Smoke detectors are an essential part of home safety. They provide an early warning in case of fire and can save your life. Smoke detectors are usually inexpensive and are easy to install. The problem is homeowners may not know the different types of smoke detectors that exist. That’s why we prepared this smoke alarm guide so you can learn how they work and which one to choose.
Types of Smoke Detectors
Generally, there are two kinds of smoke detectors:
Ionization smoke detectors
Photoelectric smoke detectors
Ionization Smoke Detectors
These models use ionized particles to detect smoke in the air. The gadget is designed with radioactive material, which is placed between electrically charged plates. The reaction between these elements causes the air to be ionized, creating a current between the two plates.
When smoke gets into the ionization smoke detector, the current is disrupted, triggering the alarm. These types of smoke detectors work best with flaming fires (that is, fires with aggressive open flames).
Photoelectric Smoke Detectors
Photoelectric smoke detectors are the most popular in many households. They use a light source and a light sensor to detect smoke. When the smoke gets into the gadget, the smoke particles block the light beam, and partially reflect light onto the light sensor, triggering the alarm.
They work better with smoldering fires, which fill the room with fumes and smoke before it progresses to the open-flame stage. They are the most preferred since they are effective at early detection.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Carbon monoxide detectors, as the name suggests, detect the presence of carbon monoxide (CO) in the air. Some models even display the level of CO on a screen, while others can read out the CO level via audio messages.
These units can only detect CO. They can't detect smoke or explosive gases like methane, propane, or natural gas.
Choosing a Smoke Detector
Having known the difference between the two types of smoke detectors, the question remains, which kind of smoke detector should you choose?
The fact is, there’s no way one can predict the type of fire that may start in your home. That’s why it's advisable to install both types of smoke detectors in every room where you think the gadget is necessary. Modern units now come with dual sensors, which combine both technologies.
Most of these gadgets are affordable, making it manageable to install both. Interconnecting smoke alarms make your home safer. It means that when one alarm goes off, all the units in the house sound an alarm as well. However, for interconnected detectors to function properly, you may have to buy from the same manufacturer, otherwise, they may fail to sound.
There are a few factors to consider when choosing a smoke detector: They include:
Generally, you can purchase a battery-powered smoke detector or a wired smoke detector. Battery-powered models are the easiest to install and work, even during a power outage. Some come with replaceable batteries that need to be swapped yearly, while others have sealed lithium batteries that last the lifetime of the detector.
Hard-wired smoke detectors are basically wired into your home’s electrical system, and are more reliable, with little to no maintenance. They also use batteries, not as the primary source of power, but as a backup in case of a power interruption.
There are also plug-in detectors, which simply require you to plug them into a power source. The problem with this type of unit is that electric outlets are usually located low on the wall, while smoke detectors need to be placed on or near the ceiling.
Make Sure it Has the UL Stamp
Check if your smoke detector has the Underwriters Laboratories label, indicating it meets the set standards. On the same note, be sure to buy the latest model. So, check the manufacture date and buy the freshest. The reason behind this is that smoke detectors tend to lose their sensitivity over time.
A smoke detector has a lifespan of around 10 years, while CO detectors can last up to five years. Consider this the next time you go shopping for one.
As of June 2021, the UL required all smoke detectors to be able to distinguish between cooking smoke and smoldering fires. That’s why it's always advisable to buy the most recently manufactured unit.
Some people, especially children, sleep deeply than others, and might not be awakened by a conventional alarm. Some models now come with voice commands, but some people say it might not be the most effective way to wake the children up.
The good thing is that you can pre-record your voice, with studies showing that kids respond better to the sound of their mother’s pre-recorded voice rather than the default tone.
Smart Smoke Detectors
With everything in the house interconnected via the internet, it's important to get a smart smoke detector that can connect to your smartphone and alert you when the alarm goes off, even when you are out of the house.
They also alert you when the battery is running low, so you can replace them and reduce the risk of finding yourself in a fire incident without a functioning alarm.
Safety and Strobe Lights
When a fire erupts, the electrical system will likely be damaged, and the house plunged into darkness. A smoke detector with a safety light helps to illuminate the path so you can see where you're going. Strobe lights are also critical, especially for the hearing impaired.
The Best Smoke Detectors
The market is filled with dozens of smoke detectors, which can leave you confused. Some of the top models you can check out include:
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