Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

How do smoke and carbon monoxide detectors help?

Fires are very dangerous. Most fatal home fires happen at night, while you sleep. If you are asleep or get disoriented from gases caused by a fire, you may not even realize that there is a fire. A smoke detector can sound an alarm and alert you to a fire in the home in time to escape.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is released into the air by burning fuels such as natural gas, gasoline, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal. If a gas appliance is not working right or is not used correctly, a dangerous level of CO may build up in the air. The level of CO may also get too high if you burn fuel in an area that is not well ventilated. If something goes wrong and carbon monoxide leaks into your home, it can be deadly. The alarm of a carbon monoxide detector will go off in time for you to get out before you start feeling sick.

Smoke and CO detectors give your family extra time to escape unharmed from a fire or CO poisoning. The time and money spent on researching, purchasing, installing, and maintaining your detectors could save lives.

Be sure to buy detectors that have the label of a testing laboratory, for example, Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL). Check with your local fire department to make sure the alarm meets fire codes.

What is the power source for these detectors?

Some detectors run on batteries. Other detectors are wired directly into the electrical system of a home.

  • The advantages of battery alarms are that they are not affected by a fire that cuts off the electricity to the house and they can be placed anywhere. A disadvantage is that the batteries need to be checked monthly and changed at least every year.
  • If you have a detector wired into your home’s electrical system, you don’t have to change batteries and there is no annoying beep when the battery is low. However, fires or power outages that affect electricity mean the alarm can stop working. Also, these detectors can be installed only where wiring is available.

Check for low battery reminders in battery-powered models. Look for a battery backup feature in electric detectors.

Do I have to do anything to maintain my detectors?

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing and maintaining the detectors.

Test smoke detectors once a month by holding a candle 6 inches away and blowing smoke toward the detector. The alarm should sound in 20 seconds. Children can help test and get familiar with the sound the alarm makes. Some alarms have test buttons, but to be sure the detector works, use the smoke-testing method.

To test a CO detector, use the test button. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions to see how often the detector needs to be tested, but, as a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to test your alarm once a month.

For all detectors that use batteries, replace batteries every 6 months. (Many people use the daylight and standard time changes in the spring or fall as their reminder to change the batteries.) Clean the units according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Never paint the detectors.

Where should I place the detectors?

Install a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector on each floor in your home and in each bedroom. Local building and safety codes may require you to have more alarms. For extra protection, you can also put them other rooms and the attic, garage, and hallways.

Since smoke rises, mount smoke detectors high on the wall, close to the ceiling, or on the ceiling itself. Don’t put a smoke detector in the path of air conditioning or heater vents, or too close to windows or doors.

Place CO detectors at a height where it’s easy to maintain the detector but unlikely to be tampered with by children.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-04-04
Last reviewed: 2014-03-17
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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