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Smoke and CO Detectors: They Save Lives!


Smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation can be deadly. Over 300 deaths and 200 hospitalizations occur in Canada each year as the result of carbon monoxide poisoning, and one in every seven unintentional fire-related deaths in residential buildings is due to the absence of a working smoke alarm. Those numbers are scary, but they illustrate an important point: smoke alarms and CO detectors save lives.

Of course, simply having a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector in your home isn’t enough—both devices also need to be able to function properly. That means you have to know how to have them correctly installed, how to maintain them, and when to replace them if they stop working. Keep reading to find out what the experienced electricians at 4-Star Electric recommend.

How Do Smoke & CO Detectors Work?

Both smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are fairly simple devices. Still, knowing how they work is important, since it can alert you to problems with either device while there’s still time to take the necessary corrective actions.

How Smoke Alarms Work

There are different kinds of smoke detectors on the market. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most popular ones:

  • Ionization smoke detectors create a current between two charged plates that becomes disrupted by smoke, triggering an alarm. These detectors are better for detecting flaming fires than smouldering fires.
  • Photoelectric smoke detectors have a light sensor that triggers the alarm when smoke blocks it, and are most effective for detecting smouldering fires that produce heavy smoke before flames are produced.

Either of the types mentioned above can be battery powered or hardwired into your home’s electrical system. Hardwired detectors still have batteries to keep them working if a power outage occurs, making them more reliable—since battery powered detectors will stop working if the batteries die.

How Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work

Carbon monoxide detectors can be separate devices from smoke alarms or integrated into the same device. Here’s a quick breakdown of how they work:

  • A microchip is connected to a CO sensor in the device’s detection chamber.
  • When the sensor detects high levels of CO in the atmosphere, it sends an electronic signal to the microchip.
  • When the microchip receives a signal from the sensor, it triggers an alarm.

Just like smoke alarms, CO detectors can be battery powered or hardwired—and just like with smoke alarms, hardwired options are the most reliable since they contain battery backups.

How To Use & Maintain Your Smoke Alarm And CO Detector

Smoke and CO detectors are most reliable when you take steps to use and maintain them properly. Here’s some ways to maintain your smoke alarm and co detectors:

  • Hardwired systems have expiration dates, so make sure to check and record these whenever you have a new device installed.
  • Test your device every month by pressing the button until you hear the alarm. You should also “crisis test” smoke detectors by holding a lit candle or stick of incense about a foot below the detector—this will ensure the sensor is working as well as the batteries.
  • Change the batteries in your detectors at least twice a year, even if they’re hardwired. This will help ensure they have power even in the event of an outage.
  • Carefully clean your detectors once every two years by carefully wiping down its surface with a dry, soft cloth. It’s okay to use a damp cloth to remove heavy dust or dirt, but avoid making contact with the device’s sensor.

When Should You Replace Your Smoke Or CO Detector?

Maintaining your smoke or CO detector will help it stay reliable for longer, but neither device will last forever. Replace your smoke detectors at least once every 10 years, and your carbon monoxide detector every 7–10 years if it’s a separate device.

What To Do If Your Smoke Or CO Detector Isn’t Working

If you notice any problems with either your smoke or carbon monoxide detector, contact our team at 4-Star Electric right away. We’ll be able to find the root of the problem and present you with the most cost-effective solution. This could involve repairing the device or replacing it with a new one.

Do I Need a Professional to Install My Smoke or CO Detectors?

Having your smoke or CO detector professionally installed is vital, especially for hardwired systems. Our experienced electricians will ensure that your devices are properly connected to your home’s electrical system and located in areas where they can function effectively.

We’ll consider your home’s layout, airflow, and other factors to ensure proper placement, and make sure all your detectors are interconnected (which is required by most building codes). For best results, every level of your home should have at least one smoke and CO detector, and they should be located close to sleeping areas so you’ll be alerted to a potential incident as quickly as possible if one occurs while you’re sleeping.

The more you know about smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, the more you can do to make sure your detectors are working properly to keep you and your family safe. To learn more about different types of devices or the best way to have them installed in your home, contact 4-Star Electric. Our team of experienced electricians is standing by and ready to help.

Frequently Asked Questions About Smoke & CO Detectors

How often should smoke and CO2 detectors be tested?

Test smoke and CO2 detectors at least once a month by pressing the test button on the unit. Ensure that everyone in your home recognizes the sound of the alarm and knows how to respond.

When should I replace the batteries in my detectors?

Replace batteries in smoke and CO2 detectors at least once a year or whenever the unit’s low battery signal chirps. Some models come with 10-year batteries, in which case, the entire detector unit should be replaced when the battery expires.

Can smoke and CO2 detectors be interconnected?

Yes, many modern smoke and CO2 detectors can be interconnected through hardwiring, so when one alarm sounds, they all do. This feature ensures that everyone in the home is alerted, regardless of where they are.

What should I do if my smoke or CO2 detector goes off?

If your smoke detector goes off, treat it as a real fire and evacuate immediately, then call emergency services. If your CO2 detector alarms, ensure everyone in the home gets to fresh air quickly and seek emergency assistance, as carbon monoxide poisoning can rapidly become fatal.

Are there smart smoke and CO2 detectors?

Yes, smart detectors can send alerts to your phone, test themselves automatically, and tell you which room the danger is in. They offer additional features like voice alerts and the ability to silence false alarms via smartphone.

Written by Denny Vannus

Denny is a seasoned professional with an impressive 25-year career at 4 Star Electric, a family-owned electrical company with a strong commitment to serving the community. Armed with both a master's and journeyman's license, he is not only an expert in his field but also a proud PEC (Professional Electrical Contractor). Denny's journey in the electrical industry began with a desire to make a substantial impact in his community and provide top-notch services to clients. He's not just about fixing circuits; he's about lighting up lives. Beyond his professional dedication, Denny is a devoted family man. Celebrating 20 years of marriage, he and his wife have an 11-year-old son who keeps them on their toes. When he's not immersed in the world of electrical systems, Denny enjoys kicking back and coaching his son’s soccer games. His unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction and his vision of 4 Star Electric as an extended family for both clients and staff exemplify his passion for creating a harmonious, electrifying world.
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