Choosing a Smoke Detector

Fire prevention is one of the best things you can do for your home and family, and it doesn’t take much. House cleaning is important, as well as keeping chemicals safely away from heat sources, carefully using the stove and microwave, and keeping matches and lighters away from little hands. 

Of all of the things in your home that keep you safe, smoke detectors are some of the least appreciated but most important. If your smoke detector is not working properly, it’s time to invest in a new one—but how do you know what to get?

There are three different kinds of smoke detectors. Here’s a look at what you can expect from each:

Photobeam. This is an extremely standard, common model—a beam of light is constantly in contact with a sensor. When smoke blocks the beam of light and the sensor can no longer receive it, the fire alarm sounds.

The one drawback to the photobeam detector is that it requires a significant amount of smoke to break the strength of the beam, so it can be as much as 30 minutes late on identifying a fire.

Photoelectric. Similar to photobeam, the photoelectric has a beam of light and a sensor. However, the photoelectric beam fires at a 90 degree angle. Instead of having to block the light, all the smoke has to do is deflect it—this means that the photoelectric is more sensitive to smoke and activates more quickly.

Ionization. This is less common, but it is an option. Ionization detectors work by using a small amount of radioactive element americium-241. This ionizes the air particles within the detector and causes a current. Smoke interferes with the current, causing the alarm to sound.

With this in mind, don’t be afraid to ask about which detectors are available and which is recommended when you go shopping for a new one.

Whichever you choose, always remember to check it to make sure it’s working at least once a year as part of your regular maintenance. 

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