Protect Your Home: Fire Alarms

Protect Your Home: Smoke Detectors


When it comes to a fire in the home, everyone seems to think, “Well, it will never happen to me!” Of course we want this common thought to be true, but the fact is fires are relatively common emergencies – if bad enough, they can rob you of your belongings, your heirlooms and family mementos, and even your home itself. In 2015, about seven people in the U.S. were killed daily in home structural fires. What is truly tragic is that fires are among the easiest home accidents to prevent.


Common Fire Causes

The top five start-up threats for house fires are (in no particular order): heaters, electrical problems, cooking activities, candles, and smoking. Homeowners can take multiple steps to ensure that these threats are mitigated or eliminated completely.

For heating issues, the first step homeowners can take is having their system inspected on a twice-yearly basis. This helps to lower the chance of a major issue slipping by unnoticed until it is a safety threat. The next step is to be very, very careful when using portable heaters – opt for products that are up-to-date with features such as automatic shut-off when knocked over, or a timer in case the heater is accidentally left unsupervised.

Electrical fires are often related to power cords that are damaged, or are overloading a plug. Make sure you are checking cords on a regular basis and replacing any that have visible signs of damage. And remember…one plug per outlet only. Don’t go crazy with power strips.

Cooking, candles, and smoking are all easily preventable fires. Never leave heat sources like stoves, burning candles, or lit cigarettes unattended. In fact, smokers may want to indulge outside only, as falling ash can easily fall on upholstered surfaces, bed linens or carpeting and spark a fire.


Detecting Fires

Every home should have smoke or fire alarms, period. It doesn’t have to be a top of the line model – it just has to get you and your family safely away from danger. However, over the years the technology used to detect fires has changed, leaving homeowners with more options than ever. So how do you choose the best system for your home?

There are three types of smoke detector sensors available for fire alarms: ionization, photoelectric, and dual. Ionization sensors are good at detecting fires that start fast and generally produce little smoke. Photoelectric sensors are geared towards detecting slower moving fires that produce larger amounts of smoke. Dual sensors combine both options to give you the best of both worlds.

The next decision on which alarm you opt for is all about ease of installation. Battery-operated devices require very little technical knowledge – they’re basically ready to go right out of the package. Hardwired options involve wiring the alarm directly into your home’s electrical system, meaning that you don’t have to worry about a battery running low. Hardwired systems usually have a backup battery, just in case you lose power when a fire strikes. However, this type of system does require more technical knowledge for installation, which may mean hiring a professional to get the job done.

Finally, you now have the option of going with a single-purpose device solely created to detect fires, a multi-purpose device that can also detect carbon monoxide, or a smart device that will allow you to monitor your home’s alarms from your smart phone, tablet, or computer.


On The Market

There are some very exciting new products being developed for home fire detection. Many of them are smart devices, which means they are connected to the internet via wi-fi, which allows homeowners to easily monitor safety risks even when they are away from home. The most popular of these devices is likely Nest Protect, which acts as both a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. Many people enjoy this device because of its ability to be expanded and provide information on the type of fire that could be occurring (e.g., it can provide information on exact location in the home). It is available as both a battery-operated or wired option, and also works with the Nest Smart Thermostat, which means that your HVAC system can automatically be powered off in the event of a fire. The downfall of this device is cost – $99 per alarm, putting whole home coverage at a few hundred dollars.

For those who want complete information on the air in their home, Birdi is a brand new safety monitoring system. This smart device not only detects fires, carbon monoxide, but also humidity levels and air quality, alerting you to a wider range of possible health issues. Like Nest Protect, it is also pricey (but very cool)…sensors are $119 each.

A smart alarm that is less expensive has been introduced by Roost. Detectors start at $59, and can be expanded to detect more than just fire – another model also notifies homeowners about carbon monoxide and natural gas threats. Another great option from this company? The smart battery ($34.99), which converts any existing fire alarm into a basic smart device.

For those not interested in a smart device, a visit to your local hardware store or Amazon will provide a wide array of dual-sensor devices available for your home. Most of these will range somewhere in the range of $15-$70, depending on what the particular device offers and how it is installed.


Installation Tips

  • Be sure to have a smoke detector on every level of your home.
  • Install your device either on the ceiling or high on the wall. Smoke rises, so you will want to be warned of a threat as early as possible.
  • Double-check your batteries. Regardless of the type of system you purchased, it is always a good idea to test your batteries on a regular basis. A monthly check is a great way to ensure that your alarms are always in good running order.
  • Don’t install directly above the stove or cooktop. Unless you are very interested in having a lot of false alarms, this is not an ideal location.
  • Never decorate the alarm. Paint, covers, stickers, or other materials that could interfere with how the device operates should never be used.