Smoke Detector Testing


At Affiliated Fire Systems, we often get asked about a smoke detector’s lifespan .  Specifically, when should a building manager replace smoke detectors?  There is no hard and fast lifespan for a commercial smoke detector.  To be clear, commercial smoke detectors are connected to a fire alarm panel, not the battery operated devices you can buy from a hardware store.  From experience, the rule of thumb is every 10 years, but that’s a general statement that may not apply to your situation.  The actual determining factor is a smoke detector’s sensitivity to smoke.  In other words, will a smoke detector activate when the right amount of smoke is present in its sensing chamber?  If a smoke detector passes a sensitivity test, it is fully operational, regardless of its age.

Per NFPA 72 Chapter 14, Table 14.3.1(9)(g), a non-residential smoke detector’s sensitivity is required by code to be checked every six months.  This should not be confused with a smoke detector functionality test.  A functionality test checks the ability for smoke to enter a smoke detector’s sensing chamber and the detector’s ability to activate.  Since any amount of smoke can be used for a functionality test, it’s really more of a test to see if a smoke detector will eventually activate.  Too many times this passes as a sensitivity test as well.  A sensitivity test checks a smoke detector’s ability to activate with the amount of smoke the manufacturer intended.  This can be done through modern system diagnostics, a manufacturer’s calibrated sensitivity test instrument or a calibrated test method. The calibrated test method usually employs a smoke detector sensitivity tester, an apparatus that can check a detector’s functionality and sensitivity at the same time.  Some approving authorities do not accept panel diagnostics as an acceptable method of testing, so be sure to check which method of testing will be used before signing any testing agreement.

A detector’s sensitivity test is an important part of a facilities life safety report that is reviewed by its approving authority(s).  If you have additional questions regarding sensitivity testing, feel free to contact us.

Affiliated Fire Systems has the equipment, expertise and support you need to install a problem free fire alarm and/or emergency voice system. If you have any questions regarding your life safety needs, contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page on our website, or email me directly at

About Gene Rowe

Gene Rowe serves as the Director of Business Development for Affiliated Customer Service. He brings twenty three years of fire alarm and emergency voice systems experience to the table with both an operational and marketing viewpoint. A US Army veteran, NICET certified, an executive board member of the IL-AFAA and a member of the NFPA, he began his career establishing operational expertise as a technician, developed graphic skills with CAD design as a general engineer, gained a ‘big picture’ mindset by moving to project management and finally a marketing perspective directing business development efforts. By interfacing with a broad range of diverse organizations such as the AFAA, CAA, AIA, CEA and the IFIA, he combines concerns of the owner, designer of record, contractor, distributor and approving authority to bring a unique perspective to Affiliated.

An avid marathon runner, he resides in west suburban Chicago with his wife and two sons. He's served the community as a Cub Scout Leader, as well as coaching multiple levels of travel and park district basketball and baseball teams. Professionally, he serves as the Treasurer and is on the Board of Directors for the Illinois chapter of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (IL-AFAA).


  1. I had never really thought about testing my home’s smoke detector, and now after reading I know that it’s important I do. I’ll make sure to test it so I can find out that it works, and so I can see how much smoke it takes to make it go off. That way I can know if a small fire will set it off, or if only a large fire will set it off.

  2. Great!!!
    Really very helpful information. Proper smoke detector testing will defiantly helps to saves life.
    Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

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