Every home should be equipped with one of the best smoke detectors. Smoke is a silent killer. By the time it creeps into bedrooms the house could be ablaze, and the chances of survival dramatically reduced. Figures from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) tell us that two-thirds of fire deaths happen in homes with no functioning smoke detector.
Fortunately, it’s an easy problem to fix. Efficient smoke detectors are widely available, and most are very affordable. The only challenge is choosing the right model. The variety of power options, sensors, wireless, and smart devices can be confusing.
The following article simplifies the process by providing a clear explanation of the different technologies, and in-depth buying advice that will help you find the best smoke detector for your home.
— Best Overall: First Alert SCO7CN Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector
— Best Budget: Kidde Smoke Detector
— Best Battery-Operated: X-Sense Smoke Detector Alarm
— Best Smart: Google Nest Protect Smoke Alarm
— Best for Entire Home: X-Sense Wireless Smoke Detector
How We Picked the Best Smoke Detectors
I have installed smoke detectors in several homes, and as an engineer I have a good understanding of how they work. To supplement this knowledge, and make sure we had current technical information, the team researched all the leading manufacturers, and the latest products.
Quality and Safety: Two independent bodies test devices like smoke alarms to ensure they meet internationally recognized quality and safety standards. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) focuses on manufacturing, while Underwriters Laboratories (UL) are concerned with product safety.
The latest standard for smoke detectors is ANSI/UL 217 (often just written as UL 217), and for carbon monoxide detectors is ANSI/UL 2034 (often written as UL 2034). There is no legal requirement for products to be tested, and costs are involved. So in our view it not only recognizes that devices are well made and safe, but also that the manufacturer has confidence in their equipment. Each of our top picks achieves the relevant standard. ETL/Intertek is another organization that issues similar certification.
Features: Some smoke detectors also detect carbon monoxide. Some can be interlinked so that if one detects smoke then every smoke detector in the house goes off. Smart smoke detectors can provide remote notification. Our picks include one or more of these to give people the widest possible choice.
Installation: We tried to select smoke detectors that are as easy to install as possible, but requirements do vary. Battery-operated smoke detectors are common. Some need to be hard-wired, and some need WiFi present. We tried to cover all options.
Brand and Price: It’s not difficult to find cheap smoke detectors in discount stores, but reliability and durability are unknowns. Each of our top picks comes from a brand with an established reputation for safe, effective devices. That doesn’t mean we ignored people’s budgets. Our selections offer smoke detectors from across the whole price spectrum.
Best Smoke Detectors: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: First Alert SCO7CN Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector
Why It Made The Cut: First Alert is one of the country’s leading smoke detector manufacturers. Their advanced SCO7CN not only detects smoke and carbon monoxide, but also tells you where the threat is coming from.
— Detects: Smoke and carbon dioxide
— Power: Two AA batteries
— Sensor Type: Photoelectric
— Proven quality
— Voice alerts
— Easy to install
— Premium price
— No interlinking option
— Not for New York
First Alert is one of the best known fire safety brands in the US, having been around since 1958. They produce a wide range of devices that include smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. The First Alert SCO7CN is their combined smoke and carbon monoxide detector. It uses a photoelectric sensor to identify a smoldering fire before it becomes established, and an electrochemical sensor for carbon monoxide that is claimed to be the most accurate available.
While an 85-decibel siren will alert the homeowner to a problem, the stand-out feature is the voice function. Up to 11 household locations can be programmed into the device, which can then tell you whether the danger is from smoke or carbon monoxide, and where it is centered. Fitting is very straightforward, and the First Alert SCO7CN uses 2 AA batteries which install easily via a slide-out drawer. They should last around 12 months.
Despite a premium price, the First Alert SCO7CN smoke detector is extremely popular, and has few flaws. While false alarms are not unknown this is true of all smoke detectors, and without knowing how and where they are installed it’s impossible to pinpoint the cause. The low battery alert is loud, which some buyers have mistaken for an actual alarm. These devices are not available for New York, which requires 10-year sealed batteries. Finally, note that First Alert SCO7CN smoke detectors cannot be interlinked.
Best Budget: Kidde Smoke Detector
Why It Made The Cut: Kidde has a long-established reputation for efficient detectors at modest cost, and while basic, this model nevertheless brings affordable, effective smoke detection to any home.
— Detects: Smoke
— Power: One 9V Battery
— Sensor Type: Ionizing
— Simple but effective
— Very low cost
— Little visual impact
— Battery changing could be easier
— Some feel it is too sensitive
— Additional smoke detector may be required
Kidde is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fire safety products, and the company has been making detectors and alarms for over a century. The Kidde i9050 is their entry-level model, providing basic but effective smoke detection at a price that makes it a clear choice over cheap, unbranded alternatives. Although one of the most affordable models on the market, it still complies with the stringent requirements of UL 217 listing.
The Kidde i9050 uses an ionization sensor that reacts to sooty or burned air particles created by fire, and sets off an 8-decibel alarm. There is an easy-to-use silencing and test button. The case is very plain, giving low visual impact. It runs off a single 9-volt battery which will power the device for about a year, and there’s a flashing LED to warn it needs to be changed. Although the connectors can be a little stiff, the main body is easy to twist off from the ceiling mount so it doesn’t need to be done standing at the top of a ladder.
While the Kidde i9050 meets legal requirements as a smoke detector, in some states it will need to be paired with a carbon monoxide detector. A hard-wired version is also available, although it costs a little more.
Best Battery-Operated: X-Sense Smoke Detector Alarm
Why It Made The Cut: The X-Sense smoke alarm has a sealed battery with a life of 10 years. Not only is that more convenient, but it is a legal requirement in some states.
— Detects: Smoke
— Power: Sealed 3V Lithium Battery
— Sensor Type: Photoelectric
— Self checking
— 3-color status indicator
— Fittings included
— No carbon monoxide
— Not discreet
— Sensitive to steam
The X-Sense smoke detector is part of a range of detectors and home security systems recognized for combining efficiency with affordability. This particular model offers the convenience of a 10-year, sealed lithium battery that is not only convenient for the homeowner, but a requirement for new builds and remodels in a number of states. It meets both UL and ETL listing standards. It is also temperature resistant to 248 degrees Fahrenheit.
The X-Sense smoke detector uses a photoelectric sensor recommended by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). The 360-degree ventilated body is claimed to make it more sensitive to smoke from all directions. A bright LED shows clear status of either ready, fault, or alarm. The latter is 85 decibels. Further convenience is provided by the self-test function that checks the battery every 60 seconds. Although it’s a minor feature, it’s nice to see that anchor plugs and screws are included. The X-Sense smoke detector is self-activating, turning on as soon as the body is connected to the mounting plate.
The design of the X-Sense smoke detector is modern, but it’s not the most discreet of units. Some also complain that it is sensitive to steam, as well as smoke, so can register false alarms in bathrooms. In some states it will need to be paired with a separate carbon monoxide detector, although X-Sense also produces a combined model.
Best Smart: Google Nest Protect Smoke Alarm
Why It Made The Cut: The Google Nest Protect brings smart smoke and carbon monoxide detection to the home, providing clear voice instructions, motion-sensitive lighting, and remote monitoring via a dedicated smartphone app.
— Detects: Smoke and Carbon Monoxide
— Power: Hard wired
— Sensor Type: Dual Photoelectric and Ionizing
— Remote alerts
— Voice instructions
— Motion-sensitive lighting
— Installation requires care
— Needs WiFi
The Google Nest Protect smart smoke and carbon dioxide detector is currently the most advanced fire safety technology available for the home. It uses dual photoelectric and ionizing smoke sensors for rapid alerts. It triggers the built-in light, audible alarm, and voice instructions that are noted for their clarity. Devices can be interlinked to provide a complete safety network throughout the home. The light is set to off as default, but can come on when it detects movement. This is a valuable feature when trying to move through a dark building quickly.
Google Nest Protect self checks the power supply regularly (the battery-powered version checks for charge status). The app will advise of problems with the device, or an alarm event via Android or iOS devices. Should the alarm prove to be false, the detector can be reset remotely.
The Google Nest Protect smoke detector uses the common 2.4GHz WiFi that most people have for home internet access, smartphones, tablets, TVs, etc. It does not require other Google hardware, and in fact uses its own app rather than integrating with Google Home. It’s important to follow installation instructions precisely or faults can occur. These can be corrected, but the process can prove frustrating. Finally, Google Nest Protect is UL-listed.
Best for Entire Home: X-Sense Wireless Smoke Detector
Why It Made The Cut: Using X-Sense smoke detectors it’s possible to create an interlinked whole-home alarm system of almost any size without the high cost of fully smart devices.
— Detects: Smoke
— Power: One 3V Battery
— Sensor Type: Photoelectric
— Whole home protection
— Frequent smoke analysis
— Connect up to 24 units
— No carbon monoxide
— Remote control available but extra
— Not a smart device
Smart smoke alarms like Google’s Nest Protect are very clever but a system of 7 to 10 units (required for full coverage in the average home) is undeniably expensive. The X-Sense wireless smoke alarm is a much more affordable alternative that is also easier to install. The self-contained RF (radio frequency) transmitter does not need WiFi, and won’t interfere with smart home devices, or radio signals.
The compact units use photoelectric sensors. They self-analyze three times every 10 seconds to reduce false alarms. Installation is very straightforward, and up to 24 units can be interconnected. Rather than having a central control unit each relays the signal to one or more neighbors, giving a potential range of over 800 feet. When one detects smoke, the 85-decibel alarm goes off across the entire network, giving maximum warning across the home or business premises. The 3-volt battery cell lasts for five years, so will only need to be replaced once during the life of the detector.
The X-Sense wireless smoke detector is UL-listed. It satisfies the requirement in some states for interlinked systems in new builds, but additional carbon monoxide detectors may be necessary.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Smoke Detector
Smoke detectors come with a range of features, from covering the basics to smart models. Here are the factors you should consider before making a purchase.
Smoke detectors use either ionizing or photoelectric sensors, or occasionally both.
Ionizing sensors use a small (and completely safe) radioactive charge to ionize air molecules between two plates. Any airborne particles that come into contact with these ions reduces the electrical current. When the current drops below a pre-set level the sensor recognizes it as smoke, and sets off the alarm.
Photoelectric sensors use an LED, and a light detector in a sensing chamber. Under normal circumstances the light detector does not ‘see’ the LED, but as particle density increases, more and more light is detected until the trigger level is reached, and the alarm sounds.
Neither is necessarily superior to the other, but they do have their strengths. Ionizing sensors are better at recognizing the black soot caused by actual flame, whereas photoelectric sensors react more quickly to lighter particles caused by a smoldering fire. Dual-sensor models offer the best of both worlds.
Carbon monoxide detectors work in several different ways but basically use either a chemical or digital circuit to identify the density of gas in parts per million (ppm). This sensitivity is important because humans can’t see or small the gas, yet it can be lethal.
The majority of smoke detectors are battery operated, typically using either a 9-volt cell or two AA batteries. Sometimes these fit easily, other times they can be a little fiddly. It’s worth checking because it can be frustrating if you need to stand on a ladder to reach. A few have sealed lithium-ion units that last the life of the device so they never need to be changed or recharged.
Some smoke detectors are hard-wired. While these can use a dedicated wiring, connection to existing lighting circuits is often easier. Homeowners with the relevant skill set can undertake the work themselves, though we would always recommend calling in a professional if you are not completely confident.
There are several plug-in smoke detectors on the market, which are a good portable solution. However, they tend to be less popular because they occupy an electrical outlet.
Coverage and Connectivity
When buying and installing smoke detectors it’s important to consider their detecting range so that you can buy sufficient alarms for the whole house. The NFPA advises one per bedroom, one outside each sleeping area, plus one per floor. If those in corridors or basements are more than 30 feet apart, additional units should be added.
Many smoke detectors are standalone units, but wireless and smart models can be interlinked. Typically if one of these smoke detectors senses a fire, the whole network will sound the alarm thus giving people more time to react. The best smart home devices may work with smoke detectors from a variety of manufacturers though it is important to check compatibility before ordering.
Smoke alarms are a legal requirement, and in many new builds and remodels these need to be hard wired, or have permanently sealed batteries. They may also need to be interlinked. State and local laws frequently differ so it is important to check the regulations for your area.
Q: What’s the difference between a smoke detector and a fire detector?
The difference between a smoke detector and a fire detector (or fire alarm) is that the former senses smoke in the air, and sounds a built-in alarm. A fire detector also detects heat, and may respond in a variety of ways: it could sound an audible alarm, set off a sprinkler system, or alert local fire and rescue services.
Q: How many smoke detectors should I have?
How many smoke detectors you should have depends on the size of your home. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends one in each bedroom, one outside each sleeping area, plus one on each level. If the latter are more than 30 feet apart, additional units should be added.
Q: How much do smoke detectors cost?
How much smoke detectors cost depends on specification. The article above provides a range of models that represent various price points. Generally speaking the cheapest smoke detectors are around $10 each, while smart smoke detectors can top $100 each.
Q: How often should I test my smoke detectors?
The NFPA recommends that you should test your smoke detector once a month, though some self-test more frequently.
Q: How long do battery operated smoke detectors last?
According to the US Fire Administration (USFA), battery-operated smoke detectors last between eight and 10 years. After this time the sensor starts to degrade, so the unit should be replaced. This is equally true of hard wired models. While there may be practical or legal reasons for installing hard wired smoke alarms, they are no more durable than their battery powered counterparts.
Q: Are smart smoke detectors better?
Whether smart smoke detectors are better than other types largely depends on your expectations and budget. While any approved smoke detector can offer good protection for you and your family when at home, the big advantage smart smoke detectors have is that they can alert you to a potential problem wherever you are.
The First Alert SCO7CN detects smoke and carbon monoxide, thus offering protection from the two most common household threats. The voice function is a valuable bonus, though it’s a shame they can’t be interlinked. The Kidde smoke detector is basic but does exactly what it’s supposed to, for very little money.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.