Smoke detectors and other fire safety equipment are essential in every modern home, but ending up at the proper setup can be an issue for some.
Carbon monoxide sensors have recently become more popular, so one might wonder if they only need one type of sensor.
Well, this article aims to answer precisely that; it’ll take you through how a smoke detector works versus a carbon monoxide detector and how and where you should set up these sensors around your home.
You’ll also get to know why carbon monoxide sensors are as important as having smoke detectors in a home environment.
Ideally, you would need both smoke and carbon monoxide sensors because one cannot do the job of the other, and most sources of fire can also emit carbon monoxide gas.
This article will tell you where you should and should not place your smoke and CO and how many you need for your home.
What are Smoke Detectors?
A smoke detector is generally an electronic device mounted on ceilings of rooms and other areas inside buildings to sense smoke created as a result of a fire.
These detectors can be connected to a fire sprinkler system which automatically activates the sprinkler system in that area, but this is usually seen in non-residential areas where a comprehensive fire safety system is installed.
Residential models send out an audible or visible alarm from the detector once they detect smoke.
They can either be powered by batteries or run off mains power with a battery backup as a failsafe against power failures.
What are Carbon Monoxide Detectors?
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is harmful is breathed in, and you won’t even know if you did.
So knowing if CO is in the air you breathe, we need to use detectors specific to carbon monoxide.
These detectors are similar to smoke detectors but are usually installed on walls.
Carbon monoxide can be produced by almost anything that burns, so there should be a detector in every common area and inside your bedrooms.
They send an audible or visual alarm when they detect the gas, just like a smoke detector would.
Since a sprinkler system can’t get rid of carbon monoxide, they are independent of fire suppression systems in most cases.
Smoke Detector vs Carbon Monoxide Detector
Smoke detectors and CO detectors do almost the same job in essence, in that they detect fumes that can threaten the lives of people in an enclosed space.
But they are different enough in their own ways, so we’ll be seeing what those key differences are.
Most fatalities in house fires are caused by smoke inhalation and not the flames, especially when people are asleep.
If they are awake, they will see the presence of smoke and know that there is a fire.
On the other hand, CO has no odor or color, so it is impossible to know if you’re breathing it in until it’s too late.
Both require their own detection methods, like photoelectric or ionization for smoke detectors and biomimetic or metal oxide semiconductor-based detectors for carbon monoxide.
Smoke detectors are almost always installed on ceilings, where CO sensors can be mounted on walls and ceilings.
Different Kinds of Smoke Detectors
There are two different types of smoke detectors that are most common, and they differ in what method they use to detect smoke in the air.
One of the types is the photoelectric detector that senses the light scattering in the sensor’s chamber when the smoke enters it.
The second type, called ionization sensors, contains a small amount of radioactive material, usually Americium, between two electrodes.
When smoke enters the chamber, it blocks the current between the Americium electrodes, which tells the sensor that there is smoke.
How Many Smoke Detectors Do I Need?
There is a standard set by the National Fire Protection Association that says how many smoke detectors you’d need in your home.
They recommend at least one detector inside every bedroom and outside any area that people can use for sleeping.
So, you would need at least seven smoke detectors for a typical three-bedroom home.
You should change this number based on how many rooms your home has.
Ideal Smoke Detector Spots
Smoke tends to rise, so installing these detectors on the ceilings of your rooms is the best choice.
Make sure all detectors are at least four inches away from the walls, and if you can only mount them on the walls, make sure the ceiling is at least four inches away and at the most 12 inches away.
Avoid placing the detector close to a window which can cause the air coming inside blow away the smoke.
You don’t need a detector in your garage either because your car’s exhaust will activate it every time you start your car.
Particularly dusty areas or places where there are many particles from insulation can mess with the detector’s accuracy, so avoid those places.
Areas with large temperature fluctuations throughout the day should also be avoided since they can damage the detector.
Remember to avoid placing these detectors close to fluorescent lamps; they can create electrical noise that negatively affects the accuracy of the smoke detector.
Smoke Detector Maintenance and Changing Batteries
If your smoke detector requires batteries to run, you should replace them at least twice a year.
Some smoke detectors have lithium-ion batteries that won’t need replacing for long periods, so check with the model of your detector before deciding to charge its batteries.
You should also think about replacing all the smoke detectors around your home every ten years because of the general wear and tear that the internal electronics go through as the years go by.
To replace the batteries on your smoke detector:
- Twist open the smoke detector. Some have a plastic lock that you have to open with a tool. If your smoke detector is wired to your mains, turn off the mains power before starting work.
- Remove the old battery.
- Install the new one. Make sure it’s seated properly and doesn’t fall off.
- Reset the alarm.
Once you reset the alarm, you’re done, and the detector is good to go.
How to Rearm a Smoke Detector
Accidentally tripping your smoke alarm is something that almost everyone has done, but how do you stop the thing from ringing and reset the alarm?
Follow the steps below to rearm your smoke detector:
- Turn off the mains power to your home if your smoke detector is hardwired to your mains.
- Remove the alarm from its mount and disconnect the power cable if applicable.
- Remove the battery and press and hold the test button for at least 20 seconds, or until the detector starts beeping.
- Reinsert the battery and mount the detector back onto your ceiling when the alarm stops.
The detector will make a small sound to let you know that it has reset; once this sound plays, your detector has rearmed and is good to go.
Different Kinds of Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors also come in different types.
They work in one of three ways, the first method being biomimetic sensors.
They have a gel in them that changes color when it comes in contact with carbon monoxide, which the detector sees as positive and notifies it with an audible and sometimes visual alarm.
The second method is by using a metal oxide semiconductor, which detects the presence of CO and reduces the current through it.
This lets the detector know that there is CO in the air and sounds the alarm.
The third type is the electrochemical sensor with electrodes immersed in a chemical that changes composition when CO comes in contact.
This causes a change in the amount of current passing through the electrode, and the detector sounds the alarm when it happens.
How Many Carbon Monoxide Detectors Do I Need?
Ideally, you will need one carbon monoxide detector on every floor of your house, including the basement.
You should also have one for every bedroom or sleeping area.
This means that a typical American household of two stories with three bedrooms would need seven of these sensors.
One for each floor, one for each bedroom, and one for the living area.
You can also place one outside the door inside your home that leads to your garage.
Ideal Carbon Monoxide Detector Spots
The best spots for placing your carbon monoxide detectors should be at a different level from that of your smoke detectors.
This is because carbon monoxide is a heavier gas, and having sensors closer to the level of your beds is safer.
Avoid placing carbon monoxide detectors in bathrooms or next to heating appliances.
Do not place them near fireplaces or windows to blow the dangerous gas away.
If you want to place a detector near your furnace, make sure it’s at least fifteen feet away from the furnace.
Carbon Monoxide Detector Maintenance and Changing Batteries
Carbon monoxide detectors are generally low maintenance devices, but cleaning on occasion and replacing the batteries when needed can extend the sensor’s life.
Ensure not to let dust and dirt clog the sensor, and check on them at least once a month.
Use a vacuum cleaner for the lighter dust and a soft cloth for those stubborn spots.
Replace your batteries at least twice every year to ensure the detector works as intended.
Replacing the batteries follows a similar method to how you would do the same on a smoke detector, but check your device’s manual before doing so.
How to Rearm a Carbon Monoxide Detector
The first thing you should do to rearm your carbon monoxide detector is to move it away from the source of CO.
To reset your carbon monoxide detector:
- Find the reset button. It’s usually on the front of the unit; check your manual to make sure.
- Press and hold the button for at least 10 seconds.
- Let go of the button when you hear a beep.
Try the same steps again if you didn’t hear a beep the first time.
After the detector beeps, it has reset and is ready to warn you again of a dangerous leak of CO.
Early Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide is often known as the silent killer, so identifying the major symptoms of CO poisoning can assist in getting people the help they need.
One of the most common signs that someone is experiencing CO poisoning is headaches and dizziness.
This can be accompanied by general weakness, vomiting and chest pain.
Try to avoid breathing the fumes as much as you can, but since the gas is colorless and odorless, move away from the area as fast as your can.
If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, evacuate the home immediately and call 911.
Keeping Your Family Safe
The best bet to keeping your home and family safe from fire or fire-related accidents is to be proactive while dealing with potential causes of fires.
Be careful when working with electricity because it can cause fires and irreparable damage.
Always turn off the mains power to prevent you from getting shocked or accidentally starting a fire.
Ensure that coal-burning furnaces are correctly ventilated, and all the correct fire safety measures like a fire extinguisher and alarm are available in the vicinity.
Being proactive like this can not only protect your family and property from fires but from carbon monoxide poisoning as well.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Do carbon monoxide detectors also detect smoke?
Carbon dioxide detectors cannot detect smoke, fires, or other harmful gases.
They are not replacements for smoke detectors in any way.
Where should you put smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?
Smoke detectors are usually placed on the ceiling at least four inches away from the walls.
Carbon monoxide detectors are placed on walls and usually are closer to the ground.
Should carbon monoxide detectors be placed high or low?
A carbon monoxide detector should be placed at least 5 feet above the floor on one of the walls of the room.
Do you need a carbon monoxide detector if you don’t have gas?
Gas isn’t the only source of carbon monoxide and anything that burns can give off this toxic gas.
Cars in the garage can also release CO when kept running for a long time, so CO sensors are advised even if you don’t have gas.