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How Long do Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors Last

By WenSue |

In this article, we will take a look at the working and lifespan of smoke detectors. We will discuss the two popular types of smoke detectors which are ionization and photoelectric, we will see their working and understand how long the smoke detectors last and why?

Before we look at the lifespan of smoke detectors let us examine some basics about the care and maintenance of smoke detectors. Most of us forget about the smoke detectors after installation. We seldom check their condition or test if they are working or not. This negligence can cost us dearly. National Fire Protection Association blames three out of five home fire deaths on non-functioning or non-existent smoke detectors. 

1. The Lifespan of Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

There are usually two types of smoke detectors:

  • Ionization: It is designed to detect flaming fire
  • Photoelectric: It is made to detect smoldering fire.

For best results, it is recommended that you use both types of smoke detectors or a combination detector also called dual-sensor-detector that can catch both flaming and smoldering fire.

Life of a Smoke detector

  • A typical smoke detector would last anywhere between 8-10 years. It should be changed every ten years. The sensors become weak due to dust etc. and they won’t be able to detect smoke and alert you.
  • There is a date of expiry of every smoke detector. It is mentioned in the manual or the packing box. You should follow it and replace the detectors after expiration. 
  • A smoke detector powered by a lithium battery or a hard-wired smoke detector would not last more than 10 years. After 10 years replace the whole unit.

Life of a Carbon Monoxide Detector

  • A carbon monoxide detector lasts between 5-7 years. 
  • Their batteries should be replaced every year, or as instructed by the manufacturer.
  • It is advisable that you change all the smoke detectors instead of changing a few old and faulty ones. Otherwise, their work could be compromised. 

If your smoke detector starts giving you false alarms every now and then, it goes off on triggers like heat, humidity, chemical fumes, insects, steam, etc. then it is time to replace it. Consult the manual and call the technician. He will check and determine if it is a repair job or as is often the case a replacement is in order.

2. Why Do Smoke Detectors Only Last 10 Years

Although ten years is not a small period still the question arises why the smoke detectors stop working after this time? The answer lies in the following two factors;

  • Technology
  • Environment

Technology: Smoke detectors work on the principle of ionization. There are photoelectric sensors and a light beam inside the smoke detector. As the smoke enters the detector, its particles cross the light beam which gets diffused and aims towards the smoke sensor. This, in turn, triggers the alarm.

Now with the passage of time, the ionization process gets weak and the sensors degrade too. This eventually will end the life of the smoke detector.

Environment: By environment, we mean the area where the smoke detector is installed. Usually, smoke detectors installed on or close to kitchens and bathrooms fail early. And it is not without good reason. The steam and humidity of the bathroom and the greasy fumes of the kitchen laden with all the particles of the food we cook, fry, steam, etc. take their toll on the smoke detectors. Their photoelectric parts and electrostatic plates take a heavy beating. In the process, they malfunction and expire early.

3. Smoke Detector Maintenance Tips:

  • Smoke detectors work on batteries. In case they are of the replaceable type they need to be changed every year. 
  • Carbon monoxide detector batteries ought to be changed every six months. 
  • It is important that you keep track of the age of your batteries. Make a note when to change them and post it anywhere where you can see it daily. 
  • Use batteries recommended by the manufacturers. 
  • Do not use batteries of smoke detectors on other devices. You may forget to replace them back and this could cost you dearly.
  • Do not mix and match batteries. 
  • When you change the batteries clean the detectors of dust and other impurities. 
  • Sometimes the smoke alarm goes off on wrong triggers. If this happens too often, we recommend you try cleaning and dusting the detector. The dust accumulated over the sensor can cause this problem. 
  • Everyone in the family should have a fair idea about the smoke detector. They should understand the sound of the alarm and know what to do and how to do it. 
  • It is also a good idea to test your smoke detectors once a month. Hold a mock smoke detector drill once every 2 or 3 months preferably at night. All the family members should understand the call and know what to do in this situation.
  • Never disable your smoke alarm. You may forget to enable it and this can have serious consequences. 
  • There should be a sufficient number of smoke detectors in your home. Experts agree that there should be a smoke detector in every bedroom, alley, attic, stairway, hall, and basement. They should be interconnected for maximum effect. 
  • Do not install carbon monoxide detectors in direct sunlight, near electrical appliances and stoves in kitchens. Similarly, do not install them in damp and humid areas, hot and cold areas, and air vents.

Smoke detectors are very useful and important devices. They can save our lives and precious properties. A little bit of care on our part can ensure a long life of the smoke detectors. They will be your trusted companions. However, we must remember that smoke detectors have a shelf life. They won’t last forever, a time will come when you will have to replace them.