3 Devices Every Home Should Have
By Fran J. Donegan
Every home should contain smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers. It's a common-sense statement that many homeowners, either knowingly or unknowingly, ignore or overlook. Here's a look at these three devices, why they are necessary and how they should be used.
Most municipalities and building codes require the installation of smoke detectors throughout the house. Many building codes call for detectors that are interconnected, meaning that when one goes off, they all go off. There are three types of smoke detectors:
- Ionization alarms. These contain a small amount of radioactive material placed between two electrically charged plates. This arrangement allows a current to flow between the plates. When smoke enters the chamber, it interferes with the flow and sets off the alarm. This type of alarm works best with fires that produce little smoke.
- Photoelectric alarms. These alarms aim a light across a chamber. When smoke enters the chamber, it reflects the light onto a sensor, which triggers the alarm. Photoelectric alarms are good at detecting smoldering fires that produce a lot of smoke.
- Combination alarms. Because a homeowner does not know what kind of fire they may encounter, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends the installation of both ionization and photoelectric alarms. Fortunately, there are products available that combine both technologies.
Follow the manufacturer's directions when installing smoke detectors. Here are some installation and maintenance tips:
- Install alarms in each bedroom and in the hallway outside of sleeping areas.
- Install at least one detector on every level of the house, including basements and floors without bedrooms.
- Smoke rises, so install detectors high up on the wall, usually within 12 inches of the ceiling, or on the ceiling itself.
- Follow the manufacturer's directions concerning placing detectors near cooking appliances, heating ducts, windows and the like. Steam can affect the detector's operation, so keep them at least three feet away from bathroom doors.
- Test the alarms monthly and replace the battery when the detector chirps or when stipulated by the manufacturer. Detectors wear out, so plan on replacing the alarm after about 10 years of service.
- If the alarm sounds, get everyone out of the house and call emergency services for help. Put together an escape plan before you need it and designate an area away from the house as a meeting point.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Although their use is not as widespread as smoke detectors, more and more municipalities are requiring carbon monoxide detectors in homes. They have been a requirement in model building codes since 2009. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that results from the incomplete combustion of fuels, such as gasoline, natural gas, propane, fuel oil and the like. CO sources in the home include heating equipment, cooking appliances, cars idling in an attached garage and portable generators. Small levels of CO can cause fatigue and headaches, but high doses can be fatal. Prevent CO poisoning by installing CO detectors and keeping combustion appliances well maintained, including the chimneys and flues that vent them. Here are some tips on CO detector installation:
- Install a CO detector on each level of the house, especially near or in bedrooms.
- Do not place the detectors near combustion appliances, because it can lead to false alarms.
- Unlike smoke detectors, CO detectors do not have a height requirement for installation.
- Test the detectors monthly and change batteries as directed. Detectors wear out, so plan on replacing them about every five years, or when stipulated by the manufacturer. Many products produce an end-of-life signal that lets you know it is time to replace the unit.
- If the alarm sounds, move outdoors to fresh air, make sure everyone in the house is accounted for and call emergency services for help.
Portable fire extinguishers are not required in homes, but having them does improve the safety of the occupants. However, there are two caveats: you need the right types of extinguishers to be effective, and having fire extinguishers can make you overconfident in your ability to fight a fire.
Choosing Fire Extinguishers.There are five classes of fire extinguishers, and each is designed to put out a specific type of fire. Three of the classes are for residential use, identifiable by number and letter labels. The letters, along with the accompanying illustrations, indicate the type of fire the extinguisher is effective against. The numbers give an idea of how effective that particular fire extinguisher is.
- Class A. This type is designed for ordinary paper or wood fires. The number tells the amount of water the extinguisher holds. Each numerical value equals 1 1/4 gallons of water, so one labeled 4A holds five gallons of water.
- Class B. This type is used on flammable liquids, such as grease or gasoline. The number indicates the square footage the operator can cover when using the fire extinguisher. For example, 20B means the user can cover approximately 20 square feet.
- Class C. These are designed for electrical fires. They do not have a numerical label. The C means the material in the extinguisher will not conduct electricity.
Many residential fire extinguishers are combinations of the three classes. You may see a listing such as 2A:10B:C, which indicates the extinguisher is safe to use on all three types of fires.
How to Use a Fire Extinguisher. A good plan is to place a fire extinguisher on each level of the home, as well as workshops, basements and garages. It is important to understand that a fire extinguisher is designed to put out a small fire before it gets out of control. Residential models are not designed to fight a raging blaze. Consider that the typical model will discharge its contents in about 15 seconds, so be sure to keep a clear path to an exit. To use a fire extinguisher properly, remember the acronym PASS:
P – Pull the pin to release the handle.
A – Aim the hose at the base of the fire, not into the flames.
S – Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing material.
S – Sweep the hose from side to side.
Installing smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers in your home will give you peace of mind and help keep you and your family safe in an emergency situation.
Fran Doneganwrites on home improvement for Home Depot. Fran is a longtime DIY author and has written several books, including Paint Your Home. To review a number of safety devices for your house, you can visit Home Depot's website.
This blog was developed by The Home Depot. All posts, sponsored and un-sponsored have been reviewed and approved by the Sustainable Community Media Editorial Team to ensure quality, relevance/usefulness and objectivity.