Installing the best smoke detectors can help prevent your worst nightmare - losing your home, belongings, or even worse, a loved one, in a house fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association, three out of five house fire deaths occur in homes without a working smoke alarm. Fortunately, it's easy to reduce your risk of becoming a statistic. The best smoke detectors are affordable, easy to install, and more high-tech than ever.
What, exactly, constitutes the best smoke alarm? If you've been shopping for these home safety devices, you've probably noticed there are virtually endless choices. They range in price from under $10 and over $100, in styles from bare bones to smart smoke detectors which communicate with smart home systems. In this guide, I'll analyze the options and share my picks for the top 5 smoke detectors on the market today.
How Do Smoke Detectors Work?
There are three main types of smoke alarms, each of which works differently.
- Photoelectric: This type of smoke detector contains a light-sensitive sensor as well as a light source. When smoke interrupts the light source, the light photons scatter, causing them to hit the sensor and trigger the alarm. A photoelectric detector is best at detecting slow, smoldering fires which produce a lot of smoke.
- Ionization: An ionization smoke alarm uses an isotope called americium-241 to create a current between two plates. When smoke from a fire interrupts this current, the alarm goes off. Ionization is most effective at detecting fast-spreading fires which produce abundant flames and little smoke.
- Dual Sensor: These are the newest type of smoke detectors and contain both ionization and photoelectric technology. They are widely available and reasonably priced.
Ionization is the most common type of smoke detector because it's cheap, and is the type most commonly given away by fire departments. Additionally, any of these smoke alarm types may be combined with a carbon monoxide sensor in one multi-functional unit.
Which Type of Smoke Detector Is Best?
There is no industry-wide consensus about the most preferable type of alarm to have in your home. Some experts believe photoelectric is the most accurate technology for all fire types. On the other hand, the National Institute of Standards and Technology analyzed both sensor types and determined that either one is effective in giving people enough time to get out of a burning house.
The best smoke alarms may be interconnected either by being hard-wired to each other or via WiFi technology.
Dual sensor technology seemingly solves this issue. There are, however, concerns about the fact that only one of the sensors must meet sensitivity standards in order to qualify the device to be put on the market. In the end, any of the three is likely sufficient, so it's up to you to use your best judgement on the best smoke detector for your home.
Best Smoke Detector: What to Consider
Aside from the sensor type, I've compiled a list of other factors to take into account as you compare the best smoke alarms:
- Hard-wired or wireless? Wireless smoke alarms are typically easier to install, however, both have their pros and cons. I'll delve into these options further in the next section.
- How many smoke detectors do you need? At a minimum, you should have a smoke alarm inside each bedroom, outside all sleeping areas, and above each stairwell. The devices are often sold in multi-packs to make them more cost effective.
- Can they be interconnected? This is a very useful feature. For example, the smoke detectors in my house all go off if one goes off. So if there is no one sleeping in the bedroom where an alarm goes off, someone else will still hear the one in their room. In addition, if a battery in one is low, they all chirp until that battery is replaced. The best smoke alarms may be interconnected either by being hard-wired to each other or via WiFi technology.
- Battery backup: You want to make sure that hard-wired systems have a battery backup in case the power goes out.
- Local regulations: There are residential smoke detector requirements in all states. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) provides a list of all state regulations. Your municipality may also have its own rules, so be sure to check with local authorities.
It sounds like a lot to think about, however, I'm sure you'll agree that no effort is too great when it comes to your family's safety.
Best Smoke Detector: Hard-Wired vs. Wireless
One of the major decision you'll have to make if you're shopping for the best smoke detectors is whether to go with a hard-wired or wireless system. Each has benefits and advantages.
Hard-Wired Smoke Detectors
- More reliable - won't run out of battery life if activated for a long period
- Can be interconnected without depending upon a wireless connection
- Has backup power source (battery) while wireless alarms only have one power source
- Easy to have installed if you're building or remodeling your home
- More difficult to install in a built home (may require electrician)
- Vulnerable to power outages (if battery isn't kept fresh)
Wireless Smoke Detectors
- Easy to install
- Portable - easily moved if you change your mind about placement
- More reliable than in the past with the use of smart batteries which send mobile alert if low
- Require more frequent maintenance (battery changes)
- Only one power source
Hard-wired used to be the system of choice among experts. With today's longer-lasting batteries and wireless inter-connectivity technology, however, battery-operated is now accepted as a solid option.
Best Smoke Detectors: Tips
In addition to knowing which smoke alarm to buy, there are also other things you should know about these devices:
- Smoke detectors expire. FEMA recommends replacing all of your alarms every 8 - 10 years.
- Replace all of your smoke detectors at once, and with the same type as the existing alarm - hard-wired with hard-wired and battery-operated with battery-operated.
- If you or a household member has hearing problems, look for smoke detectors with a strobe light.
- Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. According to FEMA's U.S. Fire Administration, cooking is the leading cause of house fires.
- You can turn your regular smoke detector into a smart alarm with the Roost smart battery - a 9V battery which allows your existing detector to send alerts to your mobile device.
- Look for models that come with at least a five-year warranty.
If you have a security system, keep in mind that home security companies often provide smoke detectors and fire monitoring as well.
The Best Smoke Detectors
Here are my picks for five of the top best smoke detectors available today. Because each home has different needs, I've included a range of choices in all types and price points, based on my analysis of the most important features.
Nest Protect Review
- Choice of battery-operated or hard-wired
- Split-spectrum sensor to detect both fast-moving and smoldering fires
- Inter-connection between all of your Nest Protects
- App silence - allows you to stop a false alarm from your mobile device
- Mobile alerts in the event of a fire and when batteries are low
- Very pricey, especially if outfitting entire home
- Requires six batteries
The downside is that if you choose the battery-operated Nest smoke detector, you'll need six AA batteries for each Protect. Still, even though the Protect is a bit on the pricey side, you get a ton of great features plus a CO detector.
Kidde KN-COSM-BA Review
- Battery-operated for easy installation
- Built-in carbon monoxide detector
- Voice feature which announces the type of alarm, plus low battery warning
- Smart Hush - allows you to silence false alarms with the push of a button
- Not inter-connectable with additional detectors
Kidde smoke detectors have a reputation for reliability and a reasonable price point. While there are cheaper models, this one saves you the hassle of shopping separately for the best carbon monoxide detector. This means ultimately it will save you money and increase your family's safety. Another thing I love about this model is that it's also available in a hard-wired inter-connectable version.
First Alert BRK 3120B Review
- Senses both types of fires - smoldering and flame-heavy
- 360° sensing path
- Battery backup
- Low battery indicator
- No distinguishing feature to tell which device is going off if inter-connected
This is a basic hard-wired model, ideal for those who are seeking a budget-friendly dual sensor option. With both photoelectric and ionization technology, this First Alert smoke alarm has both bases covered at an attractive price. It also has built-in technology designed to reduce nuisance alarms. This is an important feature because nuisance - or "false" - alarms are the leading cause of disconnected smoke detectors.
Kidde i9080 Review
- A safety light which stays on for 15 minutes when alarm is triggered
- Separate 9-volt batteries for the alarm and light
- Hush feature to stop nuisance alarms
- Test/reset button
- Not inter-connectable with additional detectors
This battery-operated Kidde smoke alarm uses ionization technology. The low price makes the Kidde i9080 one of the best wireless smoke detectors if you need to outfit your entire house. The light provides added safety in the event of a late-night fire.
First Alert 2-in-1 Z-Wave
- Battery operated for easy installation
- Electrochemical and photoelectric sensors
- Wireless connection to Z-Wave hub (sold separately)
- Mobile event alerts
- Test/silence button
- Not compatible with Wink and some other Z-Wave home automation systems
Smart home device users are increasingly seeking out ways to tie their home alarm systems together. There aren't many options yet as far as Z-Wave smoke alarms, so the First Alert 2-in-1 Z-Wave smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarm is a solid find. This WiFi smoke detector garners a four-star Amazon rating, earning it a spot in my list of the best wireless smoke alarms.
Best Smoke Detector Recap
Smoke detectors aren't a luxury - they're crucial components of the best home security systems. These inexpensive, easy-to-use devices are the most important bridge between a house fire and your family's safety. In addition to putting people in physical danger, fire also costs billions of dollars in property loss each year.
Make sure you check out the best home insurance companies so that you're covered in case anything happens. These simple steps can give you peace of mind - something that's impossible to put a price on.