Smoke Detectors May Not Provide Adequate Protection

by John McKiggan

Everyone knows you should have smoke detectors in your home right?

You may even be one of the dedicated few who check them to be sure they are working and replace the batteries on a regular basis.

But did you know that your smoke alarm may not provide you with adequate warning during a fire?

Detector May Not Detect!

Recent research suggests that the most common type of smoke detector in Canadian homes, ionization smoke detectors, are not particularly effective in detecting the most common cause of fatalities in home fires, smoldering fires.

Problem Known for Decades

This problem has been known by manufactures for decades of smoke detectors for decades but consumers have no idea of the risk. In the early 1990’s a research study at Texas A&M University determined that the failure rate of a photo electric smoke detector in detecting smoldering fires is just 4%. But ionization smoke detectors had a failure rate of up to 56%!

Why the Difference?

The huge difference for the failure rate is due to the way that the smoke detectors work.

Ionization Alarms

Ionization smoke detectors create a small electric current between two metal plates. When the electric current is interrupted by smoke the alarm is triggered. This type of technology is susceptible to “false alarms” from high humidity in bathrooms or steam from cooking in kitchens. In fact, the propensity for these types of alarms to go off by mistake often leads consumers to disable to alarms or remove their batteries eliminating any protection at all.

Photoelectic Alarms

Photoelectric smoke alarms contain a small beam of light. When smoke enters the detector it deflects the light onto a electric cell and the alarm is triggered. These types of alarms are more sensitive to the type of large some particles that are given off during smoldering fire, the kind of electrical fire that often happens at night when homeowners are asleep.

Cost an Issue?

The popularity of ionization smoke detectors is also likely due to the fact that they are incredibly cheap. However, while photoelectric smoke detectors cost a little more they are far more efficient at detecting smoldering fires and less prone to false alarms.

More Information:

Health Canada

How to Properly Install a Smoke Detector

Smoke Alarms: Home Safety Information

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