What the best smoke detector has

  • Dual sensors. Because ionization and photoelectric sensors detect different types of fire hazards, your family will be most adequately protected with a smoke detector that contains both types of sensors, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
  • Battery backup. These units will function with or without electricity. Keep in mind that it's important to regularly change batteries in these units.
  • Easy installation. Battery-powered smoke detectors are easier to install than hardwired units, negating the need to fuss with electrical wiring.
  • Testing functionality. The best smoke detectors have a test function to ensure the unit is working adequately.
  • Silencing feature. Smoke alarms may go off periodically under false pretenses, such as a cooking accident. A silence button allows you to quickly deactivate the alarm.
  • Long warranty. Smoke detectors can malfunction, but the best models come with five-to-10-year warranties. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends replacing the entire unit every eight to 10 years.

Know before you go

What are the regulations in your state or municipality? Check with your local and state authorities to determine whether you're required to have a hard-wired smoke detector installed and whether you must have photoelectric smoke alarms installed in your home. The National Conference of State Legislatures is a good resource for determining regulations.

Do you need a carbon monoxide detector? Depending on the heating source in your home, you may need a carbon monoxide detector. Some manufacturers offer combination units; we cover carbon monoxide detectors and combination smoke/carbon monoxide detectors in a separate report.

How are your existing smoke detectors installed? If you currently have a hard-wired smoke alarm in your home, you'll want to replace it with the same type. Certain smoke detectors come equipped with universal mounting kits, which work with most existing attachment structures, eliminating the need to drill additional holes.

Buying tactics and strategies

  • Opt for package deals. Retailers such as Amazon.com, Home Depot and Lowe's offer package deals of four to six smoke detectors per pack. Opting for this buying strategy can save you a few bucks per alarm.
  • Replace all smoke detectors at the same time. If you find it's necessary to replace one smoke detector, it's a good idea to replace them all -- especially if you're uncertain of a unit's age.
  • Buy interconnected alarms as a package. Most interconnected alarms come in bundles. Buying several alarms together ensures the best communication between all units. If you must buy one or two additional alarms, be sure to test the communication between the alarms after installation.

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