How to Test a Fire Alarm System

Fire alarms are essential safety devices that, when activated, will alert you of danger and quite possibly save your life. Testing your system regularly ensures that the detectors and alarms are working properly and will operate as intended during dangerous situations.

EditIn a Hurry?

To see if a smoke detector has enough power, press and hold the test button located on the front or back of the device. You can test the particle detector by spraying a can of Smoke Test aerosol near the alarm. To check if the smoke detector works, ignite 2 or 3 matches below the device and blow them out immediately, letting the smoke rise to the detector. If the alarm does not activate after any of these tests, your device may not be operating correctly. For tips on testing a commercial fire alarm system, read on!


EditTesting a Smoke Detector

  1. Locate your smoke detector. In most houses, you’ll find smoke detectors on the ceiling or high up on the wall. Most models look like small, white discs with a single LED light on the top or side. If they were properly installed, you should not find any detectors near doors, windows, or air ducts.[1]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 1.jpg
  2. Check the power by pressing the test button. For some alarms, this may be as simple pressing and holding a button on the hood of the device. For others, you may need to unscrew the device from the wall or ceiling and press a button on the back of the device. If the alarm goes off, the device has enough power. If it does not, you may need to change the device’s batteries or, for hardwired detectors, replace the wires connecting it to the wall.[2]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 2.jpg
    • Before finishing your test, walk away from the alarm to see how loud it is. If you cannot hear the alarm in the next room over, it may not be loud enough to keep you safe.
    • For modern devices, testing the power will also test the particle and smoke sensors, making further tests unnecessary.
  3. Spray aerosol to check the particle sensor. Go to a home improvement or hardware store and purchase a can of spray aerosol labeled as ‘Smoke Test’ or something similar. Following the instructions listed on the can, spray the aerosol close enough to the smoke detector that it can pick up the particles. If the alarm does not go off, your detector’s particle sensor may be out of commission.[3]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 3.jpg
    • When the test is finished, use a handheld vacuum to suck remaining aerosol particles out of the air near the detector. Then, if it is still dirty, clean the device with a soft cloth or brush.
  4. Light matches to check the smoke sensor. Hold 2 or 3 matches in your hand and, while you’re below the smoke detector, strike them. Blow them out immediately and let the smoke rise to the detector. The smoke should trigger the device’s smoke detector and set off the alarm. If it does not activate, your detector is not operating correctly.[4]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 4.jpg
    • Be careful when handling matches to avoid burning your hands.
    • After the test, suck up the smoke with a handheld vacuum. If the detector is dirty, clean it with a brush or soft cloth.
  5. Reset your alarm after each test. Once each inspection is complete, you can turn off the alarm by holding down the Test button for around 15 seconds. This will reset the device and allow you to proceed with the other tests.[5]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 5.jpg
  6. Remove and replace the alarm’s power supply if it won’t turn off. For battery-powered detectors, simply remove and reinsert the battery pack. For hardwired detectors, disconnect the detector from the wall and remove any backup batteries. Then, reinsert the batteries and reconnect the device. If the alarm sounds off immediately after reconnecting the power, your device may be malfunctioning.[6]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 6.jpg
    • If you’re trying to reset multiple hardwired alarms, try simplifying the process by flipping the circuit breakers connected to each alarm.

EditTesting a Commercial Fire Alarm System

  1. Notify your fire department if necessary. Many commercial fire alarm systems are directly connected to your local fire department, meaning that as soon as the alarm goes off, it sends out an emergency distress signal. If your system is like this, call your fire department’s non-emergency hotline and tell them when your test will take place.[7]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 7.jpg
    • For some alarm systems, you can set your control panel to a Test mode, meaning it will not call the fire department. Check your alarm’s instruction manual for information on how to do this.
  2. Activate your fire alarms. For some fire alarm systems, you may be able to activate the alarms directly from the control panel. To do so, press a button labeled ‘test’ or follow the instructions detailed in your user manual. For other systems, you may need to activate the alarms manually, typically by opening an alarm lever box with a master key and pressing the button located there.[8]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 8.jpg
  3. Examine all your alarms. While the test is active, walk around the building and check each alarm. In addition to the alarm simply turning on, make sure the sounds coming out of the device are loud and any strobe lights located on the device are active.[9]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 9.jpg
  4. Record your results. While checking your fire alarm system, keep a list of every individual activating device and how it reacted to the test. If one or more alarms are faulty, this information will help a technician locate the problem quickly. This is particularly important for large institutions with dozens of different alarms.[10]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 10.jpg
    • Some modern alarms can connect directly to your phone, creating reports automatically. However, you should still check the alarms in person to make sure the reports are accurate.
  5. Reset your alarm system. To reset your fire alarm system, go to your central control panel. For most commercial systems, you can reset the alarms by selecting activated zones and pressing a button labeled ‘reset’ or ‘silence.’ For older or more complex systems, consult your user manual for shut-off information.[11]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 11.jpg
  6. Inspect your detectors regularly to adhere to NFPA 72 regulations. In addition to performing alarm system checks, it’s important to have your smoke detectors, heat detectors, sound systems, strobes, and sprinklers checked and tested by a NFPA or NICET certified Fire Alarm inspector. You should have sprinkler systems examined twice a year and all other devices inspected annually.[12]
    Test a Fire Alarm System Step 12.jpg

EditSources and Citations

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