The risks associated with heating systems, particularly fire and carbon monoxide poisoning, increase significantly in winter. These risks are magnified for people who cannot hear the audible output of "conventional" battery or mains-powered detectors, not only Deaf individuals but also hard of hearing people who use hearing aids during the daytime but take them off at night. - There are two different approaches to fire and carbon monoxide alerting for persons with hearing loss:

Option A
If you have a hearing loss and already have a "generic" alerting system, you may be able to purchase add-on "sound detector modules" which you would then place near a conventional audible alarm. Some "generic" alerting systems may also feature a built-in microphone. Both the add-on modules and the built-in microphone "listen" for the sounds of an external alarm and usually trigger flashing lights and a vibrating bed shaker to alert the deaf or hard of hearing person.

Be aware that some conventional battery powered alarms feature "escape lights", which are not however sufficiently powerful to qualify as visual alarms under the ADA.

PRO: If you already own an alerting system with an integrated microphone or external module that listens for sound, this method is considerably less expensive. Depending on what system you use, you may be able to take the sound module and alerting component with you when you travel.

CON: Requires precise placement near fire/smoke/carbon monoxide detector(s) for sound pickup to work, and requires careful monitoring of batteries on detector(s) AND alerting system sound module. Also, many newer "mainstream" fire/smoke and Carbon Monoxide detectors feature an alarm that is intermittent and/or increases in pitch, which may be impossible for some "deaf" alerting devices and sound modules to "hear" since most are designed to respond to sounds occurring at the same pitch for a set number of seconds. ANY system depending on audible input may be susceptible to "false alarms" triggered by ambient noise levels.

Option B
If you are Deaf or hard of hearing, or a landlord seeking to provide fire safety to a Deaf or hard of hearing tenant, you can purchase specialized fire/smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that have been designed from the outset to alert deaf and hard of hearing people. These often consist of fire/smoke and carbon monoxide detectors which send wireless signals to trigger visual and tactile alerting systems when activated; or plug - in single station alerting devices with ADA - compliant strobe lights and audible warning.

PRO: Generally more reliable and more convenient to use because there are no audible pickup range or placement issues. No "false alarms" caused by ambient noise such as vacuum cleaners, television or loud conversation, all of which can and do trigger traditional sound pickup modules. Transmitting detectors can be placed throughout the home, ensuring that you will be alerted regardless of where the fire or carbon monoxide leak originates. This is likely the best option if you live in a single-family home with no more than two or three floors.

CON: More expensive to purchase; less options available. Stand alone detectors (this means a fire alarm that is plugged into a wall outlet and which is NOT connected to the building fire alarm system), even those specifically designed for the deaf and hard of hearing, are virtually useless in multiunit, highrise dwellings as they only alert to danger in their immediate surroundings. If you live on the tenth floor of a highrise apartment building, a stand alone smoke detector in your bedroom will not respond to a fire on the first floor until the heat and smoke are sufficiently intense to trigger it on the tenth floor, by which time escape may be impossible.

LANDLORDS: The best way to promote safety for Deaf and hard of hearing tenants is to provide hardwired audiovisual fire alarms inside the tenant's living quarters and bedroom. These should be connected to the building's main fire control panel, and have some tactile component such as bed shakers connected to a switched circuit with backup power.

The Architectural Access Board has downloadable regulations which apply to multiple dwellings ( click here for direct link and scroll to section 9.7.2).

Useful links:

Smoke, Fire and Carbon Monoxide Alerting Systems for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Manufacturers and Vendors


This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.