Differences Between Smoke And Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Differences Between Smoke And Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Last Updated on by Segun Ayo

Have you been having problems in knowing the differences between smoke and carbon monoxide detectors? You are certainly not alone here, however, the good news is that in this guide, we would be showing the differences between these two tools. Read through this guide, you’ll get the information you seek.

A smoke detector is a powerful electronic fire-protection machine that swiftly detects the presence of smoke, which is using the first sign of fire for building occupants. A carbon monoxide (CO) detector is designed to detect carbon monoxide only, which will not necessarily be present along with heat or fire.

Industrial and commercial smoke sensors issue a signal to a fire alarm control panel as part of a structure’s central fire alarm system. Household smoke sensors or smoke detectors provide a visual and sound alarm locally from the detector itself.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Is your home protected from carbon monoxide poisoning?

People who are sleeping when a Carbon monoxide leak occurs – commonly from a malfunctioning appliance – will never notice carbon monoxide without an alarm going off and waking them. In addition, depending upon the level in the air, carbon monoxide can be fatal within minutes.

A Carbon monoxide detector will detect elevated levels of carbon monoxide and alert you and your family when there is a risk of being poisoned.

Who needs a carbon monoxide alarm?

If you live in a house or flat that’s entirely powered by electricity, you won’t need a carbon monoxide detector. But if you have a fuel (gas, LPG, oil, wood) burning boiler, fire, or stove, you should have one in every room where fuel is burned.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

The initial symptoms can feel like the flu without the fever. Look for warning signs like:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness
  • Sleepiness
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Irregular breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain

Sources of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is associated with many household appliances like gas ranges and stoves, gas clothes dryers, water heaters, furnaces, and gas or wood fireplaces. Carbon monoxide can also be produced by fuel-burning space heaters, exhaust from cars, and gas or charcoal grills.

If items like these have venting malfunctions or are operated in poorly ventilated areas, carbon monoxide can build up rapidly without notice. Clogged fireplace chimneys and closed woodstove flues can also cause carbon monoxide to back up into your home. Before you know it, you’re surrounded by toxic air you can’t notice with any of your senses.

Here’s how you can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your house:

  • Have carbon monoxide detectors installed in your home? At a minimum, have one installed on every level of your home and outside each bedroom.
  • Change the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector every six to twelve months.
  • Do not EVER run a generator, vehicle, or operate any devices with fuel-fed motors inside your home or even inside your garage. Even if the garage door is open to the exterior, carbon monoxide can still build up to toxic levels.
  • Make sure your car is turned off when it is parked in the garage. A car accidentally turned on with a remote starter or left running will quickly leak overpowering amounts of carbon monoxide into the home.
  • Look for Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) or the American Gas Association seal of approval when purchasing gas equipment and appliances.
  • Have your gas appliances inspected annually by a licensed appliance professional?
  • Do not use flameless chemical heaters indoors or in enclosed spaces. They burn gas and will allow carbon monoxide to build up to toxic levels.
  • Have a service expert repair any gas appliance that is not functioning properly.
  • Be sure to open the flue when enjoying a fire in the fireplace or furnace.
  • Do not use a gas oven to heat your home.
  • Only use grills outside in a well-ventilated area.
  • Use battery-powered heaters when camping.
  • Keep all gas appliances properly adjusted and use an exhaust fan where appropriate.
  • Know the difference between the sound of your smoke alarm and your carbon monoxide alarm.
  • If you cannot afford a carbon monoxide detector, contact your local fire department. There are programs to help the elderly and low-income households acquire these life-saving devices.

How to Respond When Your CO Detector Goes Off

First and foremost, stay calm. As mentioned previously most situations resulting in activation of a Carbon monoxide detector are not life-threatening and do not require calling for help. To determine the need to call for help, ask the following question of everyone in the household: “Does anyone feel ill? Is anyone experiencing the ‘flu-like’ symptoms of headache, nausea, or dizziness?”


If the answer to the above by anyone in the household is true, evacuate the household to a safe location and have someone call for help. Failure to evacuate immediately may result in prolonged exposure and worsening effects from possible Carbon monoxide gas. The best initial treatment for CO gas exposure is fresh air.


If the answer to the above by everyone in the household is no, the likelihood of a serious exposure is greatly diminished and one probably does not need to call for help. Instead, turn off any gas burning appliances or equipment, ventilate the area, and attempt to reset the alarm.

If the alarm will not reset or resounds, call a qualified heating and ventilating service contractor to inspect your system for possible problems. If at any time during this process someone begins to feel ill with the symptoms described above evacuate the household to a safe location and have someone call for help.


There two types of smoke detectors. These are ionization and photoelectric. The combination of these two kinds of alarm is recommended for utmost protection from both slow smoldering fires and fast flaming.


A photoelectric sensor detects sudden scattering of light when smoke gets into the sensor chamber, triggering the alarm.

Photoelectric detectors respond with an average of 15-50 minutes. This type of sensor can be installed near kitchens.

These detectors respond more quickly to smoldering fires than ionization smoke detectors. In addition, because these detectors are less likely to send out a false alarm, they are less likely to be a nuisance. However, this type of smoke detector is slower to detect a flaming fire and will not alert you when the batteries are dead.


Ionization sensors carry some amount of radioactive material between two electrically charged plates; this ionizes the air and causes current to flow within the plates.

The drawback to this type of smoke detector is that it cannot tell the difference between steam and smoke. This makes ionization smoke detectors subject to false alarms when placed near kitchens and bathrooms. They tend to respond to everyday things like burnt toast and hot showers.

The advantage of ionization detectors over photoelectric detectors is that they are less expensive and respond more quickly to flaming fires. In addition, when the battery starts to fail, these detectors will alert you to change the battery because the alarm will sound.

The above two types of smoke detectors must be installed in an appropriate place to avoid any condensation or dust.

Smoke Detector Installation and Fire Safety Tips

Here is a list of smoke detector tips to keep you and your family safe:

  • Have at least one smoke detector on each level of your house.
  • Check the operation of your smoke detectors and alarms every six to twelve months.
  • Be sure to have a battery-powered back-up in your smoke detectors (rechargeable batteries are not recommended).
  • Avoid placing smoke detectors near drafts, doors, and windows.
  • Be sure that your smoke detectors are centered on the ceiling and they are at least six inches away from the wall. If you have a wall unit, make sure that it is at least one foot below the ceiling.
  • The best location for smoke detectors is near bedrooms, in hallways, and at the top of stairwells.
  • To keep dust from building up within the smoke detector, lightly vacuum the detector annually.
  • Do not pull the unit from the wall to try to turn off a false alarm.
  • Do not remove the batteries except to change them. Thirty percent of smoke detectors don’t work because the user has removed the battery and forgotten to replace it.
  • If you cannot afford smoke detectors, please contact your local fire department. They will let you know about local programs to help the elderly and low-income households get smoke detectors for their homes.
  • Keep at least one fire blanket somewhere in your home.
  • Keep at least one fire extinguisher somewhere in your home.
  • Establish an emergency exit plan with your family.
  • Once you exit your home during a fire, DO NOT return! Many people have lost their lives going back into their homes. Wait for firefighters to arrive.


One big difference between the installations of these two safety monitoring systems is that smoke detectors are installed on or near the ceiling because heat rises. Carbon monoxide detectors are always installed down low near the floor, because Carbon monoxide is heavier than air and if present, it will fall to ground level. The difference is quite clear between these two tools.