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Choosing the Best Smoke Detector

How can you make sure you choose the best smoke detector (also known as smoke alarms) with so many options out there? In this post we’ll talk about why smoke detection is important and 6 factors to consider so you can choose the best smoke detector for you. Hopefully this will make your decision process easier!

Why install Smoke Detectors or Alarms?

An ionization/photoelectric smoke detector is detecting smoke and about to go into alarm.

  • Smoke Detectors will give you the early warning you need to get our of your home in case of a fire
  • According to the NFPA, only 4% of homes do not have smoke detectors. But nearly half of the nation’s fire deaths occur in those 4% of homes
  • Installing and maintaining your smoke detectors cuts the risk of dying in a fire in half!

1) Know the Types and their Strengths and Weaknesses

Ionization – $

  • Use a radioisotope to ionize the air within the detector
  • When smoke enters the chamber, it detects the difference in the air quality and sounds an alarm
  • Better at detecting the tinier smoke particles from fires that ignite quickly, such as paper and grease fires or fires caused by arsonists

Photoelectric – $$

  • Use infrared lights and receivers
  • When smoke enters its chamber, it detects the disturbance between the light source and receiver and sounds an alarm
  • Better at detecting the larger smoke particles from slow, smoldering fires, such as electrical fires or those in bedding, clothing, or upholstery

Combination – $$$

  • These use both Ionization and Photoelectric technology to test the air
  • Reduce false alarms and provide
  • Best smoke detector with best overall protection

2) Know how they’re powered

Battery Powered – $

  • The batteries will die and you’ll have to changed them
  • The detector will beep when batteries need to be changed
  • Highest maintenance but cheaper than AC Powered Detectors
  • Locally monitored detector

AC Powered – $$

  • These also have backup batteries that need to be changed once a year
  • Less maintenance but cost more than Battery Powered Detectors
  • Locally monitored detector

Security or Fire Alarm Powered – $$$

  • These detectors normally don’t have backup batteries in the detectors themselves
  • Your Security or Fire Alarm Panel will have it’s own backup battery
  • Least amount of maintenance but highest cost due to the alarm panel
  • Can be professionally and locally monitored

3) Is it UL Listed?

UL Listed

UL is a global independent safety science company with more than a century of expertise innovating safety solutions from the public adoption of electricity to new breakthroughs in sustainability, renewable energy and nanotechnology. Dedicated to promoting safe living and working environments, UL helps safeguard people, products and places in important ways, facilitating trade and providing peace of mind.

What does UL do?

  • UL certifies, validates, tests, verifies, inspects, audits, advises and educates. They provide the knowledge and expertise to help customers navigate growing complexities across the supply chain from compliance and regulatory issues to trade challenges and market access. In this way, they facilitate global trade and deliver peace of mind.

Why does the best smoke detector need to be UL listed?

  • UL does extensive testing to make sure products meet their safety standards. When you see a product with the UL stamp, you know that product has been tested and can be trusted.

4) How easy is it to test?

  • Smoke Detectors should be test monthly
  • Most have a button on the detector which needs to be pressed to test
  • If you’re uncomfortable climbing a ladder, you might want a remote control option instead of the button

5) Can it be turned off without disabling the detector?

  • Make sure there is an easy way to turn it off without disabling it in case of a false alarm. You never want to take out the batteries or disconnect a detector because then you may forget to correct it later. This is a hazard because then it won’t work when you need it.

6) Local vs Monitored Smoke Detector

So what happens after a smoke detector detects smoke? There are two ways it can be handled, by a local alarm and monitored alarm.

  • Local smoke detectors are usually battery operated or connect to your homes 120V circuit.
  • Monitored smoke detectors are connected to your homes security or fire alarm system.

Which one should you choose?

Smoke detectors should be loud enough to wake you up but what if they’re not? Or what if you’re in such a deep sleep that you don’t hear them? If your smoke detectors aren’t monitored, there’s not much else that can be done. And if they are monitored, a Central Monitoring Station will call your home to make sure you are okay. If you don’tor can’t answer, the Fire Department will be dispatched and they’ll rush to your house! So if a smoke detector goes off and you don’t wake up or hear it, which one would you rather have, a local or monitored smoke detector?


When it comes down to choosing the best smoke detector, it’s really up to how much money you want to spend vs the level of protection you want. As a firm believer in Life Safety, I believe that the more protection you have, the better. I don’t want to go with the cheapest solution when it comes to something that could potentially save my life and neither should you. If you want some more information on Smoke Detectors, go check out our post called Smoke Detector 101: The Basics.

If you have a story to share about fire safety, please leave it in the comments below!

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