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How to Pick the Best Smoke Detector for Your Home

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

When you find yourself needing a new smoke detector, what features do you look for? Most people would say they look for a battery operated or a wired detector or maybe, wired with battery backup, based on the power source that is available. Are all detectors pretty much the same? There are a few things to consider before you purchase.

Ionization vs Photoelectric: Although there are other types of sensors, many common residential smoke alarms are either Ionization or Photoelectric sensors. Ionization sensors sense fire using electrically charged particles to detect smoke. These detectors are best at detecting flame fires. Other detectors use photoelectric sensors, that use light beams to detect smoke and are particularly good at detecting smoke from smoldering fires. These detectors are also a bit more resistant to false alerts, as a rule.

Dual Sensors: Some smoke detectors have dual sensors, using both technologies. These dual detectors are highly recommended. Caution don’t be confused if you see the word electrochemical mentioned along with the sensors. This is not referring to a dual sensor fire alarm but rather refers to the CO “carbon monoxide” detection that is now built into a great many modern fire alarms. CO detector are a great addition but may not be needed if your home’s systems are all electric and there are no other sources creating CO.

Interconnectivity, wired and wireless: Interconnected alarms are highly recommended. When one alerts, they all alert, as part of a daisy chain. “The Uniform Building Code” first required alarm hard wiring to be interconnected in 1988. If your home was built around this time or before you may not have that third red wire that enables this feature in your hard-wired alarm. Never fear, there are wireless alarms you can purchase that have this capability and run as part your home’s wi-fi network or a stand-alone or integrated mesh network. It is recommended that you use the hard-wired system, if available. If you have an older home, you may want to consider a combination of wired and interconnected wireless so that you have the best of both worlds.

Optimal installation locations: Generally, it is recommended by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) that you have one smoke alarm on each level preferably close to the staircases, these should be interconnected, additionally have a detector in the hall by bedrooms, and finally in each individual bedroom for optimal safety. These best practices are now the standard locations for new construction, in most jurisdictions.

Some Specialty Features:

· Smoke alarms that emit light that could help light the way during a fire.

· Detectors that have voice alerts, letting you know which detector is sounding the alarm.

· Smart cell phone alerts, as part of a security system when not at home.

· Detectors made for the hearing impaired, that emit strobe light alerts

Some Top rated smoke alarms with the features we are discussing:

Next time you are in the market for a smoke detector replacement or upgrade some of the information above can help you make an informed choice. Remember smoke detectors don’t last forever. 10 years is the standard for replacement and if it is a dual smoke and carbon monoxide detector it should be replaced every 7 years. Don’t forget to replace batteries yearly and test the system routinely. Units that fail a test need to be replaced, and if there has been a fire in the home or if an end-of-life signal is given, regardless of the timing.

Plan for Safety

Andy, Senior editor



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