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What is a 'smoke detector'?

Early Warning And First Defense

Stacy Gerlich (Fire Captain & Paramedic) gives expert video advice on: Why are smoke detectors important?; How do I install a smoke detector?; How often should I check my smoke detectors and fire extinguishers? and more...

What is a 'smoke detector'?

A smoke detector is actually just a device that picks up on an increase in heat in a room and what it does is it gives you a signal, an audible signal, that is either going to be a sort of a loud shrill or a siren. More often than not you'll find sirens on a smoke detector in commercial buildings or high-rise buildings, but as far as the home, single family dwellings, it would be just a very loud obnoxious shrill on your fire alarm that most of us have heard when the battery needs to be changed.

What types of smoke do smoke detectors detect?

Smoke is just the by-product of combustion, so smoke detectors are not specific to any one particular chemical in smoke, although carbon monoxide poisoning has become quite prevalent. And what smoke detectors now have are sort of a combination. Indeed a carbon monoxide smoke detector, which is probably the best thing to install, especially if you're going to go through the exercise of going to buy them, and either changing out old ones or installing these new ones. That's the way to go nowadays in smoke detectors.

Why are smoke detectors important?

Smoke detectors are really the only way that, especially if you're asleep, you're going to have any idea that there's heating smoke in the house, which then potentially is going to end up being a big fire for you. This is an audible alarm, and this is preparation. This is all planning, and the things that you can do to mitigate the outcome of a fire in your home. Your smoke detector gives you that signal, and it gives you time to get out.

Where can I purchase smoke detectors and fire extinguishers?

As far as purchasing smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, you can get these at your home improvement centres, you can get them at local hardware stores, indeed they're really all over the place now. Your larger stores will all have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. It's just a matter of where you like to do your shopping and what the price range of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers is. They tend to fall pretty much within maybe $5 to $10 difference as far as price range and anywhere from $25 and upwards depending on what size of a fire extinguisher you get and what type of smoke detector that you like.

How many smoke detectors should I have in my home?

Again, as far as how many smoke detectors you should have in your home, if you look it up in the fire code they're going to tell you should have one for every bedroom, in every room, rather. Also if you have more than one story you have to consider the upper floors as well. In the opening to the stairwell itself is a very good place to have a smoke detector. So if there's any smoke from the lower level that potentially is coming up, as smoke rises, it's going to then alert you when it gets to that area in the home. You should have smoke detectors in the bedrooms, hallway, and around or near the kitchen but not necessarily in it.

What are the different types of smoke detectors?

The two main smoke detectors on the market are just a basic smoke detector and a carbon monoxide smoke detector. And that's because it's a different gas. The carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas, so it's something that does require a little bit more of a specific instrument in your smoke alarm in order to detect that.

How often should I check my smoke detectors and fire extinguishers?

With checking the batteries in your smoke detectors, there's two times when we make some changes in our household. We have daylight savings, so we change the times on our clock and We spring ahead, where we fall back. So I like to incorporate as many things as we can. You have a smoke detector, so you should check your batteries every six months when you change the clock for daylight savings. If you really want to get technical, take a sharpie marker and put the date on the battery so that the next time you open up that cover on the detector, then you know when the last time you checked it was. The other things is on your fire extinguishers. It will tell you that you should refill them once a year, regardless of whether you use them or not. But, what I like to do again is incorporate all these things that we need to check, and you want to invert your fire extinguisher. Just turn it upside down, shake it a little bit, and then turn it right side up, because what happens is the powder inside cakes down. This way you keep it free flowing. And now you've incorporated all these things, and you don't have to try to remember that you have to check the smoke detector batteries this month, and do the extinguisher next month. You do them all together and it makes it easier for you. It's all about the preparation.

How long will my smoke detectors and fire extinguishers last?

The smoke detectors are dependent upon the battery if it's battery-operated versus hard-wired, meaning it's actually wired into the electrical system of your home. So there's two issues there. But as far as the battery-operated smoke detectors go, it's as long as the battery's going to last. So, again, we don't like it to be in there longer than a year, without having changed it, regardless of if it chirps at you or not, which is sort of that warning sign that you need to change the battery. As far as a fire extinguisher goes, they'll tell you that you should have it serviced once a year, even if you don't use it. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the extinguisher wont work. On a best guess, if you've had an extinguisher in the home and it's five years old or so, don't throw it away. Buy a new one, and then use that primary one, or the one that you had that you were thinking of replacing, use that one first. In worst-case scenario, you pull the pin, you squeeze down, and it doesn't come out. So now you have the new one that you've just purchased.

How many fire extinguishers should I have in my home?

The number of fire extinguishers in the home is really dependent upon what kinds of things you have in your home and how many stories you have for the home. If it's a two story or three story, however it's configured. But on a best guess, what you should do really, as a best practice rather, is that you should have a fire extinguisher that will handle the lower area of your home and upper. And if you feel the need to have one or two fire extinguishers on each of those floors, that's fine too. There really isn't a set number. It's the mere fact that you realize that a fire extinguisher makes a tremendous difference and it's very cheap in terms of what we pay for our homes. It's cheap insurance and it can really save a lot of lives.

What are the different types of fire extinguishers?

There's a lot of different types of fire extinguishers, as there are four classes of fire. As far as your extinguishers, you have your basic dry chemical extinguishers which we call a multi-purpose ABC extinguisher. We have a water extinguisher, which is primarily used on class A fire. You also have a combustible fire extinguisher, which deals with ordinary combustible material, paper, wood, plastic. And finally you have a CO2 extinguisher, which we would primarily like to use on electrical fires, or class B fires, which are your flammable liquids fires. And that's because there's no residue when you use this type of a fire extinguisher. Halon used to be pretty common, but they've actually changed the chemical formation of it. Halon is still around, it's just under a different name. But, those are the different types of fire extinguishers. As far as the consumer is concerned, your ABC multi-purpose fire extinguisher, that's the one you want to buy.