Sunday, March 8 kicked off Daylight Savings Time, prompting Americans to set clocks one hour forward for spring. While this day signals the changing of time, it also serves an important reminder to replace the batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. More importantly, if the detectors are 10 years old or older, now is the time to replace them entirely.
Two of the most common types of smoke detectors are optical detection, or called photoelectric, and physical process, or also referred to as ionizing.
Photoelectric detectorsare generally used for large rooms and combine a light source and a sensor. As smoke passes between the two and interrupts the beam, it goes off. The NFPA says, “Photoelectric smoke detection is generally more responsive to fires that begin with a long period of smoldering (called smoldering fires).” These are considered to provide adequate protection for smoldering fires, but not so much for flaming fires. Over time, the lens gets dusty and becomes less likely to “see” smoke.
The ionizing smoke detector is generally cheaper to manufacture, but is more prone to false alarms. They are very sensitive, capable of detecting smoke that is not visible to the eye. These have a radioactive element which passes a constant current through an ionization chamber between two electrodes. Any particle that enters the chamber, like smoke, interrupts that current and sets off the alarm. The NFPA says, “smoke alarms become less reliable with time, primarily due to aging of their electronic components, making them susceptible to nuisance false alarms.” This is why it is so important to change these devices every 10 years.
P.S. Residents in Hawaii and most of Arizona, take note! Even though you don’t observe Daylight Savings Time, now’s the time to make sure your devices are properly updated as well.
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