Slowly but surely, smoke detectors have changed over the past two decades. If you haven’t moved or purchased a new home recently, you may not be aware of this technology shift. Everyone agrees that smoke detectors are the easiest and most effective way to keep your family safe from fire and smoke. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that three out of five home fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms. Having a working smoke alarm in your home cuts the risk of dying in a house fire by half. Knowing which type to of unit to purchase and install however can be confusing. In many states, municipal code now requires the presence of hard wired smoke alarms. Read on for some important information about your choices in selecting a smoke alarm system for your home.
Pros and Cons of Battery Powered Smoke Alarms
You are probably most familiar with battery operated smoke alarms, as these were the state-of-the-art choice for decades. The problem with these units is that occupants are often not diligent about replacing the batteries. When batteries (typically 9-volt) begin to fail, the units emit a loud, high-pitched chirping sound. Many people simply remove the old batteries to silence the noise, believing that they will get around to buying and installing new batteries soon. If that never happens, they leave themselves and their families with no warning in the case of fire or smoke. These models are very easy to install however and can be placed anywhere, even if electricity isn’t located near the desired installation site.
Hard-Wired or Electric Smoke Detectors
Hard wired smoke detectors are tied directly into your home’s electrical system. Most modern models also have a 9-volt battery backup. The biggest vulnerability for the hard-wired type is that, in the event of a power failure (common in the event of a house fire), they won’t sound. Fortunately, having a battery back-up eliminates this problem. Also, directly wired detectors can we wired in sequence so that, if one goes off in a basement or remote part of the home, the others will sound as well. This ensures that you will be alerted to any smoke or fire event, no matter its location. One complaint about hard-wired units is that some low-cost hard-wired detectors can issue spurious warnings, however any smoke alarm of reasonable quality will not experience false alarms. The other issue is that it is impossible to install directly wired units without power, potentially requiring an electrician to do the installation. Fortunately these are usually simple and inexpensive service calls.
Other Types of Smoke Detectors
In addition to electric and battery operated units, you have the choice of smoke detectors that use ionization technology, photoelectric technology or both (hybrid). Each type detects different kinds of fire and the U.S. Fire Administration recommends using the hybrid models for the greatest level of protection. Alarms are available with strobe lights for those with hearing loss. Many modern home security systems also allow for hard-wired smoke detectors and will alert the fire department directly in the event of an alarm. This is particularly helpful for fires that may occur while you are away from home.
To have your home retrofitted with hard-wired smoke detectors, contact a licensed electrical contractor. A professional contractor can evaluate your home and recommend the right system and configuration for your home. Many electricians offer specials deals on smoke alarm inspection and installation for homeowners in their area. A licensed electrician will explain your options and make suggestions on the smoke detectors that will keep you and your family safe.