Smoke detectors save lives
The statistics are
sobering and tragic: Three out of five home fire deaths occur in cases where
there were either no smoke alarms or that had smoke alarms that failed to work,
reports the National Fire Protection Association. In addition, just
having working smoke alarms cuts your chances of dying in a home fire in half.
This report focuses on
smoke detectors, zeroing in on top performers according to expert and owner
reviews. We will also delve into the different types of smoke detectors, where
they are most effective, and how to install and maintain your smoke detectors
so they deliver of the maximum possible warning in case a fire erupts.
Types of Smoke Detectors
Ionization Smoke Detectors
This type of smoke detector is best at detecting fast, flaming fires -- such as those fueled by paper or flammable liquids. Typically used in and near kitchens, ionization smoke detectors are the most common type of smoke detector in U.S. homes.
Photoelectric Smoke Detectors
Photoelectric smoke detectors are the most effective type when it comes to detecting slow, smoldering fires. These fires are often started by weak heat sources, such as an unextinguished cigarette in upholstered furniture, bedding, drapery, etc. However, they are less effective than ionization smoke detectors in detecting open flames.
Dual-Sensor Smoke Detectors
These smoke detectors have both ionization and photoelectric sensors and are effective in detecting all types of common fires. One major reviewer only recommends dual sensor detectors, though some other experts say that having separate ionization and photoelectric detectors is are a better alternative.
Combination CO and Smoke Detectors
Some smoke detectors also include sensors to detect carbon monoxide. They are pricier than detectors for smoke only, but can be cheaper than buying separate units for CO and smoke. If you are interested in a stand-alone carbon monoxide detector only, those are covered in their own report.
Smart Combination CO and Smoke Detectors
These alarms connect to the Internet to allow remote notifications of smoke, CO and potentially other conditions while you are away from your home. They also allow you to control your smoke and CO detectors via a mobile device to, among other things, silence nuisance alarms.
Which type of smoke detector is best?
Experts say that to be
fully protected against all types of fires you need ionization, photoelectric and/or
dual-sensor smoke alarms placed in strategic locations throughout your home. Both
types of smoke detectors can either be battery operated or be hard wired to
your home's electrical system.
detectors are the easiest to install. With traditional battery-operated smoke
alarms, you need to be extra diligent in testing the batteries and replacing
any that are weak to ensure that the smoke detector will operate in the event
of a fire. However, new regulations in several states have given rise to a new
breed of smoke detector with a sealed lithium-ion battery that can't be
replaced or removed, but is rated to last for 10 years. When the battery
finally peters out, you need to replace the entire unit.
Hard-wired smoke detectors
require a more involved installation, and many authorities recommend that it be
done by a licensed professional who is familiar with electrical and fire safety
codes. The major advantage of hard-wired smoke detectors is that they are more
likely to be operational in case of an emergency -- except in those cases where
there has been a power outage or the power has been turned off for any other
reason. To counter any possibility of that happening, hard-wired smoke
detectors have battery backups. However, as with traditional battery-operated
smoke detectors, homeowners need to be diligent in making sure that the backup
battery is both installed and fresh so that the smoke detector won't fail you
when you need it most.
Smoke detectors can be
interconnected or stand-alone. Interconnected smoke detectors add an additional
measure of safety as all will sound when any individual smoke detector is
activated. That can save precious minutes in the case of a fire in an
unoccupied part of the house -- for example, a basement fire while all members
of the household are asleep in upstairs bedrooms. The most common type of
interconnected smoke detector is hard wired, but it is also the most costly and
complicated to install since an electrical connection needs to be run between
all of the smoke detectors on the same loop. Most who opt for hard-wired
interconnected smoke detectors do so when, as part of a major remodeling
project or during new construction, interior walls and ceilings have either
been taken down or have not yet been installed.
smoke detectors are now also available. These can be hard-wired,
battery-operated, or a combination of both. Each wireless smoke detector acts as
a node in a mesh network, relaying signals to provide complete coverage in your
home. Both Kidde and First Alert -- the two major providers of smoke detectors
in the U.S. -- offer hard-wired wireless smoke detectors that can act as a
bridge, merging an older hard-wired interconnected smoke detector network with
a new, wireless interconnected network. In that way, when any one smoke
detector in either network sounds, every smoke detector in both networks will
smoke detector puts you a good way toward preserving the lives of you and your
loved ones should a fire break out. However, to get the benefit of the
protection that smoke alarms can deliver, they need to be installed properly
and maintained regularly.
Installing smoke alarms
spring up without notice and spread with surprising speed. That's why
regulations and common sense dictate that smoke alarms be installed near likely
points of ignition, and in any area where people are likely to be sleeping.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends installing smoke detectors on
every level of your home, including the basement. Ceiling mounting is
recommended; wall mounting is acceptable, but the smoke detector should be
placed so that there's no more than a foot of clearance between the top of the
alarm and the ceiling.
where there are sleeping areas, install a smoke detector in each bedroom, as
well as outside in a common area, such as a hallway. On floors without
bedrooms, install one smoke detector in a common area such as a living room,
near the stairs to the next level, or in both locations. In a basement, install
a smoke detector on the ceiling near the bottom of the stairs to the first
floor. You'll want a smoke alarm in a kitchen, of course, but far enough from
cooking appliances to keep false alarms to a minimum -- at least 10 feet away
is the NFPA's guidance. Also keep smoke detectors away from windows, doors or
ducts as drafts can delay fire detection. And, while smoke detectors don't
always blend in with your sense of style or décor, avoid painting them or
decorating them in any other way.
Maintaining smoke alarms
the experts at the U.S. Fire Administration, which is part of FEMA,
"A smoke alarm with a dead or missing battery is the same as having no
smoke alarm at all." The good news is that performing regular testing and
maintenance of your smoke detector is quick and easy.
that every smoke alarm should be tested once a month. Batteries, including back
up batteries in AC-powered smoke detectors, should be replaced annually; one
common recommendation is to use the changing of the clocks to Standard or
Daylight Savings time as a reminder to change smoke detector batteries.
exception is smoke detectors with lithium-ion or other long-life batteries that
are not user replaceable. These smoke detectors are now mandatory in several
states and some cities; Kidde provides an interactive map that shows
those laws by state. Such smoke detectors should still be checked monthly, but
once the batteries fail, the entire smoke detector needs to be replaced.
Regardless of power source, all smoke detectors should be replaced every 10
years or if it fails to sound when tested.
detectors need to be kept clean. Don't use water or cleaners, but a gentle
vacuuming once a month will go a long way toward maintaining peak operation
under most circumstances.
low-battery warnings. At the first sound of the distinctive chirping, replace
batteries right away. If a low battery warning continues to sound after fresh
batteries are installed, make sure those batteries are seated properly. Also,
the NFPA recommends strictly following manufacturer recommendations on
replacement batteries, including model and brand. "The smoke alarm may not
work properly if a different kind of battery is used," the association
are, of course, an issue with nearly every smoke alarm -- and can be easily
triggered by non-emergency situations such as cooking or taking a steamy
shower. The last thing you should do is silence the alarm by disabling the unit
or removing the battery -- that can be "a deadly mistake," the U.S.
Fire Administration advises. Instead, push the "silence" or
"hush" button that is found on most smoke detectors, then open doors
and windows to clear the air. You can help things along by waving a towel to
move the smoke/steam away from the smoke detector, or move the smoke detector
away from the kitchen or bathroom for a short time.
Finding The Best Smoke Detectors
"Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detectors"
The best smoke detectors are reliable, durable and easy to use.
Ideally, you want a smoke detector that will alert you fast enough for you and
your family to safely escape your home. Beyond reliability, we look for smoke
detectors that are easy to install, test and silence in the case of a false
To determine the best smoke detectors, we consulted testing-based reviews
conducted by consumer testing organizations, including Consumer Reports. Technology
sites, such as CNET, as well as some general review sites, such as Wirecutter and
Reviewed, weigh in with testing and information on the latest generation
"smart" smoke detectors. We also evaluated owner-written reviews on
sites including Amazon, Lowe's and Home Depot.