Best Type of Smoke Detectors – Will Yours Work?

best type of smoke detectorsA smoke alarm, also known as a smoke detector, is a device that senses or detects smoke. It then emits a sound and or a visual signal to notify residents to a potential fire hazard. When choosing the best type of smoke detectors for protecting you and your family you have a few options. When I was inspecting homes approximately 25% of the houses I inspected had either non functioning or missing smoke detectors. In some cases the houses had smoke detectors but were poorly placed. In any case the bottom line is, smoke detectors save lives. This is a proven fact because of the following statistics provided from the National fire protection agency .

Smoke detectors statics

  • Smoke alarms sounded in 53% of all the house fires that were reported to U.S. fire departments.
  • 3 out of 5 home fire deaths were a result from homes non-working smoke or missing detectors .
  • No smoke detectors were present in 38% of the home fire deaths.
  • In 1 out of 5 of the home fire deaths, smoke alarms were present but did not sound an alarm .
  • In reported home fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate.  Forty six percent of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteriesbest type of smoke detector

False or nuisance alarms are the result of poor placement or the type of smoke detector that is present in a given location. Examples of a nuisance alarm is the alarm sounding because of burnt toast or cooking smoke. More times than not false alarms result in the occupant disabling the smoke detector rendering it useless. People will often leave the smoke detector hanging on the ceiling and remove the battery or entirely remove the unit .

Types of smoke detectors

Photoelectric and ionization sensor alarms are the 2 different designs of smoke detectors that are readily available. Both types will perform differently in given types of fires. Smoke detectors may be equipped with one or both types of sensors depending on the design you choose. Detectors with both Photoelectric and ionization sensors are known as dual-sensor smoke detectors .

Photoelectric Smoke Detectors are best at detecting larger particles that are typical during smoky, smoldering fires. On the other hand they are poor at detecting faster burning hotter fires. Photoelectric alarms are less prone to false alarms from burnt foods, such as toast. Therefore they may be  best used  in kitchen areas.

Ionization Smoke Detectors are best at detecting the smaller particles that are typical of hotter burning fires. But have been reported as being  poor in detecting smoky, smoldering fires. Ionization units are more prone to false alarms from burnt food or steam. Therefore thet are not recommended to place them near in kitchens or bathrooms.

Combination type smoke detectors

Dual-Sensor type smoke detectors combine both ionization and photoelectric sensors. This results in the ability to detect both flaming and smoldering fires. Because of this they offer you all around fire protection. These dual sensor types are a great choice when deciding what type of smoke detectors you need.

There is also a combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector manufactured. These detectors combine ionization or photoelectric sensors along with carbon monoxide detection sensors. These types of units will sound an alarm when either smoke or carbon monoxide are present .

So which type is better?

Unfortunately there is no simple answer to this question. Both types work on different technology and respond differently to fire conditions. An Ionization detector for example will trigger faster to flaming fires. Whereas a photoelectric smoke detector will respond faster to a slow smoldering fire.

A flaming fire burns combustibles quickly, it will spread fast and generate a lot of heat with very little smoke. Things like cooking fat, flammable liquids, newspapers and paint, all burn quickly resulting in more flames than smoke.

Ionization type smoke detectors typically trigger quickly to fast flaming fires. They are best suited for rooms which contain highly combustible materials. These types of materials when ignited, will burn hotter, resulting in more flames.

Smoldering fires produce a lot of smoke and very little heat, they may smolder for hours before bursting into flame. Large pieces of furniture like sofas or mattresses burn very slowly, creating more smoke than flames. Photoelectric type smoke detectors typically trigger better to slow smoldering fires . They are less prone to false alarms near the kitchen area.

Photoelectric type smoke detectors are best suited for living rooms, bedrooms and near kitchens. For maximum protection, install at least one ionization type and one photoelectric type smoke alarm on each level of your home. Or as mentioned above, you may choose to install dual sensor type smoke detectors.


Where should you install your smoke detectors?

Individual authorities may have their own requirements for smoke-alarm placement. Homeowners should check with their local building or fire department for further requirements. However the following guidelines can be used to give you a general idea.

Consider installing smoke detectors in the following locations:

  • On the ceiling or wall outside of each separate sleeping area near bedrooms.
  • Within each bedroom, this is because most house fires occur during sleeping hours.
  • On the ceiling in the basement preferably near the basement stairs.
  • In the garage, because generally many combustible materials commonly stored in the garage
  •  The top of the smoke detector should be 6 to 12 inches from the ceiling when installed on walls
  • You should install smoke detectors on each level of your home .


Don’t Install smoke detectors in the following locations:

  • In proximity to heating or cooling supply and return ducts or vents.
  • Close to windows, ceiling fans or bathrooms equipped with a shower or tub or near kitchen appliances.
  • In locations where ambient conditions, including humidity and temperature, are outside the limits specified by the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Areas where the mounting surface could become considerably warmer or cooler than the rest of the room. This may include areas that are not adequately insulated.


smoke detector location

Photo Courtesy of Consumer Reports

The smoke detectors power source

The power supply for a smoke detector will be either a 9 volt battery or hard-wired directly into the home.

Because the power source cannot be removed or drained hard-wired smoke detectors are more reliable. The disadvantage is that they will not function if a power outage occurs. On the other hand, battery operated units will often fail, because the battery can be easily removed or drained. The advantage of battery powered smoke detectors, is that they can be easily installed anywhere.

Older homes mostly have the battery powered types smoke alarms.This is because residential building codes to enforce smoke detectors weren’t in effect until 1980. Where possible homeowners should install both types of smoke detectors. This is  especially true if they are renovating or remodeling their home. You can easily have your electrical contractor install a new run for the addition of hard-wired smoke detectors. You will require room  in your existing main panel to do this. Current electrical code requires that the smoke detectors are on an independent circuit. At least that is the case in my jurisdiction.

Smoke detectors may also be interconnected so that if one is triggered all the smoke alarms sound. Interconnected smoke detectors are typically connected with a wire but, because of new technology this can be achieved using wireless.

Smoke detector tips

  • Always  use the alarm’s silencing feature, instead of disabling a smoke detector .
  • Test smoke alarms monthly, and replace their batteries semi-annually. A simple reminder can be to switch out the batteries when adjusting your clocks for Daylight Saving Time. Most models make a chirping noise when the batteries are low and need replacing.

Replace your smoke detector if

  • The smoke detector alarm fails to sound during a test or every 10 years, whichever comes first. Ensure that the power supply is properly connected or the battery is operable.
  • If you observe any battery leakage or corrosion on the battery terminals
  • When they are  painted over, exposed to fire or water, or it sounds without an apparent cause.
  • The exterior case is damaged, covered in grease, smoke or dirt.

Maintain and test your smoke detector

When  properly installed, tested and maintained,  smoke detectors  are valuable life-saving devices . Disconnected power supplies or missing or dead batteries are the most common reason for failure during a house fire.

Routine test and maintenance

  • Always follow he manufactures directions for testing your smoke alarm. Always use the test button located on the smoke detector when testing it. The alarm should sound during this test.  All the alarms should sound  if you have interconnected smoke alarms.
  • Be sure that the smoke detector is securely fastened.
  • Look to see that the smoke alarm is not obstructed preventing the smoke from reaching the smoke detectors sensors.
  • Ensure that battery terminals have not corroded and batteries have not leaked. Where batteries show evidence of leakage or corrosion, the smoke alarm should be replaced.
  • Vacuum the exterior of the smoke alarm with a household vacuum cleaner. Using a brush attachment may assist in removing accumulated dust on the cover of the device.
  • After vacuuming, test the smoke alarm to ensure it operates properly.

So whats the best type of Smoke detector ?

As you can see from information smoke detectors come with a variety of functions and designs. Actually choosing to name the best type of smoke detectors is dependent on your situation. The fact is functioning smoke detectors save lives. Personally I choose to use the dual sensor type smoke detectors with a combination of hard-wired and battery powered units. I don’t have gas fired equipment in my home so I do not use a carbon monoxide detector alarm.

If you have any questions or comments on this post Best Type of Smoke Detectors – Will Yours Work ?  please leave them below. Please share or Pin this post to help spread Fire awareness to your family and friends. Thank you, Rick.

8 thoughts on “Best Type of Smoke Detectors – Will Yours Work?”

  1. What great information. Just recently the news in my area reported on a fire where 3 family members died and they had no detectors in the house. I just have the cheapest type of detectors but you’ve given great explanations on the differences. Your information is quite complete and makes it easy to figure out which type of smoke detector would work best for anybody. Thanks.

  2. Wonderful blog Rick. I thought I’d quickly jump online and order some new smoke detectors as ours are now very old and in need of replacement. Little did I know there was so much to consider! So thank you for the education and for saving me from making a bad buying decision. 

    To be honest I was just going to go for the cheapest option and move on with my life, but had a major rethink now. Mine and my families safety are worth so much more than a cheap dodgy smoke detector.  

  3. It’s really crazy how much smoke-detectors are neglected when they are a huge line of defense when it comes to saving lives from fire. The statistics you shared were astounding and in many ways quite sad as the deaths seemed so preventable. It’s amazing how often I forget to test mine, which normally just turns out to be a 5 second practice. Thanks for writing this article as I am sure it will be helpful and eye-opening to people! Is there a particular brand of smoke detector that you favor?

    • Thank you for your comment Steve , yes testing your smoke detector is commonly overlooked . Like you say basically a 5 second task that may save you and your families lives .Just imagine how you or anyone else would feel if there was a house fire that wasn’t detected? 

  4. Smoke detectors are definitely a must have in every home. I remember when I was younger, I burned oil on the stove and the smoke detector alerted us all to the fact. A dual sensor detector is what I would go for when my current sensors need upgrading. Thanks for the article!

  5. A very great post! It made me understand more what smoke detectors are. I am from China. In our country, smoke detectors are mandatory in public buildings, but not in private homes. People don’t pay much attention to it either. I think smoke detectors and related knowledge are something everyone needs to know. Thank you for sharing!

    • thanks fro your comment Sam , I didn’t realize that smoke detectors were not mandatory in homes in China . Honestly any smoke detector is better than none not sure how many Yen they cost in China but it’s under $20 here in Canada .. pretty cheap if you ask me !

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