Kristen Hicks on March 21, 2017 0 Comments Table of Contents Types of Smoke Detectors Types of Smoke Alarms Factors to Consider When Buying Popular Brands to Consider There aren’t all that many household products you buy where the stakes are literally life or death, but with smoke detectors they really are. Three out of five people who die from a fire in their home don’t have working smoke alarms. To increase the safety of you and your family, you need to make sure you have a smoke detector in your home, choose one you can count on to work, and do the proper maintenance needed to keep it in working order. Now that we’ve covered how extremely important it is to have a good smoke detector, here’s the good news: they’re affordable and maintenance is relatively easy, as long as you remember to do it. You can get a perfectly decent smoke detector for as little as $10 and even fancy smart ones usually cost less than $100. You have no excuses. You need a good smoke alarm. Here’s what you should know in your search to find the right one for you and your family. Types of Smoke Detectors Smoke detectors have two primary tasks: detect a fire, and alert the homeowners to its existence. For both functions, there are a few different options available. Each works a little differently and is best for recognizing a certain type of fire. Ionization Smoke Detectors Ionization smoke detectors use two metal plates with an electronic current between them that senses it when smoke enters into the chamber, which then triggers the alarm. This type of technology is best for detecting fast flaming fires quickly. That also makes them sensitive to the smoke from cooking, which means they’re often guilty of nuisance alarms. Unfortunately, that can sometimes lead people to disconnect them, putting themselves more at risk. Photoelectric Smoke Detectors Photoelectric smoke detectors use a light sensitive sensor that detects a disruption in the light when smoke enters the detector. These are most sensitive to fires in the smoldering stage, before flames come into play. Photoelectric smoke detectors are recommended by safety experts since they often sense serious fires more quickly and are less likely to trigger the kind of false alarms that cause owners of ionization smoke detectors to disconnect them. They do cost a little more than ionization smoke detectors, but the trade-off is a performance that most experts agree is superior. Dual Smoke Detectors Since each type of smoke detection technology is best for recognizing a certain type of fire, choosing a dual smoke detector that employs both can cover your bases for more potential scenarios. This option will generally cost you more than the other two, but it can bring more peace of mind. Types of Smoke Alarms Reliable detection is crucial, but the second important function of any smoke detector is the alarm. A smoke detector has to make sure everyone in the house is aware of the danger so you can get out quickly to protect yourselves, and call the authorities right away to protect as much of your home and property as possible. Beeping Alarms The most common way that smoke detectors alert people to potential fire is with a loud beeping noise. Most of the smoke detectors you look at, unless they specify otherwise, will use this technique. Many of the other alarm options we list here will come with smoke detectors that also offer the loud beeping options that are common. Strobe Light Alarms Strobe light alarms are a useful option for anyone hard of hearing, since they use a bright strobe light and sometimes vibrations to alert residents to a potential fire. If sound won’t do the trick for you or someone in your home, a strobe light alarm can make the difference. Voice Alarms If you’re not a fan of the beeping alarms, you have an alternate audio option in voice alarms. These allow you to use pre-recorded voice commands that kick in anytime an alarm goes off. Some people with kids prefer these as they expect their children may respond better to a command with specific instructions coming from a parent’s voice than to a more generic beeping sound. Smart Alarms Smart fire alarms usually provide at least one of the other options here, but add the functionality of being able to link your smoke detector to a smartphone app that alerts you when your alarm goes off no matter where you are. Smart alarms are popular because they provide that extra peace of mind that you’ll be able to respond quickly to a threat, even if you’re away from the house at the time it hits. CO Detectors and Combos Smoke detectors are specifically designed to detect smoke in the hopes of alerting you quickly to a fire, but of equal concern to most homeowners should be the possibility of a carbon monoxide leak. Any home that has gas or other fuel burning appliances should have CO detectors. While they’re technically a separate product from smoke detectors, they’re worth mentioning in our guide since you can find combo smoke detector and CO alarms. These products provide both types of safety in one item and, as such, can save you money and installation time. Carbon monoxide is as dangerous as fire, but often harder to detect, so make sure you consider whether or not you need a CO detector as well when you’re considering which smoke detector to buy. Factors to Consider When Buying a Smoke Detector While most smoke detectors do essentially the same job, you still have a variety of options to choose from. The main job’s the same, but the details vary. Here’s a rundown of the main factors you should be thinking about in your search. Cost If you don’t have much to spend, that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s possible to find functional smoke detectors that only cost about $10. A lot of people will want to spend a little more to get some key features and quality increases though. For one thing, if you want a smoke detector that uses both of the types of technology for detection described above, or at least one that uses photoelectric, the type that’s generally more effective, then you’ll want to spend a little more. If you want a smoke detector that also includes a CO2 alarm (which is recommended, unless you already have a separate CO2 detector), then your costs will go up a bit more as well. And if you want to get a smart smoke detector that lets you know about a fire even when you’re away from home, then you move into the most expensive category of the bunch. More features, functionality, and a longer life will all cost you more, but can bring some extra convenience and safety. If you can afford to spend more, it could pay off in the event that a fire does occur, but if you’re strapped for cash, having any smoke detector at all is better than going without. Maintenance All smoke detectors require some maintenance, but the amount required varies. No matter what type of smoke detector you go with, it’s recommended that you test that it’s working once every month or so. (Note: there’s usually a button you can press to do this – “testing it out” doesn’t mean setting a fire, just in case that’s not obvious). Battery-powered smoke detectors will need their batteries replaced every so often, and this process is easier in some models than others. Most models will beep or chirp at you when the batteries start to get low on power. And smoke detectors typically only last for seven years, so you’ll need to be prepared to replace them when the time comes. Power Source You have two choices when it comes to the power source of your smoke detectors: batteries or hardwired. Battery-powered smoke detectors are easier to install and you can trust they’ll work even in the event of a power outage, but you will have to deal with the beeping or chirping when the batteries get low, which most people find obnoxious (although it’s obnoxious for good reason – to get you to do something that could potentially save your life). Hardwired smoke detectors require a more complicated installation process and usually come with the option to include backup batteries, so the unit won’t stop working if there’s an energy outage in your area. Newly constructed houses often use hardwired models, and if you’re replacing hardwired smoke detectors, then it will probably make the most sense to go with a hardwired smoke detector for your new model as well. Accuracy The thing about smoke detectors is that most of the time, their job is to stay quiet. That can make it hard to know for sure if they’ll do their most important job if or when the time comes. You don’t want to have to guess, you want know your smoke detector will sound the alarm (or flash bright lights) at you if there’s a chance of fire. The best way to be confident in your alarm’s accuracy is to go with one that offers both types of detection technology and do regular maintenance and testing (again, with the use of the detector’s test button, not by setting any fires). For the input of people who tested smoke detectors out with actual fire (in a safe environment), you can check out Consumer Reports’ smoke detector ratings. Durability Due to the technology used in smoke detectors, they all have a life span of about seven years. No matter which smoke detector you buy, you should therefore anticipate needing to replace it in about seven years time. Nonetheless, it’s best to get one that will last that full seven years, so look for smoke detectors that include a good warranty so you reduce your chances of having to buy a new smoke detector again any earlier than necessary. Number of Alarms All houses and apartments need smoke detectors, no matter the size, but some will need more than others. Experts recommend having smoke detectors on every level of your home if you have multiple stories, and one right outside of each bedroom. Consider the size of your home and the number of rooms and stories and make sure you purchase and install enough alarms to be confident the home is fully covered. This isn’t an area in life to pinch pennies. Ease of Installation Most smoke detectors are easy enough to install that a lot of people can manage it without calling in a professional. That’s especially true of battery-powered smoke detectors, which will be your easiest option if you don’t want to deal with a tricky installation process. Hardwired smoke detectors will be more complicated, so take time to read up on what’s involved in installing the smoke detector you’re considering to make sure you’re up to the challenge. User reviews can be a good place to get a head’s up to any special challenges that may come with installation of particular models. Features and Extras: Interconnectability — As most homes will require more than one smoke detector, buying models that can be connected to one another can increase the effectiveness of them all. Interconnectability means that if one unit detects smoke, they’ll all go off, so everyone in the house is more likely to wake up and get moving faster. A Silence Button — False alarms happen and they’re a pain when they do. A silence button makes turning the loud noise off during a false alarm easier. A Remote Control Mute Button — Even more convenient than a silence button is a remote one that you can hook up to your remote control or smartphone to silence the alarm during nuisance alarms. Compatibility With Security Alert System — If you have a home security system, hooking your smoke detector up to it can mean the authorities are alerted faster in the case of a fire, but only some smoke detectors are compatible with certain security systems. Popular Smoke Detector Brands There are just a few main players in the smoke detector space, but understanding the differences and what they each have to offer can help you make a more informed decision. To help provide you with that information, we looked at the reviews of smoke detectors sold by each to see what actual customers have to say about their experience. First Alert First Alert is a popular brand that sells both smoke alarms and CO detectors, along with products that combine the two. Their smoke detectors don’t look like anything fancy, but they work. Reviewers praise First Alert’s products for working reliably, having a long battery life, and being easy to install. Kidde Kidde also sells smoke detectors and combination smoke and CO2 models. Reviewers are generally happy with their Kidde safety products, praising them for being a good value, easy to install, and as loud as they need to be. On the whole, they’re a reliable brand to go with. Leeo Leeo sells smart alerts that can be programmed to work with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to provide a remote alert system people can use on their smartphones. In other words, once you’ve connected a Leeo alert to your existing smoke detector, you can expect to get an alert on your phone any time the smoke detector goes off in your home. Customers of Leeo are thrilled with the peace of mind the product provides. A few were disappointed to find that their Leeos didn’t seem to detect the sound of their alarms – possibly due to a compatibility issue. They don’t work for everyone, but the customers the Leeos smart alarms worked for are satisfied with them. Nest Nest is one of the best known brands for smart products, with their learning thermostat leading the charge, and their smart smoke alarms earn a level of satisfaction in keeping with the rest of the brand’s products. Customers say their smart smoke alarms are easy to set up, praise the smartphone functionality, and are happy with how effective the product is at doing its job. Nest is a brand known for making cool products that satisfy and their combination smoke alarm and CO detector fits the bill. Conclusion This is a decision that matters. Whatever you do, don’t let indecision keep you from buying a smoke detector. It’s one of the few home appliances out there that can literally save your life. But do consider what features and functionality are most important to you so you can be sure to make the right choice.