Chances are you have heard of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms, also known as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. But do you have both in your home? Some homeowners own a smoke alarm, but not a carbon monoxide detector, despite the fact that here in the state of Minnesota, carbon monoxide detectors have been required in all existing homes since August 1, 2009. Regulations may vary around the country, though some people also own both a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide detector, yet do not use them properly. Keep reading for everything you need to know about smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and the difference between these two potentially life-saving devices, courtesy of our electrical safety experts at Service Today!
The Differences Between Smoke Alarms & Carbon Monoxide Detectors
- Purpose: Some people assume that they do not need a smoke alarm because they will automatically smell the smoke if a fire starts. However, if you are sleeping when a fire starts, you could end up dying of smoke inhalation before you even felt the heat or saw the flames. Carbon monoxide, or CO, meanwhile, that can be produced by multiple appliances in your house, including your oven, space heater, water heater and more. CO is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, so is essential to install carbon monoxide detectors because you will not know you are even experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning until effects such as nausea, dizziness, confusion, and potential loss of consciousness have set in.
- Operation: Smoke alarms detect smoke either through photoelectric detection, which uses a light sensor that triggers an alarm if smoke particles break a beam of light, or ionization detectors, which pass a small electrical current from one diode to another and go off when that electrical current is interrupted. Traditional smoke alarms didn’t actually detect heat, although some newer models do. CO detectors, on the other hand, use a biomimetic sensor gel that changes color and sets off an alarm when carbon monoxide is detected, or a metal oxide semiconductor, which reduces the amount of current flowing through the detector when gas is detected, thus triggering the alarm. Some carbon monoxide detectors may also use an electrochemical sensor, wherein electrodes are submerged in a solution that changes color when CO is detected. Modern smoke and CO detectors can either be hardwired into your electrical system, plugged into outlets, or run off of batteries. If you use a battery-operated device, you should hold down the test button once a month to see if the alarm is working. Batteries should be changed once a year, or once every five years in the case of lithium-ion batteries. Your CO and smoke alarms should have backup batteries if they are directly wired into your home, and for maximum safety during power outages, you may want to wire them together.
- Location: Ideally, you should have a smoke alarm in or outside each bedroom. Larger houses will obviously need more smoke alarms, since the farther you are away from a smoke alarm when it goes off, the harder it will be to hear it. You should also try to install a smoke alarm on every floor of your house, from the basement to the attic. Carbon monoxide alarms should also be installed near sleeping areas, so they wake up right away if a CO leak occurs while you are asleep. That said, you may want to consider putting in a carbon monoxide alarm near wherever you have a gas appliance too, so any CO is detected shortly after it starts to leak into your home. This could mean installing one in the basement by your furnace, in the kitchen next to your gas stove, in the living room above the fireplace, or even in your garage, in case your car or another gas-producing appliance is left on for some reason.