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Properly installed smoke alarm systems are very important in the reduction of fire-induced injuries and deaths. Smoke alarms are life-savers, because in event of home fire, smoke is quickly dispersed and a smoke alarm is needed to buy you time to escape. Having a functional smoke alarms reduces the possibility of dying in cases of fire outbreaks by half. As much as 70% of fire-induced home deaths occurred from fire outbreaks in houses without smoke alarms or functional smoke alarms
How smoke alarms work
In homes or residential areas, there are two major categories of smoke alarms; these comprise the photoelectric sensors and the ionization sensors. The ionization sensors contain an ionization chamber having two plates and a point of ionizing radiation. The battery of the alarm transmits voltage to the two plates, one of them is charged negatively and the other is charged positively. The source of the radiation which is a minute quantity of an isotope known as Americium-241(about 1/5000th of the isotope’s gram) gets decay and consequently radiates alpha particles.(alpha particles are subatomic particles comprising two neutrons and two protons). The alpha particles are radiated at a constant reliable rate, as these particles passed through the chamber; they knock of, or ionize an electron from the atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the air that moves through the chamber.The negatively–charged newly release electrons are draw to the positively-charged end of the plate, consequently , the atoms that have now become positively charged are drawn to the negative end of the plate. This works to ensure that the minute but consistent current between the positive and negative plate is maintained. When smoke gets to the chamber, it interferes with the ionization movement and reduces or terminates the current between the two plates thereby activating the alarm
Of course, you will certainly be alarmed by the thought of having radioactive isotopes hanging over your head at home, and you will definitely preferred an instant death through fire than dying slowly through radiation. Hey, don’t get agitated yet; let your mind be at rest. Alpha particles actually contain very minute penetrating power, they are incapable of passing through the plastic sensor and if they do. They lack the ability to travel a far distance in normal air. Since the quantity of Americium they contain is so little and the manner the sensor is design, there is no health danger posed to you except if you deliberately tamper with the chamber and expose yourself directly to the particles by ingesting or inhaling them.The only major two disadvantages of ionization sensors are that radioactive isotope demands that old sensors be properly disposed so that they won’t become a danger to your health. Also they have extremely sensitive designs such that they can easily detect fast or hot fires that generate little smoke. What this means is that they can create false alarms triggered by steam, dust and vapors.
Ray of light
The other popular kind of sensor is a photoelectric sensor, which has a diode that emits lights and sends a beam light to pass above a T-shaped chamber. A light detecting photocell is located at the base of the T –shaped chamber. Immediately smoke is perceived in the chamber, it is hit by the lights and gets dispersed to the base of the T-shaped chamber and hits the photocells.When the photocell has been hit by a certain volume of light, it activates an electrical current which in turn triggers the alarm. Though the sensors are not so sensitive like the ionization sensors and by design they are meant to detect smoldering, slow and smokier fires When a certain amount of light hits the cell, it triggers an electrical current that sets the alarm off. These detectors are not as sensitive as the ionization ones and are designed to detect slow, smoldering, smokier fires.