As a structure full of wires, electricity, appliances and other materials there are many potential hazards in our homes but many homeowners don’t realize that they may have the wrong smoke detectors in their homes.
Most houses have smoke detectors installed (at least 96%, or 111 million, homes in the U.S. have at least one, according to the U.S. Fire Administration), but many of them could be the incorrect type and potentially deadly.
There are two major kinds, ionization and photoelectric. Ionization are the most common, and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found that of 90% of the smoke detectors in the U.S. are ionization. But ionization alarms, which use a small bit of radioactive material to set off the alarm when it detects large burning particles, have been shown to be less able to detect slow-burning or smoldering fires, such as those caused by the most common types of ignition sources, namely cigarettes, frayed wires from electrical appliances, and sparks from a still-smoldering fireplace.
According to Joseph Fleming, a deputy fire chief at the Boston Fire Department and fire safety consultant, as many as 30,000 people in the U.S. have died since 1990 because they relied on ionization detectors. That’s because an ionization alarm can sometimes take between 20 and even 50 minutes longer to activate than a photoelectric smoke alarm.
Ionization alarms have a high false alarm rate and can they can be triggered by normal activities such as cooking or even showering. Many annoyed homeowners disconnect their ionization alarms due to the nuisance. Photoelectric alarms, which use a beam of light to sniff out smaller burning particles, have fewer false alarms.
So why do ionization alarms get placed in homes? Answer: They’re cheaper, typically half the price of a photoelectric smoke detector, and the battery on an ionization alarm tends to last longer, according to the NFPA.
The best way to protect your family is investing in photoelectric alarms in bedrooms and hallways, and leave the ionization alarms in the kitchen, if necessary. In addition, make sure the alarms are properly placed high on walls or ceilings, hardwired (doesn’t rely on battery power) and interconnected so if one sounds they all sound.