How To Buy A Smoke Alarm That Provides The Most Protection

How to Buy a Smoke Alarm that Provides the Most Protection

Smoke alarms are required by law in every home, but not all smoke alarms are created equal. Here's how to choose the right one for you.

Photo by Katy Warner, Faruk Ates, and Jer Thorp.

The risk of dying in a burning home is cut in half with a working smoke alarm. This statistic should be enough to convince you to install and maintain good ones throughout your home. Smoke alarms should be installed in every sleeping room as well as outside every sleeping room, and on every level of a home including the basement. This ensures maximum coverage of your home.

Power Sources

How to Buy a Smoke Alarm that Provides the Most Protection

You can choose between hard-wired (AC power) smoke alarms that connect every smoke alarm in the house to each other, and battery powered smoke alarms that work independently of other alarms. Hard-wired alarms require a home that has been built with this setup or retrofitted.

A hard-wired system will sound the alarm throughout the home no matter where the fire starts. This is advantageous in large homes or areas that you might not hear a smoke alarm before it's too late. If you choose a hard-wired system, make sure it has a battery backup so that you are protected when the power goes out. These batteries should be tested monthly and replaced yearly.

Battery-powered systems can be installed anywhere and don't rely on your home's power. These should be tested weekly by pressing the test button on the outside cover. The cover should be removed monthly and the inside should be cleared of dust. It's easy to do this using your vacuum cleaner with the extension wand. These batteries should be replaced yearly.

Kidde makes a battery-powered smoke alarm that can be connected with others, so you can install an alarm in a workshop and be notified in your home if it goes off.

Smoke Alarm Sensors

There are two types of smoke alarm sensors. Ionization smoke detectors are the most common and are great at detecting flames from fast burning fires like paper and flammable liquids, but they are poor at recognising slow-burning smoky fires such as a cigarette in a bed. Photoelectric smoke detectors react more quickly to smoke.

It's best to go with a dual sensor alarm that includes both types of sensors, like this battery-powered unit from First Alert on Amazon.

You can also combine a smoke alarm with a carbon monoxide detector, but these normally only have one type of smoke alarm sensor so you'd need to buy another smoke alarm to get better protection.

Installing a Smoke Alarm

When you install your smoke alarm, make sure it's more than 10 feet from an appliance that may set off a false alarm. You should also keep them away from windows and doors which may cause them to work improperly.

If you must install a smoke alarm on the wall, place it high and near the ceiling. Never paint or put tape or stickers on your smoke alarm, all of which can cause it to malfunction.

Here are the basics steps to install a battery-powered smoke alarm.

  1. First, insert the 9-volt battery and test the unit.

  2. Locate the area on your ceiling where you want to install the smoke alarm and use the included template to mark your holes for drilling.
  3. Drill the holes and insert screw anchors. Use a hammer to make sure the anchors are flush with the ceiling.
  4. Attach the mounting bracket to the ceiling.
  5. Attach the smoke alarm to the mounting bracket by giving it a quarter turn twist.
  6. Test the unit again.

See the video above for a full step-by-step installation for a hard-wired smoke alarm.

Don't skimp on installing smoke alarms in your home. They're an inexpensive but vital safety feature, that can be installed by anyone in less than 10 minutes.


    iirc, it's law here in SA that rental and new houses built must have hard wired smoke detectors.

    Anyone know if it's possible for a smoke alarm to be too sensitive? I've disabled the alarm in my flat because it goes off every time I cook dinner - even just frying something in a pan or heating something in the oven.

      It's not so much that it is too sensitive, but probably that it is sited incorrectly.
      Try moving it away from the direct kitchen area.
      In the event of a fire (or poor cooking skills) the smoke travels along the ceiling, so it's still going to alarm when you have something smoky happening in the house.

      My ex lives in house where the damn things go off when you have a shower - the steam trips the photo optic sensor. I'd resite them if they weren't hardwired into the mains system.

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