How to know your smoke detector good enough
Smoke detectors are an absolute necessity in your home – but how do you know if yours is enough?
House fires are terrifying – they can go from a spark to an inferno in just thirty seconds. And yet most of us don’t often think about the smoke detectors in our homes. Whether they’re super-modern “smart” detectors or old-school models, we tend to neglect their maintenance. Maybe we don’t replace our batteries as often as we should, or we don’t realize when it’s time to replace them with a new model. And we probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the quality, durability, and efficiency of our smoke detector. But we should.
Here’s how to tell if your smoke detector is good enough to protect you and yours, and what to look out for when it’s time to upgrade.
Make sure your smoke detector is certified
When purchasing new smoke detectors, you should first look for the certification mark on the packaging. Intertek’s Underwriter’s Laboratories and Electrical Testing Labs award a certification mark to smoke detectors that meet their testing and safety standards. If the model doesn’t show either, put it back on the shelf.
Choose dual sensors
Smoke detectors have two main ways of detecting fire: ionization sensors, which use (very) mild radiation to detect smoke, and photoelectric sensors, which use light. Both work, but tend to be better at detecting different types of fires. Ionization sensors can be better for sudden, fast-moving fires, and photoelectric sensors are very effective at detecting slow, smoldering fires. Instead of figuring out which areas of your home need which kind of sensor, look for a detector that has both.
Some of the latest models can even tell the difference between cooking smoke and dangerous fire, which is an extremely useful feature if you regularly burn dinner.
Consider a non-removable battery
Most smoke detectors have a battery in them, even the hard-wired ones that run from your home’s electrical wiring. That way, if the house loses power, the alarms will still work. Whether you’re installing a corded or battery-only model, look for one that has a non-removable battery instead of a nine-volt one. Non-replaceable batteries generally last as long as the detector itself, roughly 10 years. Nine volts must be replaced once or twice a year.
Check the date of manufacture
The reason you need to replace your smoke detectors fairly regularly is that their sensors can become less sensitive to smoke particles over time. Each smoke detector has the date of manufacture stamped on the packaging and on the underside of the device (the side that faces the ceiling). The sensors on most detectors last about 7-10 years under normal operating conditions – after that, it’s time to replace them.
Also, get one that detects carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide is a silent killer, an odorless gas that can build up in a room and suffocate you while you sleep (and impair your brain function, eventually rendering you unconscious even when you’re awake). You can install separate CO detectors, but your best bet is to choose an alarm that looks for both smoke and carbon monoxide. This will keep your replacement plan coherent and every part of your home protected against both threats.
Consider a “smart” detector
Like everything else, smoke detectors can now be ‘smart’ – and there are good reasons to go for a ‘smart’ model. First, the device can automatically call the fire department if it senses smoke. Second, it can alert you even when you’re not home, so at least you’re aware of the situation. And if they’re integrated into a wider ‘smart home’ network, they can even automatically unlock the doors so you’re not slowed down when you’re leaving.
If you don’t want a full-fledged “smart” solution, at least look for detectors that link together so that when one alarm goes off, all of them go off.