Health & Safety

Smoke Detector Buying Tips

Smoke detectors are the most powerful fire safety technology in your home if you have them. Your smoke detectors reduce your chances of dying if you have a fire by about 40 percent.

There are many kinds of fire detectors, which may be designed to detect high temperatures, rapid changes in temperature, certain gases produced in fires and so on. But fire protection in a home should start with a system of smoke detectors. You will want to use only labeled units with the mark of an independent testing laboratory.

Why smoke detectors? In a hostile fire, smoke and deadly gases tend to spread farther and faster than heat. That's one reason why fire deaths due to smoke inhalation outnumber fire deaths due to burns by two to one. Tests on the speed of warning given by smoke detectors and heat detectors for many types of typical home fires showed smoke detectors consistently give first warning often by enough of a margin to make a major difference in your chances of escaping alive. That's why your basic protection should consist of smoke detectors, with heat detectors reserved for optional extra protection in areas such as kitchens, attics, and garages, where smoke detectors are too susceptible to nuisance alarms.

For minimum protection, you should have a smoke detector outside each sleeping area and on each level of the home, including the basement if you have one. If you sleep with your doors closed, consider installing a detector in each bedroom too.

The smoke and deadly gases are very hot and they rise toward the ceiling. Therefore your detector should be on the ceiling at least 4 inches from the nearest wall, or high on a wall, 4-12 from the ceiling. If you have a high-pitched ceiling, mount the detector near the highest point. The 4-inch minimum is to keep the detector out of possible "dead air" spaces, because hot air is also turbulent and may bounce so much that it misses spots right near a surface. Similarly, a detector should not be placed near an interior door, where air movement around the doorframe might miss the detector, or near an outside door, window, or air registers, where drafts might push smoke away from the detector.

In general, put your detector squarely in the path you think smoke would take if it were heading upstairs or through your home, toward your bedrooms. Protecting the bedrooms at night is the top priority. The majority of fire deaths occur at night when people are asleep.

If your detector uses batteries, replace them at least twice a year. A good time to do this is when daylight savings time changes. Also replace them if the smoke detector chirps, signaling low battery power. Also make sure that everyone understands how important it is to have working batteries in every detector and how dangerous it is to remove detector batteries even for a short time.

Besides battery maintenance, the other maintenance is to keep your detector clean. Never paint the detector itself, and cover it if you are going to be doing some work near it that could put a lot of dust in the air. To take care of routine dust and cobwebs, vacuum or clean your detectors once a year.

A detector that isn't working is no better than no detector at all. It may even be worse, because it gives you a sense of being protected that isn't real. Regular testing is the only way to make sure that the smoke detectors are working and the batteries are not dead. It is recommended that you test your detector once a week. If you test your detector once a week, you can't go more than a couple days without detector protection. If you test it less often, you could go weeks or months with no protection.

When you think about the reasons for installing smoke alarms to keep the lives of your family safe from harm and to protect your home and your possessions, you realize these are things that you can’t put a price on. Therefore, the purchase of the right type and right number of smoke alarms for your home should not be taken lightly. Thankfully, cost does not have to be a concern with the many cost-effective models on the market. Smoke alarms save lives every day according to the National Fire Protection Association, families that have a sufficient amount of properly maintained smoke alarms installed in their home are 50 percent more likely to survive a fire.


There are two main types of smoke alarms: ionization and photoelectric. As our society has become more technologically advanced, the smoke alarm has not been left behind. Some of today’s features include: 10-year lithium batteries, remote controls, models for the hearing impaired, and hush buttons. After you have an understanding of the two main types, read below to decide what features you want included with your smoke alarm system.

Ionization Smoke Alarms

An ionization smoke alarm works by sending a small amount of radioactive material that conducts electricity through the air between two electrodes. When the current of electricity is triggered by smoke particles released by a fire, the alarm sounds.

Ionization smoke alarms respond more quickly to fast flaming fires e.g. a fire started with a flammable liquid, like gasoline.

Another benefit to ionization smoke alarms is that as the battery fails, so does the electrical current which causes the alarm to sound (usually a chirping sound) - this feature can help you stay on top of maintenance.

Photoelectric Smoke Alarms

A photoelectric smoke alarm uses a beam of light and a light sensor. As smoke comes into contact with the light beam, the beam will redirect towards the light sensor, and when it reaches a set level, will sound the alarm.

Photoelectric smoke alarms respond more quickly to smoky fires. Most household fires start as smoky fires, such as a smoldering couch that catches fire from a cigarette or lighter.

A negative to photoelectric smoke alarms is that dust or household insects that come into contact with the light beam can set off the alarm. Make sure the smoke alarm comes with an insect screen.

In order to ensure that all fires are detected efficiently, both types of alarms should be installed in your home or a dual ionization/photoelectric alarm should be considered.

Combination Units

While most smoke alarms are either ionization or photoelectric there are now combination units that include both types of sensors. You can also find combination units that include a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide detector. Typically these combination units use ionization sensors, which as discussed are not as good for detecting smoky fires, so if you install one of these combination units, you probably want to install a photoelectric smoke alarm as well.


It’s important to understand that no matter what type of smoke alarm you install, they have a life of roughly 10 years. Many consumers don’t realize that a smoke alarm is continually working. It does not just work at the first sign of smoke; it is consistently monitoring the air throughout your home. It doesn’t matter if its battery operated or hard-wired, the smoke alarms still have the same shelf life. Unfortunately, these simple and potentially life saving alarms are often not maintained properly. The features listed below will help you maintain your smoke alarms and maximize their benefits.


Many alarms are battery operated, but as today’s home construction becomes more advanced, alarms are being hard-wired into the home. Most alarms that are hard-wired are also equipped with a battery backup in case the electricity goes out. Batteries are either 9V or the 10-year lithium.

Test Button

A smoke alarm should be put on routine maintenance checks, just like other large household appliances like furnaces and water heaters. Smoke alarms should be tested once a month. Read the manufacturer’s directions for testing instructions.

Hush Button

Smoke alarms are sensitive for a reason and inevitably something other than a fire will trigger it. The hush button allows you to silence the alarm while you take care of what’s caused it to sound.

Exit Light

Some alarms come equipped with a light that will turn on once the alarm sounds off. If it is during the night and the electricity has been turned off, the light on the alarm can lead you out of your home safely.

Remote Control

Remote control units are nice because you can test the alarm and hush the alarm with the control unit – no climbing ladders—these can be especially helpful for the elderly.

Interconnected System

You can find systems that interconnect the alarms, meaning if one sounds off, they all engage. This feature is nice for larger homes or where bedrooms are separated from one another.

Smoke Alarm Placement

Smoke alarms should not be taken lightly. They save lives. In addition to installing the correct number and type of alarms for your home, have an exit strategy for your family as well as other fire tools, such as a fire extinguisher and fire blanket.

There should be a smoke alarm on each floor of your home, with special attention to placement; especially in and around the bedrooms where most nighttime household fires start. New homes are being built with smoke alarms in all bedrooms and in the hallway outside the bedrooms. Avoid installing an alarm in the kitchen smoke from cooking often sets of alarms and is a main cause for people disengaging them. For the alarm closest to the kitchen, make sure it has a hush button for those times it will accidentally go off.


You do not have to break your budget to buy a smoke alarm. There are several models under Rs. 2,000. Most are 9V battery operated and will have features that include test buttons and hush features. You can find a smoke alarm with all the bells and whistles. If you are concerned with the cost and you need more than one smoke alarm, you can purchase one or two alarms for key areas of your home in this price range, and then for other areas you can purchase in a lower price bracket. In this price range, you’ll find models that come with 10-year lithium batteries and remote control models. You can purchase a DC Combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm all-in-one.

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