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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.

For all detectors that use batteries, replace batteries at least once a year or when they are low. (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 convenient to maintain the detector and unlikely to be tampered with by children.

How can I prevent CO poisoning?

In addition to installing a CO detector, follow these guidelines to prevent a buildup of CO in your home.

  • Fuels like oil, kerosene, coal, and wood make CO when they are burned. Have fuel-burning appliances such as oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves installed by a professional. Make sure they vent to the outside. Have them inspected by a qualified service technician at the start of every heating season and repair any defects. Make sure that the flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition, and not blocked.
  • Maintain all appliances according to the manufacturers' instructions.
  • When you use a gas or kerosene heater, always have a window or door open to allow fresh air to get in. Don't sleep in any room or space with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
  • Never leave the car engine running in a garage, even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage. Fumes will also build up in the living area of your home if the garage is attached.
  • Never use a gas range or oven to heat your home, even for a short time. (Many deaths are caused by trying to heat the house during a power outage.)
  • Never use a charcoal grill indoors, not even in a fireplace.
  • Don't use any gas-powered engine, such as a mower, weed trimmer, snow blower, chain saw, small engine, or generator, in an enclosed space.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-06-28
Last reviewed: 2012-03-29
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.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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