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

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Smoke Detectors 101: The Basics

A smoke detector (also know as a Smoke Alarm) is a device that detects the presence of smoke, usually in the case of a fire. A Smoke Detector either detects smoke through a physical process called Ionization or optically called Photoelectric. In most homes, a smoke detector only sounds a local alarm but they can also be connected to your home security system. In some commercial buildings, a Fire Alarm is required and regulated by the State or Local Fire Marshals Office.

Ionization vs Photoelectric Smoke Detector

The Smoke detector has come a long way since the first standalone ionization smoke detector was introduced to the public in 1970. The photoelectric smoke detector was introduced in 1972. Ionization detector work by using a radioisotope to ionize the air. When smoke enters the chamber, it detects the difference in the air quality and sounds an alarm. Photoelectric detectors work by using infrared lights and receivers. When smoke enters its chamber, it detects the disturbance between the light source and receiver and sounds an alarm. Both detector types have their pro’s and con’s but most modern smoke detectors use both technologies to detect smoke. (Check out this article on Ionization vs Photoelectric)

Laws and RegulationsNational Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) Logo

Most local and state laws take after standards written in NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. These standards state that every home shall have a smoke detector inside AND outside every sleeping area and on every level of the home. NFPA 72 goes into great detail of where to place a smoke detector but does it matter what kind of smoke detector you put in? Should you have them connected to your security system?

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. A monitored smoke detector is connected to a homes security or fire alarm system.

Advantages of a Monitored Smoke Detector

  • You don’t have to worry about replacing batteries!
  • 24/7 monitored smoke detector(s)

A Smoke detector 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? Well if your smoke detectors aren’t monitored, there’s not much else that can be done. But if they are monitored, a Central Monitoring Station will call your home to make sure you are okay. If you don’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, which one would you rather have, a local or monitored smoke detector?

Commercial Fire Alarm Systems

The IBC (International Building Code), NFPA 101 (Life Safety Code) and other codes regulate the installation of Fire Alarm systems in commercial buildings. Some of the things that make up a commercial Fire Alarm System include, a Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP), smoke detectors, duct smoke detectors, heat detectors, pull stations, strobes, horns, speakers, and many other devices to detect a fire or let everyone know so they can get out of the building.

The Lakeway III Tower in New Orleans, LA which has a EST 3 Fire Alarm System.

We at Simpson Security take Life Safety seriously. I personally believe that Fire Safety is the most important. Fire is a beautiful thing but it can also be deadly so it very important that you take care of and maintain your fire safety equipment. Did you know you can get a discount from your insurance company for having a monitored security and fire alarm system? Yeah you’ll have to pay for monitoring but the discount usually pays for it plus some!

Ask yourself these 10 questions:

  1. Does my house have smoke detectors?
  2. Does my house have enough smoke detectors?
  3. Are my smoke detectors installed correctly?
  4. Do my smoke detectors work?
  5. When is the last time the smoke detectors were tested?
  6. When is the last time the smoke detectors were replaced?
  7. When is the last time the batteries were changed?
  8. Do I have Local or Monitored smoke detectors?
  9. If they’re monitored, is the Central Monitoring Station receiving my signals?
  10. Am I receiving a discount from my insurance company for have a monitored security/fire alarm system? (Yes, a discount!)

Check out our other blogs and if you have any questions, feel free to contact us or leave a comment below!

Comments (3)

  • Olivia Nelson

    I like your comment on how a monitored smoke alarm is 24/7 protection. I would imagine that not needing to replace batteries would also be nice. I’m looking for smoke alarms for my new home so maybe I should consider monitored alarms.

    December 19, 2016 at 11:41 pm
  • Tyler Meredith

    I recently noticed that my smoke detectors don’t work. We had a small incident on the stove and the smoke detector directly above it didn’t go off. Luckily nothing serious happened although I think it presents a good opportunity to upgrade to a system that draws power from the home as to not have to worry about batteries like you mention. Thanks for the post!

    August 21, 2017 at 3:37 pm
  • Elsa Anderson

    Thanks for sharing some basic ideas about smoke detectors! I am planning to have one installed in our new home but just don’t know which one. Your advice to try out the monitored smoke control systems as it’s less maintenance needy and detects smoke 24/7 without fail as it doesn’t need batteries to be replaced sounds perfect. That should ensure me that our new home is always on the alert for potential flames and hazards. I’ll try browsing for some later.

    February 16, 2018 at 11:27 pm

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