While most homes on the market today come equipped with fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, most homeowners usually forget to test these crucial safety systems to make sure they work.
According to the NFPA, nearly three out of five deaths from home fires come from homes with non-existent or defective fire alarm systems. Additionally, in 2015, the CDC reported that 393 people in the United States died from carbon monoxide poisoning, with thousands sent to emergency rooms across the country.
What’s shocking about these statistics is that proper maintenance and understanding of these alarm systems could have prevented some of these tragedies. The death rate in home fires is cut by more than half in homes equipped with functional smoke detectors.
The numbers are similar in carbon monoxide-related studies. In a study done in New York City, the NCBI reported a stunning 50% drop in carbon monoxide poisoning cases after New York City enacted a carbon monoxide law requiring CO alarms in dwellings.
The NFPA states that there are two common types of smoke detectors systems, Ionization and Photoelectric.
The first type is Ionization-type smoke detectors. These smoke detectors work by having two plates that each produce either negative or positive ions. These ions then traverse between the two plates, and this creates a complete circuit. When smoke enters the detector, the path between the two plates become blocked, which is what causes the alarm to trigger.
Photoelectric smoke detectors work differently. Instead of using an electric circuit to trigger the alarm, it uses a continuous laser emitted from a LED to detect smoke. When smoke enters the detector, the laser, which usually travels in a straight line, becomes disoriented and scatters around the gadget. When this fractured laser hits one of the many light sensors inside of the system, the alarm then triggers.
Each type of smoke detector has its advantages. Ionization-type detectors are better at detecting flaming fires, which are fires that produce a lot of flames and less smoke. Examples of flaming fires are cooking accidents, fires from candles, flammable liquids and burning wood or paper.
Photoelectric-type detectors are better at detecting smoldering flames, which are flames that build up over time. These usually come from unattended flammable materials that slowly burn up, such as charcoal and cigarettes.
You will want to put the right type of smoke detector accordingly. In places such as the kitchen, you should probably opt for ionization-type alarms. Areas near the woods, or places where you cook grilled food, might better benefit from photoelectric-type alarms.
Additionally, some alarms come with both types of detection. While they may cost more, you can be sure that those alarms can protect you and your home from both flaming and smoldering fires.
Testing your smoke detector should become a part of your housekeeping routine and according to FEMA, should be done at least once a month. While the specific way to test your detector depends on the manufacturer of your smoke detector, most detectors have an easily accessible test button on the face of the device. Once you press this button, wait a few seconds, and then a loud and piercing sound should emit from the device.
If you do not hear the device or if the sound is not loud enough, consider replacing the battery and test the device again. If the alarm doesn’t sound off even after you’ve replaced the battery, the device itself is probably faulty. Replace the detector as soon as possible.
Additionally, here are some guidelines you should follow while testing your smoke detectors:
Like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors come in a variety of mechanisms that detect carbon monoxide levels in the air. System Sensor, a manufacturer of fire protection equipment, lists out the three main types of mechanisms for monitoring carbon monoxide levels.
Biomimetic sensors, as its name implies, mimics the effect of carbon monoxide on hemoglobin. There is a laser in the device that becomes blocked when carbon monoxide levels increase, which then triggers the alarm.
These detectors are usually cheap, although they are more prone to false alarms and take longer to recover once they set off their alarm.
Metal Oxide Semiconductor sensors, or MOS, work by heating a semiconductor in intervals. Once it reaches its operating temperature, its resistance changes when carbon monoxide is present. The alarm triggers once the resistance threshold is broken.
These alarms have a long life span. However, they also draw more electricity than other variants and are prone to false alarms in the presence of other chemicals or gases.
Within electromechanical sensors, platinum electrode and an acid combine to create a reaction between the air and carbon monoxide, generating an electric current. When these currents pass a certain threshold, the alarm goes off.
These sensors are highly reliable and react fast to carbon monoxide. They also draw less electricity than other variants. Their only downside is that they may make a false alarm when in the presence of ammonia-based cleaners.
In most cases, the electromechanical sensor is sufficient. However, if you need a carbon monoxide detector in other places such as a workshop, you may want to consider getting a MOS or biomimetic-based detector.
Like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors ought to be tested regularly. The testing procedure is quite similar:
Additionally, here are some guidelines you should follow while testing your carbon monoxide detectors:
When looking for which smoke or carbon monoxide detector to purchase, there’s no singular device on the market that will cover all needs. Each household or building has a different layout and rooms with different purposes, which will require different types or numbers of detectors. It is best to consult with your local fire department and read up on local ordinances to determine what safety standards your state requires.
Keep an eye out on the standards that each device has passed. Manufacturers will state on the packaging or the manual of the device which standards these detectors have passed.
These devices are usually tested by Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTL), which are approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to test these products. Major NRTLs include the CSA, FM, INTERTEK, TUV, and UL.
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