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Smoke Detectors: The 411 on the Device Protecting Your Home

9/8/2023 (Permalink)

Smoke Detectors: The 411 on the Device Protecting Your Home

As you may know, California law requires that smoke detectors, also known as smoke alarms, are to be installed in every dwelling intended for human occupancy. This is a safety precaution that has saved countless lives and will continue to save the lives of countless others. But, do you know what a smoke detector does? How it works? Or if they expire? These are common questions you may find yourself asking, and we are here to help keep you informed on the devices that are saving lives every day!

What is a smoke detector?

According to Wikipedia, a smoke detector is “A device that senses smoke, typically as an indicator of fire. Household smoke detectors generally issue an audible or visual alarm from the detector itself.” Smoke detectors can be battery operated or wired directly into your home.   

How Do Smoke Detectors Work?

Smoke detectors are designed to sense the presence of smoke and alert you to the potential danger of a fire. Smoke detectors use a small sensitive sensor called an Ionization chamber. When smoke particles enter the chamber, they disrupt the flow of ions which trigger the alarm. Thus, causing the detector to give an audible or visual warning, such as consecutive beeping or consecutive flashing lights. However, these devices can malfunction, some detectors can be triggered by a variety of factors. A few examples of non-emergency triggers are dust, insects, steam, or sudden change of temperature.

What Can Falsely Set Off a Smoke Detector?

There are several things that can cause your smoke detector to go off by accident. A sudden change of temperature can disrupt the ionization process and trigger an alarm. This is common in homes with central heating and air conditioning where the temperature fluctuates suddenly.

Malfunctioning sensors or other components can also cause a false alarm. The age of the smoke detector plays a huge factor in its efficiency. Smoke detectors have a lifespan of 10 years and will need to be replaced by that time. The older your smoke detector is the more prone to false alarms they may be.

A smoke detector sensitivity can also be a contributing factor to an overly zealous alarm. Some models are designed to be extremely sensitive to smoke, which can be lifesaving in an emergency, but can also lead to frequent false alarms. Thankfully, sensitivity settings can be changed on most smoke detectors. However, if the problem persists you may consider replacing them with a less sensitive model.

Why is my Smoke Detector Chirping?  

There is no need to worry when you hear a single chirp from your smoke detector sounding off in your home. That is just your smoke detector alerting you that it’s time for a battery replacement. The smoke detector will emit a single high-pitched chirp every minute or so signaling that the batteries are running low. The solution is quite simple you will just need to bring the device down from the wall and change out the batteries.

Are there different types of Smoke Detectors?

The National Fire Protection Association, otherwise known as the NFPA, indicates there are six primary types of smoke detectors:

Ionization Detectors- This type of smoke detector is typically more responsive to flaming fires. This detector uses an electrical current created by ionized air molecules, that is triggered by smoke. The smoke will reduce the amount of electrical current in the alarm and cause it to sound. These are typically the least expensive option.

Photoelectric- This type of smoke detector uses a photosensitive cell. When smoke enters the chamber, light scatters and is picked up by the photosensitive cell causing the alarm to sound.  This kind of sensor is most responsive to smoldering fires.

Combination Ionization and Photoelectric- This type of alarm is equipped with dual sensors. It is equally effective in detecting actual flames as it is in detecting smoldering fires. These alarms have both ionization sensors as well as photoelectric sensors that will cause the alarm to sound. This sensor provides the best protection and is highly recommended.

Intelligent Multicriteria Alarms- This type of smoke detector uses multicriteria to detect fires, they are known as intelligent alarms.  This alarm uses ionization, photoelectric, and heat along with an algorithm to detect fire. The multiple sensors used make this alarm highly effective, allowing for a significantly lower number of false alarms. However, this does not mean that this alarm detects fires sooner.

Voice Smoke Alarms- This type of alarm produces two different audio signals to alert occupants of a fire. One signal is the temporal 3 pattern, known to many as the three loud consecutive beeps. The second signal is a voice announcement that can identify the location of the fire or if the alarm is experiencing issues or malfunctioning.  

Combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm- This type of alarm is multifunctioning, it is equipped with multiple sensors, that can alert to the detection of both smoke and carbon monoxide. This alarm’s appearance is like a smoke detector and should be mounted on the ceiling or a wall near the ceiling in your home. If fuel burning equipment such as oil or gas water heaters, oil or gas furnaces, or oil or gas broilers are present in your home you should have a carbon monoxide detector.     

How Many Smoke Detectors Do I Need? 

The National Fire Protection Association requires that smoke detectors be installed outside of all sleeping areas, in every bedroom, and on every level in the home. For additional coverage it is recommended smoke detectors be placed in the basement where the temperature normally remains between 40° F and 100° F, in any storage areas, as well as finished attics.

These are just a few frequently asked questions pertaining to the smoke detectors protecting homes nationwide. These are essential tools used to protect not only your home, but your loved ones who reside within. It is of great importance to keep yourself informed on the safety precautions in place to keep you safe.

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