In our Fire Safety class, we share a lot of important tips, but by far the most surprising thing people take away is that there are different types of smoke alarms. There are two main types of smoke alarms and they detect smoke in different ways. Each type is better for detecting different types of fires. These alarms are Photoelectric and ionization alarms and without looking closely, it is easy to miss this when picking out an alarm.
Here we will discuss the pros and cons of each type of alarms to help you make the best choice when buying an alarm for your home, and include our recommendations (and links) as a buyer’s guide at the end of the article.
Having the right detector is only the first step. You must also keep it maintained. To learn more about Smoke Alarm Maintenance here.
Ionization Smoke Alarms
Ionization alarms are best for Fast Flaming fires. This means there are a lot of flames and less smoke. This is usually caused by flammable liquids, wood, or paper starting the fire.
Ionization works well in hallways and bedrooms, although we recommend having a dual detector in your bedroom since most fatal fires happen while sleeping, so the bedroom should be the most protected area.
Where Ionization alarms are less effective is smoke that comes from burning food or furniture when there is more smoke than fire.
Look for the “I” logo on the packaging to tell if it’s an ionization detector. Generally speaking, ionization will be the least expensive option.
Photoelectric alarms are best for slow smoldering fires where there isn’t much fire at first, but there is a lot of smoke. This is more likely in the kitchen and living room, caused by burning furniture or food.
This alarm is important to have because without a photoelectric detector, it is possible that the home could fill up with smoke before an ionization alarm would even go off. There have been many tragic deaths because of only relying on ionization alarms.
Photoelectric alarms are great options to have throughout your home and especially in your kitchen and living room areas. Again, dual detectors will give you even more protection.
When looking for Photoelectric alarms, look for the “P” logo on the packaging to tell if it’s a Photoelectric alarm. Generally speaking, Photoelectric alarms will be the more expensive option.
As we have mentioned already, for the best protection, you should have both throughout your home. A dual detector can be a great way to accomplish this. This allows you to have the best of both worlds without leaving out protecting either detector. If you already have an ionization or photoelectric device, you could simply add another one right next to it.
Photoelectric vs Ionization
In this Rossen Reports video from the Today Show, they do a great experiment that helps show where ionization would fail your family.
Our Smoke Alarm Buyers Guide
While there are lots of great options when deciding on a smoke alarm, we have put together a list of a few options for detectors to make your shopping easier.
- Talking Dual Detector with 10 Year Worry-Free Battery
- This alarm is a great option since it gives you both technologies with the benefit of the 10-year battery. The rest alarms are great but this is our favorite.
- Talking Dual Detector with changeable battery
- Talking Photoelectric alarm with 10 Year Worry-Free Battery and Carbon Monoxide Protection
- This is a great option for children’s bedrooms, since many kids do not wake up with a traditional beeping alarm.
- Photoelectric alarm with 10 Year Worry-Free Battery
- Photoelectric with changeable battery
- Hard Wired Photoelectric with a backup battery
- Photoelectric Alarm with Carbon Monoxide detection
- Nest Smoke Alarm
- This is a smart alarm that has a Split-Spectrum Sensor that covers both types of fire and carbon monoxide detection
- Photoelectric Alarm with Escape Light
- This detector shines a light to help you escape and gives you a visual warning.
- Photoelectric Alarm with Strobe Light
- This is a good option for the hearing impaired who need to see the alarm.
Smoke Alarm Maintenance
Now that you have the right type of smoke alarm, you need to know how to maintain your smoke alarm. To learn more about maintaining it, check out our article on how to maintain a smoke alarm here.
Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Carbon monoxide detectors are important to warn you of dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide. This is especially is important if you have gas appliances but even if you don’t have them is the only way to know about high levels of carbon monoxide.
While carbon monoxide detection is an included a feature in many of the alarms above, having a stand-alone detector on every level is a great option. Because of their better functioning when mounted on the wall instead of the ceiling.
Here is one that plugs right into an outlet for an easy install, and here is another battery-operated CO detector.
First Response is dedicated to educating people about Fire Safety because we believe the best form of fire prevention is education. We teach about all the important Fire Safety tools in our fire safety courses. Learn more about how to sign up for fire safety courses here, and view other Fire Safety Resources here.