What You Should Know About Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors are one of those devices you fix up at home and never really see it inaction. Making you wonder whether it was worth the money and effort to get it in the first place.

You probably don’t even know with certainty whether yours is working!

But it is also one of those household investments that you would thank the heavens for should a fire break out at home unexpectedly.

A lot of newer homes come with smoke detectors built into the electrical system. Yet you shouldn’t expect houses to have them by default.

If your house do come with detectors, do check if they come with backup power. Because fires will not wait for the electricity to come back on before breaking out.

2 types of smoke detectors

There are basically 2 ways these devices can work. And the function is basically the same – to detect smoke and alert people at home.

  1. Ionization
  2. Photoelectric

Ionization detectors are very good at identifying fire that is quickly spreading such as fires that often break out in the kitchen due to cooking and grease. So much for those flaming chicken wings recipe.

Photoelectric detectors are better at recognizing fire that is smouldering such as a bed catching fire from a cigarette butt.

Most of the smoke detectors we see in malls and hardware stores are ionization based. This is because they are more economical to produce and there cost less for the average consumer.

While this can be sufficient for most homes, if you are serious about this, why not get one that has both technologies built into it.

They might cost a little more. But you can’t put a price on peace of mind and safety of the family.

When purchasing one, ensure that it is Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approved and meets the building codes that apply locally.

Using them

If the house is more than 1 level, you need to install detectors on every floor.

If for example, you installed one on the third floor and a fire hazard starts on the ground floor, the delay in being alerted to the fire could have dire consequences.

I believe you don’t need to be a genius to understand this logic.

However if for some reason you truly believe that the ground floor is the only possible area for any fires to break out, nobody can stop you from forgoing the other levels and just installing one there.

Because the danger posed by fires is considerably higher if it occurs somewhere in the house when we are sleeping in bed, it is important to place detectors outside sleeping areas.

And avoid areas prone to false alarms like the kitchen and garage.

If you managed to obtain a unit that gives off alarms as frequently as Facebook notifications, try placing it at another location before condemning it as faulty.

The two best locations to install smoke detectors are:

  • On the wall about 6 to 10 inches below the ceiling or;
  • On the ceiling itself

Also try to avoid positioning them in areas with a lot of strong ventilation like air vents windows and doors. Especially in corners where the wall meets the ceiling.

This is because the smoke that the detector is supposed to detect might be moved away by air before the detector has a chance to detect it!

Because of the constant jokes that float around the industry of homeowners not knowing whether their detectors work at all, manufacturers these days create their devices with test functions.

This could be as simple as pressing a button.

So don’t let that testing function go to waste. Conduct a button test once a month.

On top of that, do the conventional candle test at least once a year. Nothing beats good old fashioned wisdom and practicality.

Blow out a candle and immediately hold the smoking wick to the detector. It should go off. If not, either it is broken or needs to have it’s batteries replaced. Batteries should be replaced annually anyway.

Finally, do note that these things don’t last forever. They can break down simply due to old age.

I’d say that smoke detectors that have reached the ripe old age of 10 years is just about time to look for replacements.

So if you are buying a house, remember to ask them how old the smoke detectors are. This is so that you can estimate when you will need to replace them in the house.