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Smoke Detector Shopping Guide
Besides the fact that it is usually legally required to have a smoke detector installed in your home, a smoke detector will keep you and your family safe. Smoke detectors are important to have in your house as they can save lives and prevent injury during a fire.
There are a lot of smoke detectors out there with different features. Here are just a few things to look for when shopping for a smoke detector.
The sensor of your smoke detector is what determines how it measures smoke levels in the air. There are two major types of smoke detector sensors: ionization sensors and photoelectric sensors.
Ionization sensors contain a small amount of radioactive material between two charged plates, creating an electric charge through the plates. When smoke gets inside the sensor, it disrupts the electrical current, which activates the alarm. Ionization detectors are probably the most common detector and work best for fires with large flames.
Photoelectric detectors, on the other hand, produce an angled beam of light into a sensing chamber within the detector. When smoke enters the chamber, it disrupts the light beam and reflects it onto a nearby sensor, tripping the alarm. Photoelectric detectors work best for long fires that start with smolders.
Some smoke detectors have dual-sensors that combine aspects of both ionization and photoelectric sensors. In our opinion, these are the best kinds of smoke detectors as they can handle a wide range of emergency situations. If you can’t find a dual-sensor smoke detector then your next best bet is to have at least one ionization detector and one photoelectric detector. That way you are protected from most kinds of fires.
Keep in mind that some states might require you to have a specific type of smoke detector. Make sure you know your state’s rules and regulations regarding smoke detectors.
Many companies make smoke detectors for specific areas of the house. For example, kitchen smoke detectors are specifically designed to work in kitchens and reduce false alarms that might be set off while cooking. Bedroom sensors might be slightly more sensitive and have carbon monoxide sensing capabilities. Bedroom sensors usually have very long battery life so they don’t wake you up with that annoying “chirping” sound.
The majority of smoke detectors have about a 10-year battery life. Most detectors run on 9V batteries that can be replaced by opening up the backplate. Some smoke detectors might be hardwired into your home’s power grid or plug directly into a standard 120-volt power outlet but also have a battery as backup when the power is out. Either way, most smoke detectors have some indicator (like a beeping sound or blinking light) to let you know the battery is running low or the smoke detector is nearing its expiration date.
A lot of smoke detectors nowadays come with smart features. This new breed of smoke detectors can connect to your smartphone, automatically update you of the detector’s status and battery level, and be operated directly from your smart devices. New smoke detectors can be connected in a network so they all go off at the same time, and some even allow you to directly connect them to the local fire department.
Many smoke detectors pull double duty and function as carbon monoxide detectors as well. It is useful to have a dual-function smoke detector as fires usually cause elevated levels of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible so, unlike smoke, you can’t easily tell how much carbon monoxide is in the air around you.
Ideally, you should have a smoke detector in every room of your home, including basements and bedrooms. Most detectors come with a mounting base that attaches to the wall and lets you slide the smoke detector into place. Since smoke and heat rise, in general, the best place to put your smoke detector is on the ceiling. Simply mount the smoke detector base using screws and then you can place the smoke detector. If you have vaulted ceilings you will want to place the smoke detector at the lowest point. That way it does not get caught in a pocket of dead air, making the sensor less effective.
Ideally, you should not have to perform regular maintenance on your smoke detector. The only thing you will have to do is periodically change the batteries and make sure that the sensor port is clear from dirt and dust. Make sure to replace your smoke detectors when they reach the manufacturer-specified expiration date.
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Navigating the many choices for every consumer purchase can be challenging. Our team spends hours doing research, combing through forums, and reading consumer reviews on even the most basic of household items, and we summarize that information in clear, precise comparisons.
Join the millions that have trusted BuyersGuide.org to help them make smarter buying decisions. We help our readers spend their money wisely and find the right product to suit their specific needs. Our independent expert reviews and data-driven shopping recommendations empower you find the smoke detector that's right for you.
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