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Smoke Detector Vs Carbon Monoxide Detector (Which One Do You Need?)

carbon monoxide detector

They say that if you’re prepared, then things won’t happen. For example, how many of us were prepared for Y2K? Yeah, I know, that ages me. But seriously. We all know folks who prepared as if it was the end of the world. Then nothing happened. 

I know this “law of nature” isn’t necessarily true, but it sure seems like it sometimes. And one of the best things we as homeowners can do to be prepared in order to avoid disaster is to keep a properly functioning smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector in our homes. 

But what are these devices and how do they work? In this article we take a look at smoke detectors vs carbon monoxide detectors, how they work and why it’s important for you to have them in your home.

Read More: The Best 9 Volt Batteries For Smoke Detectors and Fire Alarms

But first, here’s a few statistics about smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors showing why it’s so important to have them in our homes.

  • Three out of five home fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms
  • More than one-third of home fire deaths result from fires in which no smoke alarms are present.
  • The risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms.
  • Every year, at least 430 people die in the U.S. from accidental CO poisoning.
  • Approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency department each year due to accidental CO poisoning. 

Smoke Detector Vs Carbon Monoxide Detector

Smoke Detectors:

  • Sole purpose is to detect smoke in the air from possible fires inside the home.
  • An alarm sounds when smoke is detected in an attempt to alert occupants of the home.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors:

  • Sole purpose is to sense and detect a buildup of carbon monoxide gas inside the home. 
  • In most detectors, an alarm will sound when a certain level of carbon monoxide gas is detected.

What is a Smoke Detector?

The smoke detector has just one job.  And just like the name implies; they detect smoke in the air from possible fires that are inside the house. 

Now days, the most common types of smoke detectors use an infared beam that shines through the eye of the smoke detector. 

When smoke enters the detector it interrupts, or breaks, the solid infared beam which then causes the smoke detector to sound its alarm.

Source: (

What is a Carbon Monoxide Detector?

Carbon monoxide detectors serve a completely different purpose. Carbon monoxide detectors sense, or detect the presence of carbon monoxide in the air.

There are two different types of carbon monoxide detectors; ones that sound an alarm whe carbon monoxide is detected in the air and others that simply detect carbon monoxide but do not sound an alarm. 

I only recommend carbon monoxide detectors that sound an alarm an alert the homeowner of the potential threat. 

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is produced by the incomplete combustion of materials that contain carbon.

Most of the time, this phenomenon happens when something is burned, such as kerosene or other flammable gases inside the home.

Since carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, it’s critical that an alarm sounding carbon monoxide detector be placed inside your home.

Source: (

How Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work?

Just like I mentioned above, carbon monoxide detectors sound an alarm when they sense a certain amount of carbon monoxide over time. But how do they work?

Carbon monoxide detectors have 3 different types of sensors that set off different types of alerts.  According to

  • Biomimetic sensor: a gel changes color when it absorbs carbon monoxide, and this color change triggers the alarm.
  • Metal oxide semiconductor: When the silica chip’s circuitry detects carbon monoxide, it lowers the electrical resistance, and this change triggers the alarm.
  • Electrochemical sensor: Electrodes in a chemical solution sense changes in electrical currents when they come into contact with carbon monoxide, and this change triggers the alarm.

How Do Smoke Detectors Work?

It’s important for you to understand that there are two common types of smoke alarms. The most common are ionization smoke detectors, which are also the most budget-friendly smoke detectors that you can buy for your home.

  • Ionization Smoke Detectors: consist of two electrically charged plates that house a small amount of safe radioactive material. That material ionizes the air and creates a steady flow of air between the plates. As smoke enters the chamber, the flow of ions is disrupted, which activates the alarm.
  • Photoelectric Smoke Detector: A light source is aimed into a sensing chamber. The light source is angled away from the actual sensor inside the detector. When smoke enters the chamber, though, the light reflects off the smoke and onto the sensor, which sets off the alarm.
  • Dual-Sensor Smoke Alarms: These feature both ionization and photoelectric detection technology and are better at detecting different types of fires.

Where To Install Smoke Detectors

  • On every level of your home (including basement and attic)
  • In or near the kitchen
  • Every Bedroom and sleeping area
  • In each hallway
  • Near fireplaces or other areas that are a fire risk
  • Near stairways to each level
  • High on the wall no more than 12 inches from the ceiling

Where To Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors

  • On every level of your home (including basement and attic)
  • Every Bedroom and sleeping area
  • Near doors that lead to attached garages
  • Every common area
  • Place on walls about 5 feet above the floor or even on the ceiling. 
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