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Security Basics

Everything you need to know about a smoke and carbon monoxide detector

Posted August 12, 2019 by Cove

One day you receive that phone call no one ever wants to get. It's one of your neighbors and he's struggling to find the words. He tells you that your spouse and children have passed away. It turns out there was a carbon monoxide leak that killed your family while they were sleeping. Fortunately, there is a way to prevent those you love from dying due to carbon monoxide poisoning. That way is by installing a carbon monoxide alarm. But what else can you do to protect your family? Another way to protect your family is by buying a smoke alarm.

Fortunately these days there are all types of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detection devices. You can even buy one that detects both in just one device. Regardless of whether it's two different devices or just one unit you'll want the protection that comes with a smoke and carbon monoxide detector

Why do I need a Carbon Monoxide or smoke alarm?

We'll start off with the importance of having a Carbon monoxide alarm. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) when carbon monoxide levels in your home, apartment, or office reach a concentration of 1,500-2,000 ppm spending an hour or more in that environment can be lethal. Fortunately, carbon monoxide detectors are required to be designed so that they alarm you of the danger of 100 ppm of Carbon Monoxide within 90 minutes, of a concentration of 200 ppm within 35 minutes and within 15 minutes alert you if the alarm is exposed to 400 ppm. This way you'll have plenty of time to react before the levels of carbon monoxide get too high.

Even if you think it may be a false alarm, when the carbon monoxide sensor's alarm starts beeping, you're going to want to vacate the premises immediately. At high levels of CO it only takes a few minutes before you begin to feel the negative effects of the toxic gas. Symptoms include headaches, a loss of coordination, mental confusion, vomiting, chest pain, unconsciousness, and ultimately death. Also according to the CDC, individuals can die while they're sleeping before waking and noticing the effects of carbon monoxide. The early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to flu like symptoms which can make it difficult to recognize if you are experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning or just coming down with the flu. Having a carbon monoxide detector can let you know whether you just need to call in sick from work and rest in bed or if you need to book it out of your apartment to get to fresh air and call 911.

Now you may think, "I don't need smoke alarms. If there is a fire or smoke I'll be able to notice it." But consider this, if you have a large house or you're outside, or even asleep, by the time you notice the smoke or flames it may be too late to save your home. But if you had installed battery operated smoke alarms you might have been able to save your home. If you purchase from Cove and you’re not home, they will even alert the local fire department for you.

To sum up, having a smoke co alarm in every room will alert you if there is a fire or toxic fumes that could hurt or kill you or your loved ones or damage your property.

Where does CO come from?

Co can come from any fuel burning appliances such as water heaters or fire places that aren’t properly ventilating the carbon monoxide byproducts of these modern conveniences. Carbon monoxide can also leak into your house from attached garages where a car has been running.

How does a smoke carbon monoxide alarm work?

Since the carbon monoxide and smoke sensor alarm alert you of two different dangers they work in different ways. First we'll start by discussing how a smoke sensor functions.

There are several types of smoke alarms. The first are photoelectric smoke alarms. These alarms work using a photoelectric sensor that sends out a beam of infrared light that when blocked by smoke causes the alarm to sound. A photoelectric detector senses a smoldering fire more quickly than an ionization alarm but ionization alarms have some unique capabilities that you won't find with photoelectric alarms.

Ionization smoke detectors are another type of smoke detector. These alarms work by using a minute amount of radioactive material inside of a chamber. The radioactive material is used to ionize the air in the chamber which enables electric currents to flow between two electrodes. If smoke enters the chamber, it compromises its conductive ability within the chamber which sets the alarm off. This type of alarm is better for detecting fast-flame fires but have a significant chance of failing to activate.

Both of these types of smoke alarms have their strengths and weaknesses and you can find battery options for both of them but overall photoelectric detectors (like the ones that Cove provide) perform better than their ionization detector brothers.

There are several types of carbon monoxide detectors as well. First are Biomimetic sensor CO alarms that alert you when the gel inside of it changes color because of contact with carbon monoxide.

Next, are CO alarms that are triggered by a metal oxide semiconductor. The silica chip within will decrease the electrical resistance in the presence of sufficiently high amounts of CO therefore triggering the alarm.

Lastly, there are electrochemical sensor CO alarms like the ones Cove provides. These alarms have electrodes bathed in a solution. When it comes in contact with carbon monoxide it will cause changes in the electrical currents and sound the alert.

A combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm will have some combination of these types of sensors to detect both carbon monoxide and smoke.

Where do I put my smoke and carbon monoxide detector?

Your carbon monoxide detector placement can have a great impact on if they work or not. As far as how high or low to place the detection unit It doesn’t matter since carbon monoxide is barely lighter than air so it diffuses around the room and most carbon monoxide detectors are sensitive enough to alert you regardless of what height they are at. Since heat and smoke both rise we recommend placing your smoke detectors or combination carbon monoxide and smoke detectors high up on the wall. The instructions that come with your particular smoke and carbon monoxide sensor should give you a recommendation for where to place your particular device.

It is best to make sure you have one of these detectors in each room especially ones where people will be sleeping. A good place to install them is next to the bedroom door because it will detect carbon monoxide or smoke entering the room or escaping the room. For additional instructions on where not to put your alarms see the troubleshooting section below.

Troubleshooting a False Alarm

Although when smoke co detectors go off from the little bit of smoke that came from burning your dinner it can be a nuisance, alarms are necessary to keep you safe when there really is a danger to health or property. In order to prevent false alarms from happening, make sure your sensor is not in one of these places:

  • Less than five feet away from any cooking appliance.
  • Next to a window or door that might be affected by drafts.
  • In or below a cupboard.
  • Outside the home.
  • Where air flow would be obstructed by curtains, partitions, or furniture.
  • Where dirt or dust could collect and block the detector, prohibiting its safety features and alarm sensor benefits.
  • Where it could be knocked, damaged, or inadvertently removed.

If you find your carbon monoxide detector beeping and you can't tell if it's just a low battery or an actual alert you'll want to leave the building you're in as soon as possible even if you're not currently feeling the symptoms. You don’t want to risk carbon monoxide poisoning. For a normal carbon monoxide detector it should chirp once in a while if the battery is low (much like smoke detectors) but if it is a real carbon monoxide alert then it should beep several times in rapid succession every few seconds. Most detectors come with a test button that you can press to see how the alarm will sound when it’s trying to alert you of a problem as well as to see if it’s working. Make sure you know what alert different sounds correlate to so that you don’t mistake an alert of danger for just an alert to change the battery of the unit.

Cove is currently working on creating our own smoke and carbon monoxide detector combo for you but in the meantime we can provide you with both a smoke alarm (which is also one of our combination detectors that also works as both a heat and freeze alarm) and a carbon monoxide alarm, both of which are battery powered by a lithium battery for longer lasting protection.

In addition to having a smoke detection sensor and carbon monoxide alarms to protect those people and things that you love we recommend investing in a home security system. Cove's home security system is affordable and it even includes easy to install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Our interconnected smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms are monitored 24/7 so that if there is a fire or gas buildup then we'll alert the local fire department for you. They're even battery run so that your home will be safe during a power outage. The main panel itself even has a backup battery. Just remember to regularly replace the batteries and you’ll be protected for years to come.

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