According to the Red Cross, nearly 900 people could be saved from home fire deaths if all U.S. homes installed working smoke detectors. Statistics from the National Fire Protection Association reported that "residential is the leading property type for fire deaths (nearly 75 percent), fire injuries (77.1 percent), and fire dollar loss (43.4 percent)". These facts alone show the importance of having a working smoke alarm on your property. But which smoke detector should you buy? In our smoke detector buying guide, we discuss the factors you should consider when shopping for a smoke detector.
Types of Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
You can find a standalone smoke detector and a standalone carbon monoxide detector, as well as a combination of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. They can come in smart or non-internet connected forms. Some types of detectors offer standalone or interconnected varieties. Others are quite effective at detecting carbon monoxide, smoldering fires, and flaming fires. For maximum safety and protection, it's advisable to install a combination of smoke and CO detectors.
Types of Smoke Detectors
- Ionization Smoke Detector – they are best at detecting the small particles typical of fast, flaming fires. They are not as effective in detecting smoky, smoldering fires. Plus, they are prone to false alarms from burnt food and steam. Therefore, avoid placing them near the kitchen or bathroom.
- Photoelectric Smoke Detectors – they are best at detecting the large particles typical of smoky, smoldering fires, but are poor at detecting fast, flaming fires. However, they are less prone to false alarms from burnt food.
- Dual-Sense Smoke Detectors – they combine ionization and photoelectric technology, making them capable of detecting both flaming and smoldering fires, hence offering the best protection. However, you may still need to install a carbon monoxide detector.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
These devices are designed with sensors that detect the presence of CO in your home. Some models are designed to show the CO level on a digital screen, while others can read out the CO level.
Battery Vs. Hard-Wired Options
Your device’s power source is crucial. You can opt for a hard-wired smoke and carbon monoxide detector if your home has an allocation for its installation in the home wiring and electric system. Keep in mind that you'll likely need professional installation. The downside of using hard-wired devices is that they may not work during a power outage unless they have a battery backup. Battery-powered models, on the other hand, are easier to install, and you don’t have to worry about power failures. Some models come with batteries that require yearly replacement, while others come with lithium batteries that last the lifetime of the device.
Smart Detectors or Not
As discussed earlier, the safest choice is opting for combination detectors that incorporate ionization and photoelectric technologies and carbon monoxide sensors. Smart devices come with extra features like the ability to manage the gadget via a smartphone app. For instance, you can check the battery level, get alerts when you're not home, and hush alarms right from your smartphone. The advantage of buying smart detectors, whether hard-wired or battery-powered, is they can interconnect with other detectors of the same model.
Look for the UL Stamp
Smoke and CO detectors are necessary home safety gadgets. So before buying one, make sure they meet the Underwriters Laboratories Standard. Apart from looking for the UL Stamp, check the dates of manufacture. The more recent, the better since the devices lose their sensitivity over time.
Choosing the Right Alarm Type
While detection is crucial, it's equally important to choose an alarm that will sufficiently warn everyone in the house of the looming danger. There are several types of smoke alarms:
- Beeping alarms are the most common and alert people with a loud beeping noise.
- Strobe lights alarms are helpful for people who have hearing problems. They emit a bright strobe light and sometimes vibrate to alert residents of a potential fire.
- Voice alarms are a good option for people who are not fans of beeping sounds. They use a pre-recorded voice command when the alarm goes off, which can be useful where kids are present since kids respond better to commands with specific instructions coming from a parent.
Ease of Maintenance
All models of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors require occasional maintenance. Experts recommend that you test your devices at least once every month to make sure they are working. If you opt for battery-powered detectors, keep in mind that they will need replacing every so often. Most models will alert you when the batteries start to go low on power. As a rule of thumb, smoke detectors will need replacing every 10 years, while CO detectors every five years. Most models will come with a test button for a quick test run. Moreover, look for models that offer a good warranty to reduce your chances of replacing your device earlier than necessary. Other features to look for include:
- A silence button to turn the loud noise off in case of a false alarm.
- A remote control mute button to silence the alarm.
- Interconnectability, which allows for easy connection to other detectors in the house.
- Compatibility with security systems that can alert authorities in case of a fire.
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