Smoke Detectors Guide

Smoke Detectors - Your Ultimate Idiot's Guide

Last updated on September 2, 2018
Summary: Smoke detection is an essential safety precaution that no home should be without. Which ones are the best smoke detectors, how they work, and where to find these smoke alarms can get tricky for the average homeowner. In this article, you’ll learn what smoke detectors are, how they work, the difference between fire detectors and smoke alarms, and the benefits and features to look for in smart smoke detectors.

Understanding Smoke Detectors & What They’re All About

Approximately 60% of deaths that occurred from residential fires took place in homes that either had no smoke detection in place or were operating with faulty equipment. These numbers are tragic in their own right because it shows how easily hundreds of thousands of lives might have been saved just by installing a basic smoke alarm. In today’s modern society, there is no reason not to have a working and efficient detection system in your home. Here are a few important details every homeowner should know about smoke detection systems, and which features the best smoke detectors boast for keeping your home, your valuables, and your loved ones safe.

What is a Smoke Detector & How Does it Differ From a Fire Detector?

In its most basic form, a smoke detector is a simple device that monitors the atmosphere within a building and detects any hazardous form of gas or smoke production. When this happens, it sends a signal to the alarm, which in turn activates an audible and at times visible alarm notifying those in the area of the danger. The best smoke detectors are linked to a remote monitoring service so help can be sent out instantly upon the alarm being triggered.

Fire detectors, on the other hand, monitor the changes in an environment based on combustion. As such, these detectors notify you only when a fire is in full swing. In addition to detecting actual fire, fire detectors can be triggered by smoke if enough of the gases are concentrated in a single area (but at this point the levels are fatally high). This is where the confusion lies and why so many people use the terms interchangeably. Fire detectors are more effective in commercial buildings and are usually required by law.

Conversely, smoke alarms are more effective than a simple fire detector in residential homes, registering and notifying you of danger at an earlier stage and giving you time to evacuate before inhaling harmful gases. Smoke inhalation is actually the bigger killer, claiming more lives in fire incidents than the actual fires themselves.

How does a Smoke Detector Work?

There are different types of technologies that run smoke detection systems, but the basic concept is the same. The smoke detector camera feed is interrupted, triggering an alarm. Most modern systems are linked to a remote monitoring center that receives the alarm at the same time as you hear it within your home. The monitoring center then sends out a notification to the fire department, so help arrives quickly and without you having to alert the authorities. Many systems are combined with a carbon monoxide detector as well, for an added layer of protection.

Where to Install Smoke Detectors

Smoke detector placement is an important decision because proper placement will lead to safety and timely notification, while improper placement could easily lead to tragedy. According to the National Fire Protection Association, smoke detectors should be installed no more than 12 inches away from the ceiling inside each bedroom and outside these areas so you will hear the smoke alarm beeping and be woken up in the event of a fire. Multiple-story homes should have a detector on every floor, and floors without sleeping areas should have a detector in the living areas, as well. This includes basements, as it is unlikely that you will hear the smoke alarm beeping from a higher level when in the basement level. Basement detectors should be installed directly on the ceiling where the levels meet for optimal detection and so the smoke alarm battery will be easily reached for changing purposes.

Ionization or Photoelectric Smoke Detector?

The two most commonly used technologies within smoke detectors today are ionization and photoelectric systems. Photoelectric systems  are triggered when the smoke detector camera is blocked by smoke. Ionization systems, the cheaper of the two, works under the same principle, only instead of a photobeam that gets blocked, ionization detectors send out an electric current that is interrupted by the gas to trigger the alarm.

There are slight differences in the functionality of each type of detector. For example, ionization detectors are more effective in flaming fires, while photoelectric ones respond more rapidly to smoldering fires. Fires that occur from a stovetop fire or other flare ups are covered by ionization systems. However, fires that sit and smolder for a period of time, allowing toxic gases to build up in an area and seep out around the home, can be even more dangerous. In truth, both types of fires are extremely dangerous and prevalent, so for optimal coverage, homeowners should opt for both.

No one needs to be told of the devastating and tragic results that can occur from a poor quality or faulty system (or even more, from not having a system at all). In comparison to the fatalities and the significant financial losses that can be incurred, the small investment in a dedicated smoke detection system is really a no-brainer. In fact, because systems today are so inexpensive and the losses of not being informed on time are so great, many homeowners choose to employ both types of technologies within their homes. There are many systems that integrate both  photoelectric and ionization detection, but even if you need to invest in two separate systems, the cost is nominal compared to what you are saving. Remember, this play it safe method has saved many lives and countless millions in damages.

Local or Monitored Smoke Detector?

When researching smoke detection systems, you’ll no doubt come across the debate of using a local versus a monitored system. Local systems are standalone units that set off an alarm to notify the people in the house or vicinity that there is a problem. Monitored systems are linked to a monitoring center that listens for these alarms and directs the fire department to your location upon being triggered.

The advantage of using a local system is the price. These standalone units are cheaper, costing only the initial expense of the hardware. Generally, installation is DIY, as is the assistance. The benefits of monitored systems are that you have someone observing your home at all times, even when you’re not home or incapable of calling for help on your own. The advantages of a monitored system far outweigh those of the local system, and today’s most advanced detectors are nominally priced and come complete with monitoring services , so you can get the kind of protection you want without breaking the bank.

Wired Smoke Detector

Wired smoke detectors are hardwired into your home’s electric system. These require a bit more technical know-how to install, but they are beneficial because such detectors can be linked to one another. This way, when one is triggered, all alarms go off around the house. Many wired smoke detectors come with a backup smoke alarm battery so the system will work even if the power shorts.

Smart Smoke Detectors

The other alternatives which are gaining popularity for its convenience, accuracy, and depth of service are the smart smoke detectors. Working through an internet connection, smart smoke detectors sync with your smart home, so you are constantly connected and always up to date on what’s going on at home. These wireless devices are easier to install, manage, and upkeep, with more accurate alarm systems, faster response times, and longer batteries for maximum efficiency.

Yes, detectors have come a long way since their inception. Today, you’d be amazed at some of the features you can find including:

  • Email/text or app notifications when an alarm is triggered
  • Batteries that last for years and backup  battery in case of power failure
  • Hush button to silence false alarms
  • Full system syncing so all alarms speak to each other

Protect Your Home with the Smart Choice in Smoke Alarms

Every minute and a half a home structure fire is reported, resulting in millions of deaths and untold injuries every single year. Statistics have shown that an active smoke detector can prevent an incident from exacerbating into a tragedy, alerting you quickly and efficiently, but you have to have a system in place. Don’t let your home be the next statistic. Get the right smoke detection system for your home by knowing about proper smoke alarm placement, features, and uses so that you can protect yourself and your loved ones from this terrible occurrence and keep your home safe and secure at all times.


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