The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) reports that in one out of five home fire deaths between 2009 and 2013, smoke detectors were present in the home but did not sound. Just as alarming, smoke detectors sounded in just over half of all the home fires reported to U.S. fire departments.
We all know that smoke detectors save lives, but with hundreds of choices available, trying to figure out which ones are the best is an overwhelming task. That’s why we’ve done the hard work for you, scouring through hundreds of products on the market to give you our recommendations for the best and safest smoke detector available.
Smoke detector reviews: BRK/First Alert vs. Kidde vs. Nest Protect
Below, you’ll find our top three smoke detector picks, along with a detailed description of what they offer and pros and cons for each one. We update our reviews on a regular basis and will be keeping a close eye on all these companies and their progress in the sector. If you aren’t sure what type of smoke detector you are looking for, jump down to read about the differences between all three.
Best photoelectric smoke detector: BRK smoke detector review
We’ve selected the BRK 7020B hardwired photoelectric smoke alarm battery backup as our top choice for photoelectric smoke alarms. This photoelectric detector interconnects with up to 18 compatible units throughout the home. One of its coolest features is that when it’s used in an interconnected system, it acts as an indicator that reveals which unit in your home triggered the alarm. It also has an escape light to illuminate your path to safety, which is a good feature for families with children.
- Escape light
- Interconnectable with up to 18 other alarms
- Detects slow, smoldering fires
- 85 dB alarm
- Low-battery alert
- 10-year limited warranty
- Easy installation
- UL certified
- Some buyers experience chirping and are unable to stop it
- Less effective fast-flaming fire detection
Best ionization smoke detector: Kidde smoke detector review
Our #1 pick for best ionization smoke detector is the Kidde battery-operated wireless interconnected smoke alarm. While the market is flooded with ionization detectors, this smoke detector is our top pick because of its interconnectability. This means that if one alarm sounds, all interconnected alarms sound, which results in earlier fire detection. Note that this is only possible if you connect the detector to other compatible devices. Interconnectability is a requirement for newer homes, so the Kidde would be a great option for a newer home. However, be sure to check your state’s laws and make sure a battery-operated alarm is legal—some states require hardwired alarms. You can check out more Kidde smoke detectors in our comparison article.
- Interconnection with other smoke detectors
- Effective flaming-fire detection
- Easy installation
- Loud alarm, 85 dB
- Low-battery alert
- 10-year limited warranty
- UL certified
- Less effective smoldering fire detection
Best smoke and CO detector: Nest Protect review
The Nest Protect is a state-of-the-art product that uses wireless technology. If you’re looking to cut down on the number of devices you have to install in your home, this is a great solution. This is our favorite smoke detector that doubles as a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm because it connects to your internet-enabled devices to alert you when the battery is low or when an alarm sounds. The first generation of the Protect left much to be desired, but the second generation is a huge step up. All of the issues with the first generation have been taken care of—the new version has the ability to detect both fast-flaming and slow, smoldering fires. It also has fewer false alarms. The main downside is that the Protect is more expensive than other smoke detectors. For more information, read our in-depth review.
- Detects both smoke and CO
- Easy installation
- Loud alarm, 85 dB
- Wi-Fi connection allows detector to alert you when there is a low battery or alarm is triggered
- 2-year warranty; others have longer warranties
- Cost is considerably higher than a vast majority of detectors on the market
- Requires more batteries than others
What is the best type of smoke detector:
Ionization vs. photoelectric vs. dual sensor
Most manufacturers offer two main types of smoke detectors: ionization and photoelectric. It’s important to understand the distinction between the two technologies. Ionization detectors typically respond best to what the industry calls “fast-flame” fires. Photoelectric alarms are better at detecting slow, smoldering fires. The third type of smoke detector is dual, which includes both an ionization and photoelectric sensor. There are no industry-standard sensitivity levels for dual sensors, and to pass inspection they just have to meet requirements for photoelectric or ionization—not both. For those reasons, we recommend placing a combination of ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms in your home to provide optimal coverage.
Studies have shown that while ionization detectors activate 30 to 90 seconds faster to fast-flame fires than photoelectric smoke detectors, they respond to smoldering fires anywhere from 15 to 50 minutes slower than their counterparts. Smoke inhalation, rather than contact with actual flames, is the cause of the majority of home fire fatalities. Because smoldering fires produce more smoke, it’s a good idea to have a photoelectric detector to catch those fires more quickly.
Ionization smoke detectors contain a very small amount of americium-241 within an ionization chamber. They create an electric current between two metal plates, which sound an alarm when disrupted by smoke entering the chamber. Ionization smoke alarms can quickly detect the small amounts of smoke produced by fast flaming fires, such as cooking fires or fires fueled by paper or flammable liquids.
This type of smoke detector, which is commonly used in kitchens, is prone to nuisance tripping. For example, we’ve all experienced the loud annoying chirping when we leave a cake in the oven too long or add oil to an extremely hot pan. When this happens, people are more prone to disable the alarms.
Photoelectric smoke detectors contain a light source in a light-sensitive electric sensor, which are positioned at 90-degree angles to one another. Normally, light from the light source shoots straight across and misses the sensor. When smoke enters the chamber, it scatters the light, which then hits the sensor and triggers the alarm.
Photoelectric smoke detectors typically respond faster to a fire in its early, smoldering stage – before the source of the fire bursts into flames. These detectors are more sensitive to the large combustion particles that emanate during slow, smoldering fires, which usually occur at night when people are asleep.
Dual sensor smoke detectors include both ionization and photoelectric sensors, so they should adequately alert homeowners of a smoldering fire or a fire with active flames. Some safety organizations have previously recommended these smoke alarms, because they should cover a broad range of fires.
However, there are no industry standards for setting the individual sensor sensitivity in dual sensor alarms. This means that a dual sensor alarm could have a non-functional ionization sensor, but as long as the photoelectric sensor works, it still meets the national standards developed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
What type of smoke detector do you have?
Most residences have smoke detectors installed before their inhabitants move in. To find out whether you have ionization, photoelectric, or dual sensor alarms, take the smoke alarm down from the ceiling or wall and inspect the back.
As mentioned previously, ionization smoke alarms all contain a trace amount of the radioactive material americium-241. Every ionization alarm has a warning about this material on the back label. In addition, it may have the words “ionization alarm” somewhere on the label. Photoelectric smoke detectors have the word “photoelectric” or a capital letter P printed or embossed on either the front or back. Dual sensor alarms have similar indications on their labels.
What to know before you buy a smoke detector for your home
Functional smoke detectors continuously scan the air for smoke and can significantly increase your chances of surviving otherwise deadly residential fire. It can also help save the lives of firefighters who would otherwise have to risk their lives by searching a burning home for residents.
Look for the following features when purchasing a new smoke detector:
- Easy installation – Many battery operated detectors are easier to install than hardwired systems
- Testing – This ensures the smoke alarm is functioning properly
- Battery backup – Units function with or without electrical power
- Silence or Hush feature – Silence button enables you to quickly deactivate the alarm
- Warranty – The best smoke alarms have 5-10 year warranties
- Package deals – Many retailers offer packages with 4-6 smoke detectors
- Interconnected units – These alarms connect to each other within a home to provide residence-wide alerts
In addition, keep these tips in mind:
- State or municipality regulations – Check with your local and state authorities to learn about any specific requirements
- Carbon monoxide detectors – These might be necessary depending on your home’s heating source
- Existing smoke detectors – Hardwired and battery operated detectors should be replaced with the same types
- Replace all smoke detectors at the same time – Especially if you don’t know the age of your current detectors
According to recent data, almost two-thirds of residential fire casualties occurred in homes without properly functioning smoke alarms. Any smoke alarm that is 10 years old or older should be replaced regardless of type. If you moved into a pre-owned home and do not know the age of the existing smoke alarm, you should replace them immediately.
Smoke detector placement: Where to put smoke alarms?
Experts agree that smoke detector placement in your home is a crucial factor in saving lives. The NFPA recommends installing a minimum of one smoke detector on every floor. Ideally, they would also be in every bedroom and any other sleeping areas. Experts urge consumers to install additional detectors in their basements, near attic areas, in living rooms (dens or family rooms), and on the landings between floors to have the safest home possible.
At ASecureLife.com, your safety is our top priority. All of our top choices meet nationally recognized UL217 standards. Several organizations, including the NFPA and Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a leading testing laboratory, have adopted UL217 model codes and standards for smoke alarm performance and safety.
California smoke alarm laws
Starting in July of 2014, California’s State Fire Marshal required that all battery-only operated smoke alarms need to contain a non-replaceable battery that lasts at least 10 years and the date of manufacture must be clearly displayed. Hardwired smoke alarms do not require the 10-year battery.
Best smoke detector: Which one should you buy?
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) – the largest firefighters union in the U.S. and Canada – recommends photoelectric smoke detectors. During their 2008 conference, the IAFF adopted an official position recommending only photoelectric smoke alarms and stated that dual sensor alarms are no longer acceptable.
The technology used in ionization smoke detectors leads to a delayed warning in smoldering fires, which can lead to greater loss of life. Ionization detectors are also weaker in high airflow environments, so the delay may be even longer. Photoelectric smoke alarms are more effective at warning of smoke from smoldering fires and are less susceptible to nuisance alarms.
To be safe, the IAFF and other safety organizations recommend homeowners replace all ionization, dual sensor, and unknown alarms with photoelectric smoke alarms. To see our #1 recommendation for the best photoelectric smoke detector, jump back up to the top.
Have you tried any of these smoke detectors? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
If you are looking for other ways to protect your home, feel free to check out our best home security systems rankings of 2017 article.