Carbon Monoxide as a Method for Fire Detection

Between 2012 and 2016, there was an average of 355,400 household fires per year in the United States. Fire-related claims are extremely costly to home and business owners as well as insurance carriers. To protect people and property from the ravages of fire, specialized detectors are installed.

HSB believes using IoT and wireless sensor technologies will improve upon current detection methodologies to further reduce the extent of potential losses. Each state has specific regulations built around the installation, location, and maintenance of these devices. By following these regulations, the risk of death, injury or property loss can all be greatly reduced.

Types of Fire Detectors

There are three common sensor types that are currently used in the United States for the detection of fires. Each of these sensors carries specific benefits and many solutions on the market today contain a combination of these sensors.

  • Photoelectric Smoke Detectors function on the premise that smoke and particles caused by fire will block light. A small infrared light is emitted and targeted at a receptor a short distance away on a sensor. When the smoke particles enter between the emitter and receptor they reflect a portion of light into the receptor which will trigger the alarm. These detectors are very effective at detecting smoldering fires.
  • Ionization Smoke Detectors operate with two plates that are placed a measured distance apart with a voltage running through them. As the smoke enters the sensor, the flow of ions is reduced, which reduces the current that is flowing through the system and triggers an alarm. Ionization smoke detectors react quickly to fast flaming fires.
  • Carbon Monoxide Detectors use electrochemical reactions to determine the amount of carbon monoxide that is in the air around a sensor. Opposite to how an Ionization smoke detector works by reducing a current, carbon monoxide detectors are triggered by an increase in current. As the carbon monoxide enters the sensor it reacts with oxygen and releases electrons. The released electrons act as a bridge between two electrodes in the sensor, allowing current to flow. The more carbon monoxide that is introduced to the system, the larger the bridge and the greater the current. Electrochemical carbon monoxide detectors are especially effective where there may be low ventilation and a smoldering fire.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is created by the incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuel. This means that everything from cars, furnaces, burning wood or petroleum products will produce carbon monoxide. In homes, fuel-burning equipment is designed to exhaust this gas safely through a chimney or other kind of vent.

When carbon monoxide is inhaled it prevents oxygen from traveling through the body. People who are sleeping or incoherent may inhale fatal amounts of carbon monoxide before noticing a problem. Since carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, it’s known as a silent killer. For this reason, some states may require carbon monoxide sensors in homes near the furnace or boiler to detect the presence of carbon monoxide.

Where Carbon Monoxide Detectors Fall Short

Carbon monoxide sensors sold for fire detection are heavily regulated and relatively simplistic in how they operate. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) has issued regulations on when these detectors are allowed, and not allowed, to alarm. These regulations are all based on detectors reading a certain concentration for a specified period of time. While this does reduce the number of false alerts, it also has the potential to reduce the effectiveness of the alert. These regulations and thresholds are designed to indicate that there is already a dangerous level of carbon monoxide and everyone should evacuate or avoid the area.

Clean burning fires, or fires with a steady supply of oxygen, will generate less carbon monoxide than a dirty fire or one with insufficient oxygen. Without a high enough concentration of carbon monoxide to trigger the alarms the fire could escalate out of control before the alarm is triggered.

Installation Methods for Household Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide sensors should optimally be placed about five feet off of the ground in every sleeping area. Ensure that there is at least one detector on every floor of a dwelling. If fewer detectors are being used, target sleeping areas for placement. Don’t install directly above or within 15 feet of fuel-burning machinery as these may trigger false alarms. Always follow local state and municipal regulations at a minimum.

What HSB is Doing About Fire Detection

HSB is using its extensive equipment data and experience with IoT systems to develop technologies and services to help small businesses and insurers avoid losses. Using cutting edge technology and state of the art sensing technology, HSB is continually developing solutions prevent losses such as fire. Imagine a world where your insurance company can help monitor your environment to keep your home and property safe. This is the world HSB aspires to build.

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© 2019 The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice. HSB makes no warranties or representations as to the accuracy or completeness of the content herein. Under no circumstances shall HSB or any party involved in creating or delivering this article be liable to you for any loss or damage that results from the use of the information contained herein. Except as otherwise expressly permitted by HSB in writing, no portion of this article may be reproduced, copied, or distributed in any way. This article does not modify or invalidate any of the provisions, exclusions, terms or conditions of the applicable policy and endorsements. For specific terms and conditions, please refer to the applicable endorsement form.

Ian George

Ian George is an IoT Engineer at Hartford Steam Boiler, LLC.


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