Sunday, October 14, 2012

Smoke Detectors are Not Created Equally

The last think I thought I'd be writing about is smoke detectors.  But tonight, I was making my sons some microwave popcorn and I went in the other room, forgetting about the popcorn.  Smoke began pouring out of the microwave. And while I grabbed the bag and threw it in the sink, the microwave was pouring smoke and in a matter of a minute, the entire living room and kitchen areas were filled with thick smoke.  My sons and I ran to open the front and back doors, put on ceiling fans and opened windows.

And my smoke detector, wired in electronically, about 2 feet into the hallway which was also filled with smoke, DID NOT GO OFF.  

In the beginning of October, a story about smoke detectors caught my attention both on the Today Show and then again that evening on The Nightly News With Brian Williams.  It was how a woman lost her 4 children in a fire, and although she had working smoke detectors, they did not go off until it was too late.  The story went on to show demonstrations of failures of these units.  See the Today Show Story link here. 

Evidently, the most popular brands of smoke detectors use ionization technology.  But this does not always detect the smoke from smoldering fires.  A demonstration showed a firefighter in a room with a smoldering fire, for over 20 minutes, filling with smoke and the smoke detector did not go off until the room was filled with thick smoke.  There are smoke detectors on the market which use photo electric technology and detect the smoke almost immediately. They cost more, so most people choose the cheaper, ionization models.

I saw the story and actually went to Home Depot to purchase a photo electric detector which is still in it's packaging.  It cost $24.99 where  the ionization detectors started at a $13 price point. 

I hadn't gotten around to installing it yet, not really considering it that much of a priority.  I was wrong.  We were so busy opening windows and putting on fans that I didn't think to grab my camera.  I wish I had and that I could show you how much smoke was in the house with no alarm going off.

I will keep my regular smoke detectors which are wired in, but will be installing the battery operated version of the photo electric smoke detectors right next to them.  I would urge you to consider doing the same.  It may just save your family's lives.  


  1. I’m so glad your kitchen fire didn’t turn out worse, Judi. But I’m happy that you learned from the experience. You’re right. Photoelectric models are best suited for kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms. This is because these areas often contain large pieces of furniture and equipment such as countertops, chairs, etc., which burn slowly and create more smoldering smoke than flames.

    Odessa Hanton

    1. Odessa - it's so disappointing that this information is not more readily available. I never knew there were 2 kinds of smoke detectors, and we just put in what they told us to use. The segment on the Today Show was really enlightening. And the cost of the photoelectric ones are really not that much more expensive, especially when lives are at stake! I couldn't believe the amount of smoke and we never really had a fire. I just stuck the microwave popcorn bag in the sink and ran the water on it. I wish I had taken a photo of the smoke filled room, but I was trying to air everything out so the detector would not scare my younger son who is very sensitive to loud noises. I shouldn't have worried, it never went off!