kitchen area. Exhaust fans directly above the stove work best, but ordinary box fans placed to push air through the room will also do a good job and may help prevent the alarm from coming on as frequently. If the alarms are going off because of tobacco use, it’s best to smoke outside or move farther away from the alarm. Sitting by a window with an exhaust fan can also help pull out the smoke before it sets off the device.

finger pressed the smoke detector test button
Image Credit: r.classen, Shutterstock

Can I Cover the Lights on My Smoke Detector?

Yes. There is no law stating what kind of detector you can use in most states, and any existing laws only address the smoke-detecting sensor that the device uses, not whether it has lights or a digital display. If you find the lights distracting or annoying, you can purchase a unit that doesn’t have them, or you can cover any existing lights with heavy electrical tape. Just make sure you don’t cover any holes that the sensor might need.

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While many people like to cover their smoke detector with a plastic bag while they smoke or cook, doing so is extremely dangerous because you might forget to remove it, and permanently covering it is illegal. So, it’s better to leave it be and to increase the ventilation in your kitchen to avoid setting it off. Smoking outside will also help you avoid setting off the smoke alarm and prevent other smoking-related problems, like discolored paint and cigarette burns.

Featured Image Credit: nikkytok, Shutterstock


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