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Smoke Detectors: More Than Just a Battery

October 26th, 2018

A smoke detector is a common device found in households and businesses.  Smoke detectors are a device that determines if there is a chance there is smoke or a fire in your home which is then supposed to alert firefighters if you need help. In 1988 it started to be a requirement for builders to place smoke detectors in all “sleeping” rooms and for them to all be connected (Even with these requirements, 4% of people have reported they have no detector at all).


This is referred to as a network of alarms, usually multiple in your home that interacts with each other when the alarm goes off. The point of these alarms is to notify each alarm that way no matter what room you are in you can hear the alarm. But how does your alarm tell if it’s just smoke or an actual fire? It all comes down to the design and sensor.


The two type of smoke detectors are:

Ionization: This is the most popular smoke detector, they are found 90% of the time in a residential home. These alarms respond 30-90 seconds faster to open flame fires. Open flame fires are fires caused by accelerants like grease, cooking oil, and gas.  Ionization alarms may completely fail to activate in 20-25% alarms, and they respond 15-50 min. slower in smoldering fires.


Photoelectric: Around 5% of homes have photoelectric detectors. These detectors respond quicker to smoldering fires. Smoldering fires are fires that are created by using accelerants like wool, cotton, etc. Smoldering fires often create a layer of thick unbreathable smoke. Photoelectric alarms respond immediately to these types of fires.


Even though open flames are extremely dangerous, in a residential fire most fatalities are due to smoke inhalation, not the actual flames.


How do you determine what detector you have?

Simply look at the label on the back. If your detector says anything about Radioactive material, Americium -241 or the model number has an “I” on it, it is an ionization detector. Photoelectric detectors often have the word photoelectric or capital “P”.


Unsure? Always play safe and replace all smoke detectors with photoelectric ones. You should be checking the detector every 6 months to change batteries.


What about combo alarms?

Combination alarms (Ionization + Photoelectric) seem like a perfect option but beware. Many don’t have an individual sensor to determine between smoldering fires & fast flames. As long as the alarm manufacturer follows UL 217 requirements they are free to adjust the sensitivity of the detectors.


The importance of monitoring your alarms:

When considering your options, it’s also important to think about having it as part of your monitored alarm systems. When the alarms go off on your smoke detectors, whether it is an ionization alarm or photoelectric it all comes down to how will it notify for help. As mentioned before, most builders use a network of alarms. But what if you are not there to hear the alarm?


When we set up smoke detectors we use system alarms. This means that once an alarm goes off a signal will be sent to our monitoring station.  Once we get a signal we determine whether to dispatch help or turn it off if you were just cooking. This is beneficial not only to keep everyone safe but also when you are not home.


Another thing to look at is how will you know when to replace the battery? In network alarms, if you need a new battery you might hear a beeping noise. With a monitored Solution, when there is a dead battery a signal can be sent that you need to replace the battery.


Interested in learning more about monitored smoke detectors? Listen to our Engineering Manager, Larry Mullins


What’s the next step?

Go through your home and check all detectors. This is very important for all residential homes, but also homes in complexes and condominiums as well. Good news! If you are a customer of Select Security, we only sell photoelectric alarms. If you are not a customer of Select Security, please reach out to us to see how we can keep your family, home and property safe from a potentially dangerous fire.


Most importantly, always change your detectors batteries. If you need help you can reach us at 877-877-0345, Option 4.


Click here to read a more in-depth study about smoke detectors. Or contact Select Security today to have your home or business evaluated for the best fire safety options. We install quality equipment and provide 24/7 monitoring so we can alert the fire station for you. Contact us today at 877-877-0345  for more information.


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