All About the Three Types of Smoke Detectors

one of the basic types of smoke detectors

You probably know that smoke detectors are important. After all, from the time you were in the first grade or so, you had fire safety officers telling you how important smoke detectors were in every building. But do you know about the types of smoke detectors?

Most people who haven't done extensive research into smoke detectors really only know their basic function. They don't know exactly how they operate or about the different types.

However, it can be helpful to know more about exactly how smoke detectors function. That way, you'll know how to make the best possible choice when you're buying one for your own home.

The Basics of Having a Smoke Detector

smoke detector

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The most obvious thing in the world is that you need a smoke detector for safety reasons. Where there's smoke, there's fire, right? And the smoke detector will tell you if there's smoke.

The truth is, though, that smoke detectors are probably much more important than you even realize.

Why should you have one?

Of course, you know that you need a smoke alarm for safety. But do you know just how deadly smoke by itself can be?

In fact, when there's a fire, it's smoke and other toxic gases that actually tend to spread more quickly than heat. More people who die in fires do so of inhalation of these gases, rather than actual burns.

Most fires that actually kill people start when they're asleep. They're completely unaware of the fire until it's too late to get out of the building.

That's where the smoke alarm can save the day. When its sensors detect smoke, it makes a noise that alerts everyone and wakes them up if need be. Then they're able to get out of the house before it's too late.

About two-thirds of fire-related deaths occur in homes that don't have a functioning smoke detector. In fact, professionals would say that the risk of dying in a fire drops by almost half just by having a properly working smoke detector in your house or apartment.

What should you do when you have one?

If you have a smoke detector, that's great. However, you should not only have one but also make sure that it's installed and maintained properly.

You should have a smoke alarm on every level of your house. Ideally, you should have one in every room where someone is sleeping, as well as outside sleeping areas.

You should also know how to get out of the house in the event of a fire; it's a good idea to place smoke detectors along your escape path. Generally speaking, you should put them in the center of ceilings or near the ceilings if you're putting them on walls.

It's important that you make sure to replace the batteries in your smoke detector annually. Also, you should never keep the same smoke detector for more than a decade.

What Are the Types of Smoke Detectors?

smoke detector

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You probably already knew the general function of a smoke detector. But did you know that there are multiple types of smoke detectors?

It's true. Not all smoke detectors are created equally. They all have the same basic function, but they can operate in very different ways.

Ionization smoke detectors

Ionization smoke detectors each contain a small amount of Americium-241, which is a type of radioactive material. This material is located between two electrically charged plates. The material creates a current between the plates by ionizing the air between them.

When smoke goes into the chamber, it disrupts the current that the Americium-241 has created. That will trigger the alarm to go off.

Ionization smoke detectors are most efficient when it comes to detecting small particles of smoke that are characteristic of fast, flaming fires. Smoldering fires tend to create smoke consisting of larger particles.

These smoke alarms are somewhat easily triggered by the wrong types of smoke, such as the smoke produced by burnt food or even steam from the shower. Because of this, you might not want to place these alarms near the bathroom or in the kitchen. While you want your smoke detector to do its job, false alarms can be annoying.

Photoelectric smoke detectors

A photoelectric smoke detectors involve a light source that is pointed into a sensing chamber. It's oriented at an angle away from the sensor.

When smoke comes into the chamber, it diffracts the light and then reflects it onto the light sensor. This triggers the alarm, and then the smoke detector will go off.

Unlike an ionization smoke detector, a photoelectric smoke detector is best at sensing smoke that comes from a smoldering fire. Generally, these fires can create a lot of smoke with few or no visible flames.

You probably won't experience as many false alarms with a photoelectric smoke detector as you will with one that operates using ionization. However, because of the way they operate, dust that has built up inside the chamber can randomly trigger one.

Dual sensor smoke detectors

Basically, dual sensor smoke detectors combine both ionization and photoelectric sensors into the same unit.

In some models, both sensors need to be triggered before the alarm can go off. This may delay the sound alert. In others, only one of the sensors needs to be triggered, but these detectors are also more prone to false alarms.

Which Type of Smoke Detector Is Best?

smoke detector

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Now that you know a little more about the types of smoke detectors, which type is best?

Most fire authorities would agree that photoelectric smoke detectors are more important to have in homes. Typical house fires are more likely to involve smoldering for a long time before flames start to flare up.

It's really important that the detector senses the fire when it's still in the smoldering phase so that people can escape the house before it's too late. The longer the smoldering goes on, the more smoke can potentially fill the home and pose a risk of injury or death by smoke inhalation.

In the typical house fire, photoelectric alarms will generally start going off within about three to five minutes. Ionization alarms can actually take 20 minutes or more. Obviously, this would pose a considerable disadvantage, as it would leave people much less time to be able to escape the building.

However, that's not to say that ionization smoke detectors are completely useless in homes. The truth is that you never know what kind of fire you're going to have in your home. It's good to be prepared for both flaming and smoldering types of fires.

Many professionals would recommend that you have smoke detectors in your homes that utilize both ionization and photoelectric technologies.

You can opt to get both types of smoke detectors installed around your home. Alternatively, you can just get dual sensor smoke detectors.

Other Important Features in Smoke Detectors


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There are definitely certain features in some smoke detectors that make them better than others. When looking at the types of smoke detectors, you should also consider whether a particular smoke detector has these features.

Power source

When you have a smoke detector, it can either be powered by batteries or hardwired into the electrical system of your home. If it's hardwired, you can have backup batteries in case the power goes out.

Professionals would recommend that you get a hardwired detector. In some cases, state law actually requires this. These detectors generally require you to bring in a professional for installation, but the advantage is that they can also be interconnected with the other smoke detectors in your house.

If your smoke detector derives all of its power from batteries, you have to keep in mind that you'll need to replace these batteries once or twice each year.

So this might not be a good option for people who are likely to forget to change batteries in their smoke detectors.

Silence buttons

You'll probably want a smoke detector that has a silence button. If you're able to silence the alarm with a button, you won't have to disable the unit to make it stop beeping. When people have to disable these units, they have much more of a chance of forgetting to put the batteries back in.

You don't have to worry that the silence button will disable the smoke detector. The alarm will sound again if smoke triggers it to do so.


Some smoke detectors also come with flashing lights. These make the smoke detector much more effective for anyone who happens to be hearing impaired.

Different types of smoke detectors can also come with safety lights that give you illumination in the dark while you're trying to get out of the house.

Built-in carbon monoxide detectors

Some smoke detectors can also detect carbon monoxide. They can give you a digital display of carbon monoxide levels in your home, even when concentrations are below dangerous levels.


It's really helpful when all of the smoke detectors in your home are interconnected. If they have this capacity, you can set them up so that they all go off when smoke triggers one of them.

This is really important for larger homes that have multiple levels. In these situations, you might not be able to hear a smoke detector going off in the opposite corner of the house while you're sleeping.

Price Range of the Best Smoke Detectors

The prices of the different types of smoke detectors have a somewhat wide range. What you will want depends on your specifications and what you are looking for.

If you only need a single unit with no frills, you can get one pretty cheap. But if you need a full set of interconnected detectors that have lights and can detect carbon monoxide, you're going to be spending a bit more money.

How We Came up with the Following List

In order to come up with the following list of the best smoke detectors that are available, we looked at different factors. We made sure to include all three major types of smoke detectors: ionization, photoelectric, and dual-sensor.

We also made sure to include smoke detectors with a diverse array of features, so that people with different needs could find what they were seeking. All of the smoke detectors on the list have received positive reviews from consumers as well.

You now know that there's much more to all the types of smoke detectors than most people think, so it stands to reason that they're probably much more diverse than you thought as well. With this list, there's something that will appeal to everyone.

The 8 Best Smoke Detectors Available

Even among the different types of smoke detectors, all smoke detectors are not equal. Some are simply superior to others and can do a better job of protecting you in the event of a fire.

The following are eight of the best and most effective models of smoke detectors on the market.

1. Nest Protect Smoke and CO Alarm

The Nest Protect Smoke and CO Alarm tops many lists of the best types of smoke detectors available. The professionals consider this dual sensor detector to be a smart smoke alarm.

If it goes off when you're not home, you'll get a notification on your mobile device. That way, you can call for help and make sure to protect your home regardless.

This device also has the ability to integrate with other Nest devices and monitor carbon monoxide. You can either use it as a battery-powered device or hardwire it into your home. It has voice alarms that tell you the location of the danger and motion sensor lighting.

2. 9120LBL First Alert Smoke Detector

The 9120LBL First Alert Smoke Detector, an ionization smoke detector, has many great features. It operates using a lithium battery, which should last for the life of the alarm, 10 years. It also has a latching alarm indicator, meaning it remembers which unit initiated the alarm.

This alarm is easy to install and maintain. It has a perfect mount so that you can easily align it on any surface in your home. The smart technology reduces the number of false alarms, and it comes with a large opening in the mounting bracket to give you easy access to wiring should you need it.

3. Kidde Battery-Operated Combination Alarm

Even if the professionals recommend that you hardwire your smoke detector into your home's electrical system, you may prefer to get one that is purely battery-operated. If this is the case, the Kidde Battery-Operated Combination Alarm, which is an ionization alarm only, might be an excellent fit for you.

It operates using three AA batteries. This product functions as both a fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector. Part of it is a voice alarm that will tell you whether it's alerting you to fire or carbon monoxide.

You won't have to worry about sleeping through it either since its alarm will go off at 85 decibels. It'll also start chirping when the batteries are low, reminding you to change them.

4. Ardwolf Photoelectric Smoke and Fire Alarm

This Ardwolf photoelectric smoke detector uses a 9V battery. The alert is an intense 85 decibels, so you won't have to worry about not hearing it. It also features flashing red LED lights when you need to change the batterie.

There is a single-tap button that enables you to quickly reset it and test it on a monthly basis. The Ardwolf Photoelectric Smoke and Fire Alarm can detect smoldering smoke from wide ranges throughout the house before there are any flames.

5. Honeywell Wireless Smoke and Heat Detector

The Honeywell Wireless Smoke and Heat Detector is known for its enhanced Robust RF field strength between the device and its target, meaning that the smoke detector is very capable of detecting fires within your home.

You can very easily install it with the durable mounting base that makes it possible to attach it to uneven ceiling surfaces. It also gives you smart signals, to let you know when you need to clean it.

Another feature is the green and red LED indicators that let you know whether or not you need to do anything for maintenance of the device.

This fantastic product by Honeywell is available online at sites that include Amazon.

6. Alert Pro 10 Year Battery Smoke Detector Fire Alarm

The Alert Pro 10 Year Battery Smoke Detector Fire Alarm comes with a variety of great features. This photoelectric smoke detector uses a lithium battery, which typically lasts for 10 years. It comes with 85-decibel sound alerts in the cases of low battery and defects.

The detector also incorporates a hush function for false alarms, which is convenient. It is an eco-friendly device that doesn't produce harsh smells or contain chemicals.

This fire alarm is available on the websites of online retailers such as Amazon.

7. Elvicto Smoke Combination Photoelectric Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detector

This photoelectric detector also incorporates a carbon monoxide detector, giving you peace of mind pertaining to carbon monoxide as well. The detector also has intelligent technology to detect smoke, minimizing the occurrence of false alarms.

There are indicator lights on the face of this Elvicto detector that will tell you when there is a smoke or carbon monoxide hazard. It also incorporates an 85-decibel siren that will give you a clear and loud warning.

You'll know when to replace the unit because of the end-of-life signal chirp. It's easy to install and has a 10-year battery backup, so you won't have to worry about it running out of power during its lifetime.

This Elvicto smoke detector can be found on multiple online retail websites, including Amazon.

8. SITERWELL Smoke Detector and Fire Alarm

The SITERWELL Smoke Detector and Fire Alarm is a three-pack of battery-operated smoke detectors that can be classified as photoelectric. It can detect heat and slow building smoke, and it will alert you with LED light signals.

This is a smart smoke detector, meaning you can receive emergency notifications on your mobile device via First Alert's Onelink app when you're outside of the house. Another great feature is the green LED light, which reassures you that the smoke detector has an adequate amount of power.

You can find this smoke detector on Amazon.

Where There's Smoke, There's Fired up Interest in Smoke Detectors!

Now that you know more about the different types of smoke detectors, don't you see how this topic can be interesting? They're so much more than just a device the government requires you to have in your home.

It's not just about having a smoke detector to have your home up to code. It's about having the right smoke detector so that you're actually safe in the event of either a flaming or smoldering fire.

You need to make sure that you get the right smoke detector so that you and your family are safe. Remember that smoke itself can actually be more dangerous than the actual fire. This is why it helps to know everything about the different types of smoke detectors and what they can do for you.

What do you think of everything we've just told you about the different types of smoke detectors? Feel free to let us know in the comments section!


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