Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms | Everything You Need to Know



The two most important electronic devices in your home ironically happen to be among the simplest: smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Both devices are extremely useful, offering you and your family around the clock protection from invisible threats. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms tie for our #1 recommended safety device for homeowners.


Smoke alarms can help identify small fires before they turn catastrophic. They can alert you and your family in a time of crisis, saving your loved ones’ lives. Carbon monoxide alarms help protect against invisible poisoning effects of the gas. The main reason that carbon monoxide is so dangerous is that it is undetectable to the human senses. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless poison. It can can leak into your home from hidden sources such as cracks in your furnace heat exchanger or more commonly from motor vehicles.





Smoke Alarms: An Overview


There are two main types of smoke alarms: photoelectric and ionized.


Photoelectric alarms use beams of light to detect smoke presence. The "eye" of the smoke detector utilizes this beam of light to “see” smoke. When the beam of light comes in contact with smoke particles, electronic signals are sent to the alarm portion of the detector. The alarm then sounds, alerting any people within the home or building.




Ionization alarms use minuscule amounts of radioactive material to ionize the air that is contained within their detection chamber. When smoke enters the detection chamber, the ionized electronic charge becomes interrupted. This creates a drop in voltage and then signals the alarm to activate.

Each of these detectors has their pros and cons. Photoelectric are best at detecting smoldering fires that produce a vast amount of smoke. On the other hand, ionization alarms have the benefit of detecting small fires that create less smoke. Most modern alarms actually combine both technologies into one.


We highly recommend that you choose detectors that combine the technologies.


It is important for us to note that code regulations can vary by state, city, or municipality. Learn more about Pennsylvania smoke alarm code by visiting the official site.




Smoke Alarm Fast Facts:



  • From 2005-2009, nearly two-thirds of home fire deaths occurred in homes that either did not have smoke alarms or that contained malfunctioning smoke alarms. 38% of home fire death cases had no smoke alarms while 24% percent had smoke alarms that never went off.


  • A U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) survey found that households that had experienced fires and contained a system of interconnected smoke alarms were more likely to operate and alert the occupants. Interconnected smoke detector on all floors increase safety quite considerably.



Source: Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires by Marty Ahrens, NFPA, Quincy, MA, September 2011



Carbon Monoxide Alarms: An Overview


There are three types of carbon monoxide alarms: biomimetic, metal oxide semiconductor, and electrochemical.


Biomimetic alarms contain a small chamber that possesses a gel. This gel mimics carbon monoxide effects on blood in the human body. When the gel comes into contact with carbon monoxide particles, the gel turns color. This color change is detected by an electronic sensor and then triggers the alarm.




Metal oxide semiconductors contain a small silica chip that interacts with the atmosphere. When the chip senses carbon monoxide, the current flowing through the chip drops. In a similar way that ionization smoke alarm work, this drop in voltage signals the alarm.


Electrochemical alarms are the most sensitive of all carbon monoxide alarms. They feature sensors that consist of electrodes submerged in a chemical bath. These are most commonly used in industrial situations where the threat of carbon monoxide can be a hazard.


Depending on where you live, carbon monoxide alarms have a wide variety in their code regulations. Often times, they are required to be attached to garages, fireplaces, or any appliances that utilize natural gas. To learn more about carbon monoxide alarms, please visit the official PA General Assembly site.




Carbon Monoxide & Detector Fast Facts:


  • An individual can experience carbon monoxide poisoning in two primary ways: being exposed to a small amount of carbon monoxide over a long period of time or being exposed to a large amount of carbon monoxide over a short duration.


  • Knowing carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms can save you or a loved one's life. Some symptoms can include shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness or headaches. Extremely high levels of carbon monoxide in the human body can lead to confusion, incapacitation, and result in loss of consciousness.



  • Carbon monoxide incidents are more common during the colder months of the year.



  • Just like smoke alarms, interconnected carbon monoxide alarms offer the best protection. When one alarms sounds, all of them do, giving you protection throughout your entire home.




Final Words




Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms represent just a few of the ways in which human life has become far safer within the last 100 years. It is important to keep in mind that a malfunctioning detector is just as ineffective as having none at all. These devices are often overlooked or forgotten about, leading to expiration. Be proactive in keeping your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms up to date.


Licensed electricians are capable of installing hard-wired, interconnected smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. The possibility also exists to have aa smoke and carbon monoxide combination detector, all in one.



Curious about having either of these systems installed in your home? Schedule a free estimate with us today!



© 2019 by Intralux Electric, LLC. Created by Social Aura Marketing.

PA Licence #: 144304

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