Smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are often overlooked, but very important aspects of safety in the home. Statistics show that properly installed and maintained alarms can help save lives by providing an early warning for a safe exit. Used in combination, they are two of the best tools to protect your home and your family.
Safety is the law
Most fires and carbon monoxide poisonings occur at night or early in the morning, when people are asleep. This is one reason why most provinces have laws that require that all homes, including public housing, have a working smoke alarm on each level and outside all sleeping areas.
Types of smoke detectors
There are two main types of smoke detectors:
- Ionization smoke detectors respond best to fast-spreading, flaming fires that burn combustible materials rapidly, such as paper or grease. This is the most common type of fire, accounting for 70% of cases.
- Photoelectric smoke detectors respond to slower-burning fires that may smoulder for hours before bursting into flame, including cigarettes burning into furniture.
For the fastest response time to any type of fire, consider using both types of detectors in your home, or one that incorporates both technologies.
How CO detectors work
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and toxic gas that interferes with the body’s ability to transport oxygen by blood. It can leak from anything that burns fossil fuels, including furnaces and exhaust vents for gas appliances, wood burning fireplaces, and exhaust fumes from idling cars. Exposure to low levels of CO can cause flu-like symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headaches, confusion, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Children, the elderly and people with heart or respiratory conditions may be particularly sensitive to carbon monoxide.
Because you can't see, taste or smell it, CO can affect you and your family before you even know it's there. Carbon monoxide detectors can warn you when CO reaches a dangerous level, which most commonly happens during cold winter months when furnaces run and windows remained closed.
Installing and using smoke and CO detectors
- Whichever type of smoke and CO detector you choose, make sure the label indicates it’s approved by Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC).
- Ensure detectors are installed, cleaned and tested according to the manufacturer's instructions. Replace CO detectors every five to seven years, and smoke detectors every 10 years.
- Install detectors on each level of your home, including the basement. The best places are in living rooms, where most fires start, and in or near bedrooms to wake you at night. Make sure the units are not covered up by furniture or draperies, or plugged into outlets controlled by a wall switch.
- Change the batteries as often as recommended by the manufacturer, or when you hear the warning chirp. Never borrow batteries from your smoke detectors for another device.
- If you experience nuisance alarms caused by steam from the shower or heat from your kitchen, do not remove the battery. Try moving the alarm to a different location, or purchase an alarm with a hush feature that temporarily silences the alarm.
Make sure your family knows what the alarms sound like, and what to do when they hear them. Develop and practice an escape plan, and arrange a meeting point a safe distance from your home. Your local fire department is an excellent source of information. Talk to them about fire prevention and carbon monoxide safety for your home.