How to Test Your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

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Carbon Monoxide Safety

One common question that not enough people know the answer to is “does carbon monoxide rise or fall?” Carbon monoxide is lighter than air so, it rises. That means if you suspect CO poisoning, you might want to get to lower ground, but it’s probably safest to get outside and call the fire department.

Testing Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are two of the most important devices attached to an all-encompassing home security system. Both devices are life-saving tools, but to get the most of them, they must be working properly. This is where testing comes in.

Testing for both smoke and carbon monoxide alarms is rather simple, and staying on top of the devices is not too difficult. With some practice, and setting yourself up with reminders, your alarms can always operate properly, which could potentially be a literal lifesaver.

Smoke Alarms

If you are experiencing a first alert three chirps every minute, you need to test your alarm. There are two types of testing for smoke alarms that we’ll cover: basic testing and crisis testing.

Basic Testing:

This style of testing occurs when an operator simply clicks on the test button that is present on a smoke detector. Once the button is pressed, a few seconds will pass before the test starts, but you’ll know the test in process whenever you begin to hear a loud, piercing siren that comes via the smoke detector. 

Crisis Testing:

A crisis test on an alarm is the form of testing that involves using smoke materials to make sure that a system is operating correctly in action, rather than checking if the alarm batteries are working. Crisis tests should not be done alone, because if something out of the ordinary occurs, you’ll want someone nearby with a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. You can perform a crisis test by simply lighting a candle, incense stick, or other material for burning. Once this material burns a steady smoke stream, hold it about 12 to 18 inches below the smoke detector unit.

Make sure not to get too close to the alarm, because you’ll risk damaging the casing on the smoke detector, the actual unit itself, and the delicate materials housed inside of the detector. Make sure the alarm goes off in every room if you have an interconnected system and follow up with turning it off.

Additional Crisis Test Tips:

  • Aerosol products are great for tests, but make sure the instructions of the aerosol manufacture are followed. You should aim the spray so that it enters the alarm sensor area. Don’t spray the aerosol toward the holes that are on the cover of the alarm, because this is where the sound emits. The alarm senses smoke through the opening around the perimeter.

  • The way to test this is by holding the aerosol can two feet away from the alarm, ensuring that it is parallel to the wall or ceiling. This ensures the test spray is allowed to travel along walls or ceilings, so it enters the openings in the perimeter of alarms.

  • Remember, spraying in excess at close range of an alarm might affect its sensitivity permanently.

  • It isn’t recommended to ignite combustible materials to test alarms. This could cause an accident or fire.

  • A lower-risk option is to light several matches to make sure the alarm is registering smoke particles.

  • UL rated cans of smoke can also be purchased to test devices.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Testing a carbon monoxide detector is similar to testing a smoke alarm. Before testing, you’ll want to alert your home security company of the test and place your system on test mode so that the device does not cause a false alarm. Unlike the smoke detector, the carbon monoxide device does not have a crisis test to perform (because you’d never want to consciously emit carbon monoxide into a home.)

To Test the Device:

To test a carbon monoxide detector, hold down the “test” button until you hear two beeps sound off. Once you hear these beeps, release your finger off the test button. Repeat this process, but this time hold down the test button until you hear four beeps. If you hear four beeps, you know that a signal was sent to your monitoring station.

After 10-15 minutes the CO alarm will return from test mode back to its original setting. If for some reason the device doesn’t return to its original setting, you’ll need to perform a power cycle.

General Testing Tips for Both Devices

  • With interconnected alarms, make sure they are all emitting sound together.

  • When testing, include people in other rooms of the house to make sure alarms in every room are working, and to make sure that you can hear alarms from every room. If you fail to hear an audible noise, it means you need to replace the batteries.

  • Don’t allow dust or debris to settle into devices or they’ll work improperly.

  • If the smoke detector is hardwired to a monitored home security system, make sure to alert your company before going through with the alarm test, so they know a test is taking place and they don’t send responders to the home.

  • Even if the unit’s lights are on signaling that they have power, you should still test the devices.

  • Wear ear protection when standing next to alarms when testing. They are very loud.

  • If you just moved into a new house and the house is equipped with smoke alarms, you can check the dates on the devices by looking on the back of them. They will usually display a date of manufacture and you can calculate the device’s age. If you can’t find the age on the device, replace the unit.

  • Alarms are just sources to alert you of danger. They can’t save you. You still have to create an action plan and respond to an emergency by escaping from your home.

  • Never decorate any part of alarms. Doing this will impair function.

You should test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms once a month at minimum, but once a week is recommended. Batteries should be replaced twice a year (we recommend when clocks are changed for daylight savings time).

Most smoke and CO alarms are said to last ten years, but we suggest beginning to look at replacement between five and seven years to see how they are performing. If you purchased an older home and don’t know the age of your smoke and carbon units, replace them entirely.

If you are looking for a professionally monitored home security system that includes life safety devices like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, contact us at Brinks Home™ to start building your new system today.

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