Picking smoke detectors

Fire protection experts recommend replacing batteries in smoke detectors every year when you change your clocks for daylight savings time. So this year, I heard an ad that also recommended a carbon monoxide detector which we didn’t have. I started looking at combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, but quickly dismissed that idea as all the reviews indicated that the combo units ate batteries like crazy (my house is older and only has 1 hard wired unit). In addition, my reading suggested that houses have both ionization and photoelectric type smoke detectors. No combo unit had carbon monoxide and the 2 types of smoke detection.

Once I resigned myself to getting a separate carbon monoxide detector, I decided on a First Alert Carbon Monoxide Alarm. This was based on reviews by Consumer Reports, I believe. That was the easy part; I got one for upstairs and one for downstairs. Right now our son sleeps on a bed in our room, so we don’t need one in his room. When he moves back into his room, I’ll get one for his room.

The second part of this equation was finding ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors. Photoelectric detection is supposed to be better for smoldering fires and ionization is better for flaming fires according to the US Fire Administration (who even knew that this agency existed?). There are a small number of units that do both, so my choices were very few. It’s really surprising to me as the recommendation is to have both types. After going to Home Depot and looking at a few (after some research), I decided on the Kidde PI9000 Battery-Operated Dual Ionization and Photoelectric Sensor Smoke Alarm. I had to replace 7 smoke detectors and install another one, so this wasn’t cheap.

After I replaced all the units, I saw that most of the units were manufactured over 10 years ago. The US Fire Administration recommends replacing the entire unit every 8-10 years, so it was about time anyway to replace them.

So far, I know that at least one of the units works as it went off last night when my wife burned some pizza and opened the oven. Luckily the units have a hush button to temporarily shut them up (much safer than yanking the battery and forgetting to put it back in).

Why was this process so hard? Are my sights too high in trying to protect my family and my house? How many average homeowners learn so much about smoke detectors? My guess is probably quite few. I’ll just add this as another topic that I have more than cursory knowledge.

(Newer houses are required to have interconnected smoke alarms which sound all of the units when one goes off; retrofitting a house for this is not easy and there are only a few that offer wireless interconnect and none of those are both photoelectric and ionization. I did consider this for a few minutes, but quickly dismissed it.)

2 Replies to “Picking smoke detectors”

  1. I just wanted to add – have you ever thought about a monitored smoke detector? Sure, you want to buy something that will go off the instant any type of burning or smoke takes place, but you still have to call the fire department yourself.

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