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Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Alert your family to danger

The primary fire safety strategy for any home is to warn the occupants early and get everyone out as quickly as possible. The best way to get the earliest warning of danger is by installing enough smoke alarms. Homes should have a smoke alarm near the bedrooms, but not so close to the kitchen that you have problems with alarms from cooking. It's a good idea to have a smoke alarm in each bedroom, especially if you sleep with the door closed.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) usually comes from faulty heating appliances but may also come from fireplaces or cars running in attached garages. CO cannot be seen, tasted or smelled, so the only way to detect a CO problem is to have a CO alarm. CO alarms should be located near the bedrooms.

If your smoke or CO alarm sounds, get everyone outside.

What kinds are there?

There are two kinds of smoke alarms -- ionization and photoelectric. The ionization smoke detectors activate quicker for fast, flaming fires and the photoelectric type is quicker for slow, smoldering fires. Either one will provide you enough time to get out, but having a mix of the two types is a good idea. Models with both sensors are better than single sensor units, but of course they cost more.

Smoke alarms are powered either by household current (ac), a battery, or ac with a battery that keeps it operating during power outages. The battery type is easy to install in existing homes but the battery must be changed annually. The Connecticut General Statutes for new homes require ac powered alarms with battery backup. For greater safety, older ac only smoke alarms should be replaced with ac/battery alarm, and any smoke alarm older than 10 years should be replaced.

CO alarms are recommended when a home uses gas or oil, or has a fireplace. CO alarms are also powered by either household current (ac), a battery, or ac with a battery. Most CO comes from equipment that will not be working during a power outage so plug-in units are good. But if you might heat your home with a fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene heater when the power is out, you may want to use a battery-powered alarm. The sensor element in some CO alarms must be replaced regularly. Consider the cost of the replacement element in making your selection.

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Each year in America, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning claims approximately 165 lives and sends another 10,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.

Understanding the Risk

What is carbon monoxide (CO)?

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes; CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.

Where does carbon monoxide come from?

CO gas can come from several sources: gas-fired appliances, charcoal grills, wood-burning furnaces or fireplaces and motor vehicles.

Who is at risk?

Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning. Medical experts believe that unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens and people with heart or lung problems are at even greater risk for CO poisoning.

What Actions Do I Take If My Carbon Monoxide Alarm Goes Off?

What you need to do if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off depends on whether anyone is feeling ill or not.

If no one is feeling ill:

  • Silence the alarm.
  • Turn off all appliances and sources of combustion (i.e. furnace and fireplace).
  • Ventilate the house with fresh air by opening doors and windows.
  • Call a qualified professional to investigate the source of the possible CO buildup.
If illness is a factor:

  • Evacuate all occupants immediately.
  • Determine how many occupants are ill and determine their symptoms.
  • Call your local emergency number and when relaying information to the dispatcher, include the number of people feeling ill.
  • Do not re-enter the home without the approval of a fire department representative.
  • Call a qualified professional to repair the source of the CO.
Protecting Yourself and Your Family From CO Poisoning

  • Install at least one UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listed carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near the sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms. Carbon monoxide alarms measure levels of CO over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms. It is very possible that you may not be experiencing symptoms when you hear the alarm. This does not mean that CO is not present.
  • Have a qualified professional check all fuel burning appliances, furnaces, venting and chimney systems at least once a year.
  • Never use your range or oven to help heat your home and never use a charcoal grill or hibachi in your home or garage.
  • Never keep a car running in a garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.
  • When purchasing an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooking systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house. The presence of a carbon monoxide alarm in your home can save your life in the event of CO buildup.