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Buying Guide for the Best Smoke Detectors

This guide will provide you with information about the different kinds of smoke detectors, their various features, where they are located in your home, and how to properly install them.

This year in the United States more than 3,500 people will die from fires in their homes while another 1,800 will be seriously injured.  Each year, fires inside homes have cost approximately $8 billion dollars in damages.  Smoke inhalation is the leading cause of people dying in fires, not from the actual fire itself.  In many cases, fires break out when the victims are sleeping.

Having smoke detectors in your home is the best way to prevent being a victim from a fire.  The risk of dying from a fire is twice as high if you do not have a smoke detector.  On top of that, 20% out of 95% of homes that have smoke detectors, the detectors are either broken or disabled.

The sole purpose of a smoke detector is to remain active around the clock and set off an alarm if it senses smoke, allowing you and your family some valuable time to get out of the house.  The alarm is a relentless, very loud, piercing beep that will never stop which will wake up people so they can take action.

There are other alarms that include a voice detector giving verbal commands along with the actual alarm.  As an example, you can have a pre-recorded voice command that says “Fire, Fire, Get Out!” or “Battery Is Low” or “Smoke Alert!”. There are other smoke detectors that will allow parents to record their own voices.  Studies have shown that children are more likely to obey a parent’s voice and get out vs a pre-recorded factory voice.

Strobe smoke detectors are alarms that are designed for those who are hearing-impaired.  Instead of a sound, these detectors send off strobe lights that will flash and vibrate to alert people who are unable to hear the sound of an alarm.  There are even smoke detectors that respond with a physical movement such as shaking the bed!

Which Is Better, A Battery Operated Alarm Or A Hardwired Alarm?

In general, most smoke detectors are battery operated but there are some that are installed in homes under construction.  These smoke alarms are hardwired into the home’s electrical system and run on the home’s current.  Most hardwired smoke detectors are considered the best smoke detectors because they come with a battery backup in case a fire knocks out the electrical power to the home.

Probably the most popular smoke detectors are battery-operated and are very easy to install.  The batteries inside both battery-operated and hardwired smoke detectors will last approximately 6 months.  When the battery is running low, you will get a chirping sound from the smoke detector reminding you it’s time to replace the batteries.  Make sure you place the batteries in the right way.  Most newer detectors will not allow you to close the compartment’s door if the battery has been removed.  The newer lithium battery smoke detectors will last up to 10 years and the entire unit is disposable.

About Addressable Smoke Detectors:

An addressable smoke detector system provides information about the location and status of all devices.  The alarm determination is made by control equipment instead of an individual detection device.

The Features Included –

The alarm can be checked before the fire service is called.

The system can tell you which device requires maintenance.

Each smoke detector is uniquely identified and the exact location of each unit is shown on the fire control panel.

Cut wires or short circuits will not generate a nuisance alarm.

Each sensor can be adjusted to its own environment.

Nuisance alarms are less likely to go off because the system uses multi-sensor detection.

Many have strobe lights to alert people who are hearing impaired.

About Smoke-CD Detectors:

Combination detectors are some of the best smoke detectors and have become extremely popular.  They are a combination of a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector.  You can get them in CO/Ionization alarms and CO/Photoelectric alarms.  Purchasing these combination alarms will mean you need fewer alarms in your home.  The biggest difference is in the mounting.  CO alarms are mounted in a typical wall outlet that is low on the wall while the optimum smoke alarm is placed on or near your ceiling.

A new design in alarms is becoming extremely popular, it’s the Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarm.  It is connected to Wi-Fi and sends an alert to your phone if the alarm is activated or the batteries are low. A voice will actually tell you if the problem is smoke or CO and where it’s happening. The actual connection is run through a companion app on your phone.  The carbon monoxide sensor has a lifespan of 10 years and you can get both in battery-operated and hardwired models.

Here’s How Smoke Detectors Actually Work:

The workings of a smoke detector include three main parts, the sensing chamber, a very loud alarm, and a battery or home voltage power source. There is a test button that will let you know if the battery, sensor, and/or alarm is working correctly.  The batteries should be replaced on schedule each year.

Your basic smoke detector runs by ionization while others use a photoelectric cell.  Running on ionization, a small amount of radioactive material conducts electricity through the air between the electrodes. When smoke interferes with the current, the alarm will go off.

Running on photoelectric, a small beam of light is used. Smoke will cause the light to scatter and then the alarm will send out a warning.

Because some detectors can send out a false alarm due to cooking in the kitchen or from high humidity in the bathroom, it’s advised not to place these detectors within 20 feet of your kitchen, garage, hot water heaters, and furnaces.  Detectors should not be placed within 10 feet of your bathroom. You should also keep them away from areas that are drafty.

Where You Should Install Your Smoke Detectors:

The US Fire Administration recommends having both an ionization chamber detector and a photoelectric detector or just one dual-sensor alarm on each floor.  It’s advised you have one battery-operated and one hardwired detector to ensure your home is completely protected as it’s highly unlikely both detectors would be down at the same time.

Play it safe and install one detector in each bedroom and at least one on every level of your home, including your basement and attic.  It’s also advised you have at least one working fire extinguisher in your home.

Most smoke detectors should be mounted on the ceiling or on the wall near the ceiling because smoke rises. Detectors that are ceiling-mounted should be 4 inches away from any wall at the highest point of the ceiling.  If you have cathedral ceilings, do not place the detectors at the highest point of the ceiling or in a corner because those areas are considered dead air spaces.  Instead, place them at the next highest level.  Wall-mounted detectors should be on a wall a few inches, but not more than a foot, from the ceiling.

Smoke detectors should be several feet away from heating or cooling registers, windows, corners of a room, the edge of a ceiling fan’s expanse, any ducts or doors to the kitchen or bathroom because you will probably get a false alarm from the smoke and/or steam.  Also, make sure they are far away from combustion sources such as gas and oil furnaces, space heaters, water heaters, and your clothes dryer.

When placing smoke alarms in your basement, make sure you place it at the bottom of the stairs and if you have a sleeping area in the basement, place another detector there.

Smoke Detectors For Homes With High Ceilings:

Beam smoke detectors are considered the best smoke detectors for open areas with high ceilings as other smoke detectors are very difficult to install and to maintain.  The beam from the detector senses a loss in the signal from the unit and works perfectly for both smoke and fast flaming fires.

The beam smoke detector comes as either a dual-ended or single-ended.  The single-ended beam detectors are much easier to install. Alignment is performed through an optical sight and two-digit signal-strength meter placed in the unit.  The basic unit has a transmitter/receiver and a reflector.  When smoke enters the area between the unit and the reflector, it will cause a loss in the signal.  If smoke levels reach the predetermined threshold, the alarm will go off.  There are more expensive models that have sensitivity adjustments and testing features.

Installing A Smoke Detector:

If you choose a smoke detector that is hardwired, you will need to hire a certified electrician to perform the installation.  If you choose a battery-operating unit, all you need is a screwdriver although some models have self-adhesives to stick to the walls.

Before installing, make sure you read all the manufacturer’s instructions as all smoke detectors can be quite different from one brand to another.

If you don’t do heights well or standing on a ladder is a problem, get someone to help you out.  In some cases, fire departments will install detectors for homeowners.  Contact your local fire department to see if they are able to help you out.  Just make sure when you call them, you use the number for non-emergency calls Only.