Fortunately for buyers, most smoke detectors are relatively cheap, and many are fairly simple to install. More expensive alarms simply have a few extra features. For instance, some have integrated carbon monoxide detectors, some add voice alerts, and some can be interconnected so that all alarms in the house sound when one detects smoke.
Smoke detectors use two kinds of sensors to tip you off when there’s trouble. Photoelectric smoke alarms are best at detecting smoldering fires, while... ionization smoke alarms are better at detecting sudden, fast-burning fires. Experts say photoelectric smoke detectors generally won’t cause as many false alarms, but for the ultimate in safety, they recommend opting for a smoke detector with both types of sensors.
Aside from sensor type, the other main consideration is whether or not you need hard-wired detectors. Hard-wired smoke detectors may require an expert for installation, but the major pro is that they only rely on batteries as a backup power source. Of course, you can also get battery-operated alarms that aren’t hard-wired for the ultimate ease of use. The downside, of course, is that they’re more likely to start chirping in the middle of the night because it’s time to change the battery.
Two manufacturers, First Alert and Kidde, dominate the smoke-detector market. They are well-represented on our list of smoke detector picks below.
As a dual-sensor alarm, the First Alert 3120B smoke alarm uses photoelectric and ionization sensors to detect both smoldering and fast-burning fires as soon as possible. It is hardwired with battery backup, has an 85-decibel alarm and can connect with other units so that when one alarm goes off, they all go off.
Owners are pleased with the First Alert 3120B, saying the unit is relatively easy to install and use. They like the alarm and low-battery latch features, which make it easy to identify which alarm went off first or which one has a low battery. The alarm also includes single-button test and silence as well as anti-theft features. A few reviewers report issues with intermittent beeping and say the battery compartment is too hard to open, however. Battery backup requires two AA batteries that are included with purchase.
Buyers who need a battery-operated alarm like the extra features they get with the Kidde Combination Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Voice Warning. As the name suggests, it functions as both a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm and features verbal warnings instead of a siren. The smoke detector has an ionization sensor but not a photoelectric sensor, and it is not interconnectable with other units.
Owners like the Kidde’s voice alarm, which specifies whether it detects fire or carbon monoxide, or whether there is a low battery. Many say they find it less annoying than a traditional siren and more effective at waking them at night. Some reviewers say the voice alarm is not loud enough, however. Other high points include easy installation and a “hush” mode that silences the alarm in non-emergencies. There are also LED indicators and a test mode. The alarm requires three AA batteries that are included with purchase.
If you prefer a basic, inexpensive battery-operated smoke detector, more than a thousand owners recommend the First Alert SA320CN. The alarm is a little pricier than our other budget pick, but the big difference is that it uses both photoelectric and ionization sensors to detect smoke and fire, which experts recommend and owners appreciate. This model has an 85-decibel alarm.
Owners report that the First Alert is a cinch to install. Features include intelligent sensing technology that is supposed to reduce false alarms, though reviews are mixed on this – some users say they have zero false alarms, while others report too many. There is also an indicator light, low-battery alert and a test/silence button that allows users to quickly turn off the alarm in nonemergency situations, like cooking mishaps. It requires two AA batteries, and they are included with purchase.
Buyers in the market for a no-frills hardwired smoke alarm will want to look into the Kidde i4618 Firex. This alarm uses ionization sensors to detect smoke and fire and has a battery backup and an 85-decibel alarm. It can be interconnected with other alarms.
Owners praise the Kidde i4618 for easy installation and ease of use, including a hush feature that can quickly silence an alarm when necessary. Other features include an LED that flashes to identify which alarm was tripped first when several are connected, a low-battery indicator, and a feature that won’t allow the alarm to attach to its mounting bracket if the battery is missing. While most users are satisfied with performance, some say they’ve had intermittent chirping or false alarms. The battery backup requires one 9-volt battery.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
Though most smoke detectors are relatively basic devices, the Nest Protect packs in a lot of extra features for buyers willing to spend a little extra. The alarm’s main claim to fame is wifi connectivity, which lets owners know on their smartphones about alarms or a low battery even when they aren’t at home. The Protect has a split-spectrum sensor that uses both photoelectric and ionization technology, and buyers can choose either hard-wired or battery-operated units. Units can be interconnected.
Buyers are very positive about the Nest Protect, saying they love the minimalist design and voice alerts, which allow them to silence the unit before an ear-splitting 85-decibel alarm during non-emergencies. Other favorite features include a motion-activated LED nightlight and self-monitoring, meaning the alarm checks its own status and automatically alerts owners if something is wrong. The Nest Protect also functions as a carbon monoxide detector. It includes three AA lithium backup batteries.
If you aren’t sold on a wifi-connected fire alarm like the Nest Protect, the First Alert SA511CN2-3ST still allows for interconnectivity between alarms without the inconvenience of hard-wiring. The alarm uses photoelectric sensors to detect smoke and fire.
Users love the First Alert’s ONELINK technology, which enables wireless communication between alarms so that when one goes off, they all do. They also appreciate that this alarm has loud voice alerts that tell them which one detected smoke, and most say they haven’t had an issue with false alarms. Other features include an audible low-battery alert and an easy-to-use test/silence button. The alarm requires two AA batteries that are included with purchase.
Design-savvy buyers tired of utilitarian-looking smoke alarms may want to check out the First Alert Atom Micro. True to its name, the Micro is more than 60 percent smaller than a typical smoke detector with a roughly 2-inch diameter. It can also be purchased in three finishes: traditional white, antique copper, or cherry wood. It uses photoelectric sensors and is battery-operated, not hard-wired.
Buyers are pleased with the look of the First Alert Atom Micro, though some prefer the flatter, more unobtrusive Nest Protect. They say the units are particularly resistant to false alarms and are very easy to install. Additional features include a single-button test/silence mode, a flashing LED to accompany the 85-decibel alarm, and a Smartclip system that won’t allow the alarms to be mounted without the battery installed. A lithium CR2 battery is required and comes included with the alarm.
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