Gas Alarms

Did you know that around 52% of American households use natural gas for domestic use? (Safe Gas Indiana). This use is expected to double over the next two years.

Generally people equip their houses with various high-tech alarm systems to protect themselves against the risk of a break-in or fire. While these threats are no less important, people tend to overlook gas explosions as a rare occurrence. However, if you have a simple gas stove, there are about five to fifteen parts per million of natural gas in the air already inside your house. More than thirty parts per million crosses to dangerously high levels (HowStuffWorks).  To safeguard against this danger, it is necessary to install a gas alarm.

How Gas Alarm Works

Natural gas is composed of methane, a chemical that is highly flammable. It is colorless and odorless, but gas companies add an odor to it to help make it more detectable. A gas alarm has a point detector, which measures the concentration of gas in the air through the use of various sensors, such as infrared sensors, ultrasonic sensors, electrochemical gas sensors, etc. If it detects unusually high levels of gas, it triggers.

A gas alarm could either be fixed or portable. A fixed alarm is permanently installed in a given location and monitors the area, sometimes through the use of open-path or beam detectors that usually consist of a remote detector and a radiation source. They are especially useful in industrial plants for monitoring concentrations of gas and vapors. A portable alarm on the other hand is a small, handheld device that could be used to detect toxic gases and low oxygen levels. Portable gas alarms should only be used by professionals with proper training.

Types of Lethal Gases

Gas alarms could detect high levels of other odorless and colorless toxic gases too, such as the following:

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO): Caused by burning fossil fuels, carbon monoxide could be generated through the use of everyday appliances such as a generator or a faulty heater. Risk of CO poisoning increases in the winter and during power failure. It causes at least 400 deaths annually—even a non-lethal doze can hospitalize 4000 people annually. (Fox News)

  • Propane: A by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining, this gas has an odor added to it by the gas companies. However, it could quickly fill up a room and cause asphyxiation or an explosion. Propane-fueled gas grills or trailers pose a risk too.

  • Radon: This chemical is a byproduct of uranium occurring in soil decay. It is also one of the leading causes of lung cancer, causing maximum 20,000 deaths annually. (Fox News)

Types of Gas Alarms

There are two main classifications of gas alarms; Toxic Gas Alarms & Combustible Gas Alarms

Toxic Gas Alarms:

  • Electrochemical (Wet Chem) Toxic Alarms - These sensors are designed to detect up to 30 different gases including chlorine, ammonia, carbon dioxide, nitric oxide and sulfur dioxide. They also detect carbon monoxide in the air.

  • Metallic Oxide Semiconductor (MOS) - This toxic broad range gas alarm is capable of reacting to low PPM levels of a large range of toxic gases. It won’t tell you what gas you are dealing with, or in what concentration, but it is designed to notify you of the gas’ presence.

  • Photo Ionizing Detectors (PIDs) - Probably the oldest type of gas alarm in use, this technology may be difficult to install in a multi-sensor instrument, but could be very effective.

Combustible Gas Alarms:

  • Catalytic Combustible Gas Alarm - These alarms sense explosive atmospheres and detect combustible gases by actual small combustion of gases within its sensor compartment.

  • Metallic Oxide Semiconductor (MOS) - This gas alarm has a long life (3-5 years) and though it is accurate, it requires oxygen to operate properly and the readings it produces may be affected by humidity.

  • Infrared Combustible Alarms - These work well in low oxygen environments, but are relatively expensive. 

Setting Up Gas Alarm

A gas alarm may be installed almost anywhere at home or the workplace. It could be mounted from the ceiling using a power cord, and if it detects propane gas it may be more helpful to mount near the floor. Manufacturers usually recommend at least one alarm in or close to the bedrooms, and one alarm per floor. Just make sure that it is placed somewhere where you might hear (or see, if it’s a visual aid) the alert easily.

Things to Consider

  • Find out about the different types of gas alarms available.

  • Check the packaging information for sensitivity ratings.

  • Check the gas alarm when it arrives for any faultiness.

  • The device may trigger false alarms due to household chemicals (paints, thinners, solvents) and aerosol products (air fresheners, perfumes and after shaves). Therefore install the alarms accordingly.

  • Make sure its battery is changed and that it’s tested regularly, but leave the maintenance to the professionals, unless you know what you’re doing.

  • Explain to your family or employees about toxic chemicals in the air, how to use the alarm and what to do in case of emergencies. Also, elderly people, especially those with dementia, tend to lose their sense of smell, therefore make a plan of action that will keep them safe too.

Bottom line, toxic gas related incidents happen; many have died due to these incidents. A toxic gas release is a real and present danger. It is therefore better to be safe than sorry. With the protection that gas alarms offer, you could be sure that you are a step closer to leading a safe and healthy life.


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