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Shopping Guide for Best Smoke Detectors

For protection from a fire, a fire extinguisher is a wise addition to any home.

But the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is with a smoke detector. A smoke detector can help you discover smoke — and escape from a fire — before it gets out of control.

Every home needs multiple smoke detectors that will sound an alarm and warn occupants of a fire.

If you’re sleeping, a functioning smoke detector is probably the only chance you have to wake up in time and escape safely.

Our smoke detector shopping guide contains the information you need to make an informed buying decision.

If you want to purchase one or more smoke detectors for your home or for a loved one, we invite you to examine our shortlist of the top five smoke detectors, above.

Some smoke detectors include a safety light that illuminates the area when the alarm sounds. This feature is particularly helpful if the alarm sounds at night.

To help readers make wise shopping choices, we at BestReviews do three things.

First, we decline all “free” samples from manufacturers, as our goal is to create unbiased reviews.

Second, we perform extensive research on the product in question to bring you the most thorough shopping guide possible.

Third, we create a matrix with the top five products in the category.

So when you’re ready to shop for a product as vitally important as a smoke detector, you can count on us to be your honest go-to source for information.

Sensors in Smoke Detectors

Each smoke detector has a sensor inside of it that measures the air for smoke. Three different sensor configurations are used inside smoke detectors:

Sensors in smoke detectors

Ionization Sensor

Smoke detectors with an ionization sensor inside can detect fires that are accompanied by flames. Don’t let this description fool you, though. An ionization detector will detect the smoke from these flames, but it will not detect the flames themselves.

How it Works

An ionization sensor contains a small amount of radioactive material. The material sits between two plates that are electrically charged and ionizes the air between them, causing an electrical current to form.

When smoke enters the area between the plates, it interrupts the ionization process. This causes a disruption in the electrical current, which in turn prompts the alarm to sound.

DID YOU KNOW?

To install smoke alarms, you’ll need a drill with bits, a screwdriver, and screws designed for drywall.

Sensors in smoke detectors

Photoelectric Sensor

Smoke detectors with photoelectric sensors will be able to detect smoldering fires. A smoldering fire can exist for quite a while before flames become apparent. During this time, the smoldering fire generates smoke.

How it Works

A photoelectric sensor generates a light beam inside a chamber within the smoke detector. If smoke enters this chamber, the smoke particles redirect the light beam to another part of the photoelectric sensor. Once the sensor detects that light is being redirected, it sounds the smoke alarm.

FOR YOUR SAFETY

If you’re unsure how many fire detectors to use in your home, check with your local fire department. Workers at these agencies are usually more than willing to help with a plan.

Sensors in smoke detectors

Ionization and Photoelectric Technology Combined

Some smoke detectors have both types of sensors built into the unit. This is the best type of smoke detector to purchase, as it provides the most complete level of protection against all types of fires. However, smoke detectors with both sensors usually cost a bit more.

Because you do not know which type of fire you may end up having in your home, a detector with both sensors is best.

  • You may have a fire that immediately sprouts flames; an ionization sensor will detect this.

  • You may have a fire that smolders for a while; a photoelectric sensor sounds the alarm on this type of fire.
EXPERT TIP

A smoke detector with a ionization sensor measures for fires with flames. A unit with a photoelectric sensor measures for smoldering fires.


Rafe  | Technologist, Product Review Professional

Receiving Alarms Properly

If you’re concerned about making sure that everyone in your home hears the alarm, we suggest the following tips —

  • Interconnect your alarms:
    An individual smoke detector alarm is loud, and it’s designed to awaken sleeping people. But if the alarms in your home are interconnected, they all sound when one goes off. This is a great feature, as the extra alarms increase your chance of alerting everyone successfully.
DID YOU KNOW?

Some units interconnect through a wire, while others connect wirelessly.

  • Purchase units with flashing strobe lights to accommodate people who are hard of hearing:
    For someone who cannot hear well, you could also connect the detector to a device that will vibrate the bed. This would only work if the person were in bed at the time of the fire, however.

  • Buy smoke detectors that issue smartphone alerts:
    Some products connect to your smart home network, sending you alerts on your smartphone when an alarm sounds. Some will even call the fire department for you.

  • Install plenty of detectors:
    The best way to ensure that alerts are heard by everyone is to use plenty of smoke detectors. Accurately calculate how many smoke detectors you need. Follow a plan recommended by your local fire department, if one is available. Don’t try to save a few bucks by installing fewer detectors than recommended.

If you have some smart home devices already, you can purchase a smoke detector that will alert you via smartphone to any alarms.

Placement and Quantity

Several fire-related safety organizations offer recommendations as to where you should station your smoke detectors and how many you need. We outline those recommendations below.

You may feel like having such a large number of detectors is overkill for your home. But having the right number of smoke detectors grants you the best level of protection.

DID YOU KNOW?

Smoke and heat from a fire will rise. As such, you should mount your smoke alarms near the ceiling to ensure best results.

Placement and quantity

Inside Bedrooms

Station a smoke detector inside every bedroom of your home.

Placement and quantity

Outside Bedrooms

Keep additional smoke detectors just outside of bedroom areas. A closed door could prevent smoke from reaching the detector inside the bedroom, delaying the alarm. But a unit just outside the bedroom area can give you an earlier warning.

FOR YOUR SAFETY

Keep a smoke detector inside each bedroom of your home. Station one or more smoke detectors immediately outside of your bedroom area, too. If you have two or three bedrooms connected to a hallway, one smoke detector outside the rooms should do the job.

Placement and quantity

Living Areas

If no bedroom exists on a particular floor of your home, place a smoke detector in the most common living area. Each floor should have at least one detector.

Placement and quantity

Basement

Place a smoke detector on the ceiling near the stairs leading to the upper levels.

Placement and quantity

Stairways

If the other smoke detectors on a particular floor are not near the stairway, install one by the stairs, too. That way, if there’s smoke on another floor, the detector near the stairway will detect it first.

EXPERT TIP

If you have hard of hearing or deaf people in your home, consider buying smoke detectors with strobe light alerts.


Rafe  | Technologist, Product Review Professional
Placement and quantity

Kitchen

If you place a smoke detector near the kitchen, station it at least 10 feet from any cooking appliances. If it’s closer, you could receive numerous false alarms.

Placement and quantity

Areas Not to Install

You shouldn’t install smoke alarms in certain rooms and areas of your home. Avoid installing them in garages, bathrooms, and attic areas. Additionally, try to keep the smoke alarms away from windows and exterior doorways.

DID YOU KNOW?

Interconnected smoke alarms form a wireless or wired connection to one another. If one alarm sounds, the others will sound too, ensuring all locations in the home are alerted.

Price

You can expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $60 for a smoke detector. Most basic units cost $20 or less. You may pay a little more for detectors that offer multiple sensors for detecting all types of fires.

You may also pay more if the unit has a carbon monoxide sensor or a vocal alarm.

Smoke detectors with network connectivity capabilities also tend to cost more, but many owners find this additional expense to be worth it.

Eight smoke detectors, at $25 per detector, is $200. Detectors last about 10 years, so that's only $20 annually. And the only ongoing cost is battery replacement for the units.

Staff
BestReviews

Maintenance

Smoke detectors perform their job silently most of the time, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about them. These devices require regular maintenance to ensure they continue working properly.

  • Testing Alarms: You should test your smoke detectors every month, following manufacturer’s instructions. If a detector fails the test and the battery is new, replace the detector immediately.

  • Keeping Them Clean: Do not get paint on your a smoke detector, as this could cause it to fail. If you’re painting a wall or ceiling, take the detector down during the process. Additionally, place detectors away from wall decorations that could interfere with the sensors.

  • Battery Replacement: We spoke to a 30-year veteran firefighter who advised us that consumers should replace a smoke detector’s AA or 9V battery every six months. Smoke detectors emit a chirping sound when the battery needs replacing. But if you change the battery regularly, you can avoid hearing that annoying chirp.

EXPERT TIP

Some smoke detectors run on AA batteries, but most still function using a traditional 9V battery. Check this before you buy a lot of replacement batteries.


Rafe  | Technologist, Product Review Professional

Tips

  • Although the testing procedure is the same for most smoke alarms, always verify the testing steps you take with the manufacturer.

  • The National Fire Protection Association recommends swapping out these devices for new ones after 10 years. The back of your smoke detector should have its manufacture date on it.

  • If you’re interested in interconnecting your alarms, make sure your units are compatible with one another. You may need to purchase several from the same manufacturer in order to achieve compatibility.

  • Looking to save money on your smoke detector supply? You could save money by purchasing a two-, four-, or six-pack of your chosen unit.
Some smoke alarms offer carbon monoxide monitoring, too. These cost a little more, but the peace of mind you gain is priceless.

FAQ

Q. How do I know if my smoke detector is reliable and safe?

A. The brand and model of smoke detector you pick should be certified by a testing laboratory. The certification logo generally appears on the box or in the product description.

Q. Should I replace all of my smoke detectors at one time?

A. If your smoke detectors are nearing their 10-year lifespan, replacing all of them at once is smart. Having smoke detectors that are all the same model makes it easier to change batteries and maintain them, since they all take the same type of battery and require the same insertion method.

Q. How do I know if my smoke detector is working properly?

A. Manufacturers recommend that you test every smoke detector monthly. Most units have a test button on them. When you press the test button, the detector should emit its normal alarm. If it doesn’t sound, try changing the batteries. If it still won’t sound, replace the smoke detector immediately.

Q. If I have a hardwired smoke detector, can I avoid the annoying chirping warnings about a low battery?

A. The answer to that question depends on the model of smoke detector you’ve purchased, but probably not. Even units wired into your home’s electrical system use a battery as a backup. And you’ll probably still need to replace these batteries on a semiannual basis. If you don’t, the smoke detector’s low battery alarm probably will start chirping at some point. And if you have the same luck as most people, it’ll start around 3 a.m. So just change the batteries on schedule to avoid this problem, whether your unit is hardwired or not.

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