Smoke Alarms & Carbon Monoxide Detectors

The Importance of Smoke Alarms for Your Family

Few of us realize how easily — and how quickly — fire can harm our loved ones. Fortunately, there is a simple, affordable way to help prevent this from happening: the smoke alarm.

By providing an early warning in the event of fire, smoke alarms may allow you and your family sufficient time to reach safety. Many people have neglected to install smoke alarms despite their life-saving potential and low cost. Even those who do have smoke alarms often take them for granted — forgetting that they need some attention to continue working properly. UL offers the following tips for purchasing and maintaining smoke alarms.

Buy smoke alarms – and cut your family’s risk in half.

Experts report that consumers may cut their risk of dying in a home fire in half simply by having a smoke alarm installed. Smoke alarms are available at nearly all hardware, department and discount stores, often for under $20. So don’t delay – get out there and buy one. The peace of mind you’ll have from knowing that your family is safe and secure is worth the investment.

Look for the UL Mark

When you purchase a smoke alarm, look for the UL Mark on the product as well as on the packaging. The UL Mark tells you that a representative sample of the smoke alarm has been evaluated by UL scientists and engineers to nationally recognized safety requirements. It also means that UL conducts follow-up evaluations to countercheck that samples of the smoke alarm continue to meet these safety requirements.

Don’t just buy one! There’s safety in numbers

Install at least one smoke alarm on each floor of the house or residence and outside all sleeping areas. Some fire safety advocates recommend installing smoke alarms inside each sleeping area if sleeping with the door closed.

Keep your alarms working properly

Working smoke alarms are needed in every home and residence. Test and maintain your smoke alarms at least once a month, or follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Smoke alarms most often fail because of missing, dead or disconnected batteries. Replace batteries at least once a year. Testing is generally as simple as pushing a button and listening to hear the beep.

Practice a fire escape plan

In addition to installing smoke alarms in your home, UL also recommends that you develop a fire escape plan and practice it at least twice a year with all members of your household. In the event of a fire, every family member should know at least two ways out of each room. Stay as close to the floor as possible during your escape. Hot air and smoke rise, so the air nearest the floor may be safer to breathe. If you encounter a closed door during your escape, feel the door before opening it. If it’s hot to the touch, use another exit. The heat could indicate fire on the other side of the door. Teach your children how to escape in case of a fire — not to hide under a bed or in a closet.

Some individuals, particularly children, older people and those with special needs, may not wake up to the sound of a smoke alarm. You should be aware of this when developing your home fire escape plan.

Designate a well-lit place, a safe distance away from your home, where everyone will meet in the event of a fire. This will help firefighters determine if anyone else is still inside the home. And remember, never return to a burning building for any reason.

Review of smoke alarm installation, safety and maintenance

  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s installation and maintenance instructions (including regular testing).
  • Install fresh batteries in your smoke alarms at least once a year.
  • Don’t allow anyone to disconnect or “borrow” the batteries from your smoke alarms. A smoke alarm can’t work unless it’s connected to a power source.

If the warning alarm sounds, don’t panic. Stay close to the floor and get out of the building. Before opening any doors, check the temperature. If the door feels hot to the touch, don’t open it. Use an alternate exit.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a very real threat. To help keep your family safe and secure.

Carbon monoxide, known by the chemical formula “CO,” is a poisonous gas that kills approximately 500 people in the United States alone every year. Of that number, about 200 people were killed by carbon monoxide emitted from a consumer product, like a stove or water heater. You can’t hear, taste, see or smell it. It’s nicknamed the “silent killer” because it sneaks up on its victims and can take lives without warning.

CO is a by-product of incomplete combustion. Sources of the gas can include malfunctioning appliances — including furnaces, stoves, ovens and water heaters — that operate by burning fossil fuels such as natural or liquefied petroleum (LP). When malfunctioning appliances aren’t adequately ventilated, the amount of CO in the air may rise to a level that can cause illness or even death.

Other CO sources include vehicle exhaust, blocked chimney flues, fuel-burning cooking appliances used for heating purposes, and charcoal grills used in the home, tent, camper, garage or other unventilated areas.

When victims inhale CO, the toxic gas enters the bloodstream and replaces the oxygen molecules found in the critical blood component hemoglobin, depriving the heart and brain of the oxygen necessary to function.

The following symptoms are related to carbon monoxide poisoning and should be discussed with all members of the household:

  • Mild exposure: Symptoms are often described as flu-like, including slight headache, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
  • Medium exposure: Severe throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion and fast heart rate.
  • Extreme exposure: Unconsciousness, convulsions, cardiorespiratory failure and death. 

Many cases of reported carbon monoxide poisoning indicate that while victims are aware they are not well, they become so disoriented that they are unable to save themselves by either exiting the building or calling for assistance. Young children and household pets are typically the first affected.

Carbon monoxide alarms are intended to sound at carbon monoxide levels below those that cause a loss of ability to react to the danger of carbon monoxide exposures.

CO poisoning victims may initially suffer flu-like symptoms including nausea, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, confusion and breathing difficulty. Because CO poisoning often causes a victim’s blood pressure to rise, the victim’s skin may take on a pink or red cast.

Have your fuel-burning appliances inspected by a qualified technician at least once a year. A qualified technician should have practical knowledge of the operation, installation and proper ventilation of fossil-fuel-burning devices; carry the applicable insurance; be bonded; and be licensed to perform heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) work in your area.

Be alert to these danger signs that signal a potential CO problem:

  • Streaks of carbon or soot around the service door of your fuel-burning appliances.
  • The absence of a draft in your chimney (indicating blockage).
  • Excessive rusting on flue pipes or appliance jackets.
  • Moisture collecting on windows and walls of furnace rooms.
  • Fallen soot from the fireplace.
  • Small amounts of water leaking from the base of the chimney, vent or flue pipe.
  • Damaged or discolored bricks at the top of your chimney.
  • Rust on the portion of the vent pipe visible from outside your home.

Also, recognize that CO poisoning may be the cause when family members suffer from flu-like symptoms that don’t disappear but improve when they leave home for extended periods of time.

The most important steps are preventive. Have a qualified service professional inspect your fuel-burning appliances at least once a year. Install UL certified CO alarms outside of sleeping areas and near all fuel-burning appliances.

Other precautions include:

  • Avoid using charcoal grills inside the home, tent or camper, or in an unventilated garage.
  • Don’t allow vehicle exhaust fumes to enter the home.
  • Ensure all fuel-burning appliances are properly ventilated.

Rather than searching for specific features, look for the UL Mark with the adjacent phrase “Single Station Carbon Monoxide Alarm.”

UL certified CO alarms are designed to detect elevated levels of CO and sound an alarm to alert you and your family to a potential poisoning risk. Although CO indicator cards and other devices on the market are also intended to detect elevated levels of CO, most aren’t designed with an audible alarm. The presence of an audible alarm may be significant — especially while you and your loved ones sleep.

UL certified CO alarms are required to have manually operated alarm reset/silence button that will allow you to silence the alarm signal. If elevated levels of CO continue to exist, the alarm will sound again in six minutes.

UL evaluates and certifies CO alarms intended for use in recreational vehicles (RVs) and areas such as garages or attics where dampness, humidity and temperatures isn’t as controlled as in the living space of the home. CO alarms used in these areas comply with additional requirements designed to address the special conditions often present in these environments.

UL also evaluates CO travel alarms. These devices are equipped with a mounting bracket for temporary mounting only.

UL certified CO alarms intended for use in these environments are marked accordingly near the UL Mark.

Although they may look and sound similar, CO alarms and smoke alarms are designed and intended to detect two separate, distinct hazards. Therefore, to help protect your family from both hazards, it’s important to install both UL Listed CO alarms and UL Listed smoke detectors. Remember: Find Peace of Mind. Look for UL.

How to install a CO alarm:

Follow the installation instructions found in the manufacturer’s use and care booklet that accompanies the product. Proper installation is an important factor in receiving optimum performance. It’s important to follow these instructions exactly.

How to take care of a CO alarm:

Like smoke detectors, CO alarms need to be tested regularly and cleaned as indicated in the manufacturer’s use and care booklet. If the unit is battery-operated, test the detector weekly and replace the battery at least once a year. Never allow anyone to “borrow” the battery. Like any appliance or power tool, a CO alarm can’t work unless it has a functioning power source.

What to do if a CO alarm sounds:

Immediately operate the reset/silence button and call your emergency services (fire department or 9-1-1).

Move to fresh air – either go outside or move to an open door or window. Check to make sure that everyone in your household is accounted for. Do not re-enter the premises nor move away from the open door or window until the emergency services have arrived, the premises have been sufficiently aired out, and your CO alarm remains in its normal condition.

If your CO alarm reactivates within a 24-hour period, operate the reset button, call your emergency services and move to fresh air. Call a qualified technician to examine and/or turn off your fuel-burning appliances or other sources of combustion. If your RV, car or truck is idling in an attached garage, turn off the engine. Although your problem may appear to be temporarily solved, it’s crucial that the source of the CO is determined and appropriate repairs are made.

Remember that an alarm indicates elevated levels of CO in your home. CO is called the “silent killer” because it cannot be seen or smelled. Some people can be exposed to dangerous levels of CO and not feel any symptoms. Regardless of whether you feel symptoms, never ignore the alarm.