Smoke Alarms and Smoke Detectors

protect your family with a smoke alarm system

A properly installed and functioning smoke alarm cuts your family’s risk of dying in a reported fire in half, says the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Of home fire deaths between 2005 and 2009, close to two-thirds were from fires in homes with either no smoke alarm or no working smoke detectors. Those statistics are enough to light the fire—figuratively, of course—of every household to take command of its smoke alarm status and optimize active protection.

Types of Smoke Detectors

The most common smoke detectors are ionization smoke detection and photoelectric smoke/fire detection. Either type of smoke alarm will respond to most fire situations and give people sufficient time to escape. However, since there is no way to predict the type of fire that may occur, the NFPA recommends using both smoke alarm technologies—dual sensor smoke detectors incorporate both technologies into one device—for the best protection.

  • Ionization-type smoke alarm detectors are more responsive to flaming fires. They ionize the air using electrically charged plates and a small bit of radioactive material. The presence of smoke disrupts the flow of ions, changing the current, and activating the alarm.
  • Photoelectric smoke alarm detectors are most responsive to smoldering fires. This type of alarm relies on a light source aimed at an angle from the light sensor. When smoke enters, light reflects onto the light sensor, triggering the alarm.

Smoke and Fire Alarm Options

Small and tucked out of direct sight, most residential smoke detectors are wireless disks that go unnoticed until they sound. But when that alarm sounds, it—and the source of the trigger— gets immediate attention! And that’s the idea, to choose a device that will alert every family member from a sleeping child or elderly adult to the physically impaired. Several methods, which may include combinations, are available:

  • Audible tones are loud and often piercing. There are advanced options for the hearing impaired.
  • Voice alert is loud and may be programmed as a familiar voice.
  • Visual lights may be flashing lights or a strobe light.
  • Tactile stimulation, such as a pillow or bed shaker.

Smoke Alarm Systems

Standalone, wireless smoke alarm detectors are battery powered. They usually run on a standard 9-volt or lithium 9-volt, which has a longer life (7- 10 years versus 3-5 years).

Hard-wired smoke alarms operate on your home’s electricity and make it possible to interconnect all of the home’s smoke detectors, allowing early warning of a fire in a different part of the residence. Requires the expert installation of an electrician as well as battery back-up in case of power failure.

Fire alarm monitoring systems means either wireless or hard-wired devices that are connected to a home security system which monitors the system 24/7, 365 days a year. The system calls the alarm center if there is a fire. The fire monitoring company then calls or otherwise alerts you, the homeowner, and then dispatches the fire department, the ideal protection if your family is away from home.

Looking for fire safety information? Check out our comprehensive guide to Fire Safety for Kids.

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