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Which Type of Smoke Detector Should You Install? Photo-Electric or Ionization?

Smoke detectors are an essential part of any home safety kit, and they are actually required by law in many parts of the world, including Australia and some US states. Installing a smoke detector is easy and relatively painless, so there is little excuse for not spending money on a device that could easily save your life and the lives of your family.


However, many people are genuinely confused by smoke detectors because they come in different shapes, sizes and forms. Different smoke detectors work in different ways and the two main types – photo-electric and ionization – have different benefits and drawbacks. So which type should you install?


What’s the difference between photo-electric and ionization smoke detectors?

Ionization smoke detectors are the older form of smoke detectors, and they work by combustibles ionizing particles within the detector, which disrupts the flow of current in the detector and causes the alarm to sound. Photo-electric smoke detectors work by ‘seeing’ the smoke: photo-electric detectors aim a reflected beam of light and when smoke particles prevent the light from reflecting, the alarm sounds.


Why do some authorities recommend having both detectors?
Some fire authorities recommend that homeowners have both types of detectors in their home because they each detect a different type of fire better than the other. Ionization smoke detectors are slightly better than photo-electric smoke detectors at detecting flaming (non-smoldering) fires, and photo-electric smoke detectors are vastly better than ionization smoke detectors at detecting smoldering fires. Both types of fire are common in house fires, with smoldering fires particularly noted in common scenarios like a cigarette setting fire to a piece of upholstery.


It is generally agreed that photo-electric smoke detectors on the whole perform better, but fire departments often encourage homeowners to hedge their bets by buying both kinds of alarm.


Is one type truly better than the other?
If you were to have only one type of smoke detector, most experts would recommend choosing a photo-electric smoke detector. This is for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they are not as prone to false alarms as ionization smoke detectors and therefore they cause less annoyance. Secondly, photo-electric smoke detectors are better at detecting smoldering fires, which are the kind of fires most likely to break out when you are asleep (and therefore when you are in the most need of a fire alarm).


Smoldering fires can spread slowly over hours without detection before suddenly fully igniting and bursting into flames: by this point, it is often too late for homeowners to escape. On average, ionization alarms sound 30 minutes later than photo-electric during smoldering fires: a huge amount of time that can be the difference between life and death. It is for this reason that the Australian state of Victoria, for example, recommends the use of photo-electric smoke detectors as they are “more likely to alert occupants in time to escape safely”.


If you are looking to professionally install photo-electric smoke detectors in your home or business, check out Corospark Electrical. Corospark is a leading Sydney based electrical company that offers a range of smoke detectors at unbelievable prices.

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