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Ionization vs Photoelectric Smoke Detectors - No More False Alarms

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 0

house fire (33932)

Photoelectric smoke detectors are the perfect choice for a home for several reasons, but the main reason is that people are more unlikely to disconnect this type of device due to false alarms. They simply work better.

If you have an ionization smoke detector then odds are good that you know all about false alarms and the headaches they can cause. The moment I decided that there had to be a better way to protect my home from fire was when my niece woke up screaming from a loud beeping. I was taking a shower and nearly fell and broke my leg as I hurried to get to her. Eventually (after searching frantically) I realized that the disruption was a false alarm. The next day I began to do some research, where I found that the problem was quite common.

Nuisance Alarms

Do you have an alarm that goes off every time that you start cooking? Or maybe you have one near your bathroom and whenever you take a hot shower you get the crap scared out of you only to find out there is no fire? These can be very annoying and unfortunately there are only a couple of ways to silent these devices. One is to press a silence button that most alarms have. Now this will solve the problem for a short time, but within minutes you will have to hit that button again.

The second way to silence the alarm is unfortunately the most dangerous – by disconnecting the battery. I say dangerous because many times people forget to reconnect it after cooking, showering, etc.

We may plan to hook the batteries back up after we finish what we are doing, but a lot of times it simply slips our memory. There would truly be no worse news in the world than hearing from a fireman that someone got hurt in a fire because the battery was not connected to your detector. The solution was in understanding how the main two different types of smoke detectors worked and realizing that each one had its strengths and weaknesses.

Ionization vs. Photoelectric Smoke Detectors

Ionization smoke alarms basically work by detecting heat. They are often cheaper than other versions (by only a couple dollars) but are often avoided because they are so sensitive that they cause a lot of nuisance alarms. Studies have been done showing that these devices detect small particles in smoke from hot, fast, and flaming fires very effectively, but are slow in detecting fires that take a while to build (smoldering fires).

What types of fires usually take place in a home? Whether it is due to faulty wiring, a short in a coffee pot, or a fallen cigarette on the place where you sleep, fires in the home often produce much more smoke due to smoldering (sometimes for hours) before the fire actually ignites. Ionization alarms are perfect for areas where there are flammable or explosive chemicals that can fuel a fire but they are not the best choice for family homes.

Photoelectric smoke detectors have a light emitting diode (LED) that produces a beam of light and another sensor at an angle to the beam. If smoke goes across the beam then this will scatter some of the light thus setting off the alarm. Basically this type of device looks for smoke. This type of device is very effective at detecting fires that produce large smoke particles which begin with a lot of smoldering (faulty wiring, etc.). Although they react slower to fast fires, tests by the National Fire Protection Agency show that they provide adequate warning for all types of fires. They are perfect for family homes and will not give off as many false alarms as an ionization device will.

Why Not Use Both?

Using both ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors to protect your house is a decent idea if you carefully think about where to place the alarms. They do make devices that perform both functions (at a higher price), but it might be wiser to use a photoelectric detector in nuisance alarm areas such as kitchens and near bathrooms, while using the ionization detectors in other areas that are not so easily affected by cooking and such.

Other Things To Keep In Mind

Before I write my closing paragraph I must mention a few other ways one should consider when trying to protect their family and home from fire. I know this is getting off the subject a bit so I’ll try to keep the points brief.

• Replace your smoke detector if it is more than 10 years old. Replace any batteries a couple of times a year. Most people (in the U.S.) do it when the time changes.
• Test your alarms at least once a month, especially if you only have one device.
• Use several smoke alarms if possible. You may also consider interconnected or hardwired smoke alarms. If one goes off then all go off. These smoke detectors are even available in a wireless model.
• Have a fire escape plan. Two ways to escape is standard practice.
• Have some fire extinguishers around the house. Having at least one in the kitchen is a good starting point.

In Closing

I wrote this article because I was tired of constantly pressing the silence button on my smoke alarm whenever we cooked, and my family really loves to use the kitchen. We often get together for holiday dinners and reunions where we prepare very large meals. Anyone who has ever done this type of cooking knows that the kitchen gets pretty hot and steamy. I found that I always had to disconnect the battery until we finished because of the constant noise. I am very happy to say that I discovered a way to decrease or even eliminate these false alarms, and that is by using photoelectric smoke detectors. I now know that I won’t ever have to worry about forgetting to reconnect the battery on my smoke alarm any more. Replacing my existing alarms with these devices was definitely worth the cost… at least it was for me.

Recommended Additional Reading:

An Emergency Preparedness Kit For The Home

How to Childproof Your Home For Baby

Five Investing Strategies for the Long Term

Keep your home safe all day long



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