Fire Prevention: How to Troubleshoot Smoke Detectors in Commercial Buildings?

The basic function of a smoke detection system is to detect smoke or a fire, and to send an alarm to building occupants and fire dispatchers. Whether it’s a smoke detector, a carbon monoxide detector, or a heat detector, knowing different ways to troubleshoot these issues can be beneficial in lowering operation costs.

Fire Prevention

How do I test and inspect a smoke detector?

Owner’s Manual

You should always follow the owner’s manual provided with any detection device. In general, a functional test of a smoke detector should be done around the same time that you maintenance your elevators or windows. This is all determined in your initial inspection, testing, and maintenance program, as required by the NFPA 72--fire code.

A functional test can simply be done by using a can of compressed air to spray in and around the all of the smoke detectors. It is also a good idea to run a calibration test to check the sensitivity of the device. Generally, sensitivity can be checked from the fire alarm panel.


Did you know that... Commercial buildings must have a fully functional smoke detector located in each room and hallway of the structure. In addition, they must also have a tag, indicating when they were last tested and inspected.

How does a fire alarm control panel work?

Fire Alarm

The fire alarm control panel is the center of the fire alarm system, and has a master box that controls all of the device’s signals. This system monitors the detection devices and then sends a signal to the alarm notification zone, to report to an emergency responder quickly.

A smoke or fire detector will detect a fire emergency, and then communicate it to the fire alarm control panel. Once the device is triggered, the control panel will alarm the building’s occupants and send a notification to the control center.

From the alarm control system, a notification signal will alarm in the form of bells, horns, chimes, or flashing lights. The monitoring system will also shut down the HVAC systems to prevent the spread of smoke.

Fire Control Panel

Who is responsible for checking the smoke detectors?


All testing and maintenance of central fire alarm stations should be performed under the contractual arrangements specified in your region’s building codes. According to the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, or NFPA-72:, testing, or maintenance shall be permitted to be done by the building or system owner or a person or organization other than the building or system owner if conducted under a written contract. 

How often should I test and inspect my smoke detectors?

Generally, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be inspected semi-annually. Make sure heat detectors have not been painted over during renovations or new constructions, and check all smoke detectors for blockage and contamination.

Other devices such as heat detectors, or radiant energy fire detectors need to be tested more frequently. It is important to keep track of every fire, smoke, or heat detector in your building to ensure that the maintenance team is notified when it is time for your monthly, semi-annual, or annual check-ups.

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Recommended Reading

Knowing how much voltage your fire alarm panel can handle can help keep your alarms working and help prevent a safety hazard. Find out more about the difference between a conventional panel and an addressable panel, how to find the current draw of a particular device, and more.

Your smoke detector chirping could indicate a fire or smoke, but it could also indicate a low battery or dirt, dust, and debris inside causing a malfunction. Find out ways to troubleshoot your smoke detector and when to determine it's time for a new one.

The AC hardwired USI-1204 works great in both residential and commercial applications. This alarm comes with a protective cover and a backup battery in the case of a power outage.

Shakir Williams
Shakir Williams

A true creative with a penchant for the spiritual and natural order. She loves the Earth, almost as much as she loves writing about it.

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