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Smoke Detector and Carbon Monoxide Alarm Buying Guide

Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms help you prepare for the threats of fire and carbon monoxide. Use this guide to learn about the different types available.

Hardwired Smoke Detector and Carbon Monoxide Alarm.

Fire and Carbon Monoxide Threats

Smoke and flames from a fire are easy to see, but a fire that begins in a vacant part of the house or starts in the middle of the night can spread undetected. Once a fire starts, it can grow quickly.

Carbon monoxide (CO) poses an invisible threat. It's a colorless, odorless gas produced by any fuel-burning appliance or fixture — such as a furnace, water heater or fireplace. Carbon monoxide can build up in the home from malfunctions or improper venting in these devices. It can also accumulate if the home is sealed for energy efficiency, reducing the exchange of inside and outside air. An attached garage in which a vehicle is running can also allow carbon monoxide to enter the home. The gas is dangerous because it replaces the oxygen in the air and, when inhaled, creates a toxic compound in your body. For more on carbon monoxide, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Carbon Monoxide Poisoning information.

Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms are two tools that can help you protect your home and family from these threats, even when they occur in remote areas of the home or at night when everyone is asleep. You can purchase the devices separately or as combination units.

Caution

Keep vents — such as those for the dryer and furnace — and fireplace chimneys clear. Have any appliance that burns fuel inspected yearly.

Power Options

Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Display Screen.

Both smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms are available in hardwired models that connect to your home wiring or battery-operated models. Carbon monoxide alarms are also available as models that plug into home electrical outlets. Look for battery backup capability in devices that run off of a home electrical system, to keep the unit functioning during a power outage. Some smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms feature built-in power cells that are designed to last the life of the device.

Device Lifespan

The lifespans of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide alarms and combination units differ based on factors such as device type, model and where they're installed. See the manual for specific information on when to replace a unit. In general, replace a smoke detector after no more than 10 years and a carbon monoxide alarm after no more than 5 years. Combination unit lifespan typically ranges between 5 and 7 years. If a device indicates an end-of-life condition, replace it immediately.

Caution

Don't confuse the device lifespan with battery life. If a battery-powered unit doesn't have a built-in power cell, replace the batteries at least once every six months. Write the installation date on the batteries with a permanent marker. Replace them at once if the device signals a low-battery condition. Use only battery types specified by the manufacturer.

Features and Specifications

Micro-Design Battery-Powered Smoke Detector.
  • Photoelectric and ionization sensors are two sensor types for smoke detectors. Photoelectric smoke detectors are typically more sensitive to particles generated by fires that smolder, such as those ignited by a cigarette in a bed or upholstery. Ionization smoke detectors tend to be more sensitive to particles generated by flaming fires, such as burning paper or grease. You can find smoke detectors that use one or the other type of sensor and some that use both. Smoke detectors that also function as carbon monoxide alarms will only have one type of smoke sensor. For protection against both types of fires, install ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors or detectors that use both types of sensor.
  • Voice notification on carbon monoxide alarms and combination units lets you program the location of the device from preset selections. When the alarm sounds, the voice warning indicates the location and, for combination units, the type of threat detected.
  • linking feature allows you to connect compatible units so all linked units sound an alarm when one detects a threat. This functionality can warn of hazards in remote areas of the house. If you install units that link wirelessly, pay attention to the range and placement restrictions for the linking feature.
  • Home management system compatibility lets you connect the device to some home management systems to send mobile alerts when the alarm activates.
  • A silencing feature allows you to temporarily stop an unwanted alarm for a specific time period.
  • Audible status alerts, such as low-battery and end-of-life, let you know when the device needs attention.
  • A display screen shows status information such as battery level, low-battery and end-of-life for the device. When a carbon monoxide alarm sounds, some models display the carbon monoxide level recorded and, for combination units, the threat type. Some carbon monoxide alarms also display peak carbon monoxide levels recorded over a specific period of time.
  • Low-profile models, micro-design models and finish options allow the device to blend with your home décor.

Shop for Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Installation and Placement

Battery-Powered Voice Alert Smoke Detector and Carbon Monoxide Alarm.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for placement of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms. Locations include:

  • On each floor of the home
  • In each bedroom
  • In each hallway close to sleeping areas — if a hallway is longer than 40 feet, place devices at both ends
  • At the top of stairways
  • At the bottom of stairways going to a basement

Check your manual for installation locations to avoid and information on how far to install the devices from furnaces, heaters, stoves, water heaters and other appliances and fixtures.

See Install a Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm to learn general steps for installing a battery-operated smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarm.

Caution

Follow the device manufacturer's instructions for installation, use, testing and maintenance.

Caution

Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms may be mandatory in your area. Check local codes for requirements on placement and the number of units that must be present in a home.

Other Considerations

Make sure you and your family are familiar with the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms in your home:

  • Learn the available features and how to use them.
  • Understand how the units respond to threats so you can quickly interpret alarms.
  • Learn how the device indicates situations such as loss of power, low batteries and end-of-life.
  • Know the lifespan and initial power-up date of each unit and replace units at the proper time. Some units alert you when they reach the end of their lifespan.
  • After an alarm, follow manufacturer's instructions for resetting or replacing your device.