How Do Smoke Detectors Work: The Complete Guide

A white smoke detector sitting against a black background.

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If you’re one of the many people wondering “how do smoke detectors work?” then this is the guide for you. Below, we’ll explain the two primary types of smoke detection. Plus, why it’s important to have both types of smoke detectors in your home. At least if you hope to have full protection from smoke and fire.

Flames glowing out of a gas burner stovetop.

Ionization Smoke Detectors vs. Photoelectric Smoke Detectors

To answer the question “how do smoke detectors work”, you first need to understand there are two primary options for homeowners to choose from. These types of modern smoke detectors are ionization smoke alarms and photoelectric smoke alarms. Unfortunately, each one is better at detecting a specific type of smoke. That makes the most useful smoke detector one that uses a combination of the two.

Ionization Smoke Detectors

These smoke detectors are far more effective at detecting fast fires with high flames. They contain small amounts of radioactive materials between two charged plates that ionize the air. The process creates a current that flows between the two plates. When smoke enters the space between those plates, it disturbs the ionization process, reducing the current and activating the alarm.

Photoelectric Smoke Detectors

Better suited for detecting smoldering fires that produce smoke over time, photoelectric smoke detectors use the combination of a photoelectric sensor and a source of precisely angled light to operate. Smoke inside the chamber reflects light onto the sensor. When that occurs, it triggers the alarm.

Combination Smoke Detectors

Some smoke detectors use both photoelectric and ionization detection. This offers a more robust defense for your family and your home. These are the best options as they offer families in both situations the greatest amount of time to get out of their homes when fires occur.

A white smoke detector sitting on top of a brown wooden surface.

Bonus Tips For Smoke Detectors

Check Your Batteries

If your smoke detector needs new batteries, you’ll most likely know by a frequent chirping noise coming from the device. This is a rather irritating sound and having a non-working smoke detector is hazardous. Therefore, you’ll want to swap the batteries out right away. Regardless of whichever smoke detector you decide to install, you should keep the batteries in rotation once a year. To stay on track, set up alerts on your phone to remind you of when it’s time to replace the batteries.

Test Your Detector

Much like checking your batteries, testing your smoke detector verifies your device is in working order. Review your smoke detector’s instruction manual for steps on testing your system. And remember to test your smoke detector at least once a month to make sure everything’s working properly. Similar to checking your batteries, an easy way to remember when your detector needs testing is by setting up alerts on your smartphone. 

Why Smart Smoke Detectors Matter?

When it comes down to the question of how do smoke detectors work, most smoke detectors are pretty dumb creations. By that, we mean they only can notify you that something is wrong without supplying any additional information to help your family escape.

Smart smoke detectors work a little differently than the “old” versions of smoke detectors, revealing a wealth of information through wireless connections and mobile phone apps. Depending on your specific system, it may reveal any or all of the following information.

  • Which smoke alarm activated. This lets you know the area of the home where the event occurs.
  • The type of problem detected (smoke or carbon monoxide).
  • The severity of the smoke if it’s a smoke emergency.

Modern smart smoke detectors can also notify the fire department on your behalf so you can focus on getting yourself and your family to safety during this troubling time.

A modern kitchen with white cabinets and stainless steel appliances.

Smart Security Choices for Modern Homes

Most people think of burglar alarms as protection against break-ins, home invasions, and thefts when it comes to home security. In truth, home security is about so much more. ONIT offers residential and commercial security solutions that protect your entire environment with the use of smart technology and features. This includes:

  • Standard security alarms.
  • Smoke detection.
  • Carbon monoxide detection.
  • Water leaks.
  • Smart locks.
  • Video monitoring.
  • Controlled access.
  • Lighting automation.
  • Intrusion detection.

Now that you have the answer to your burning question, “How do smoke detectors work?” The next important question to ask is this. “How do you make them work within the framework of today’s smart home?” The folks at ONIT have answers for you.

ONIT is a leader in the realm of smart security for your home or business. We can work with you to create a customized security solution that meets your needs and helps to promote safety for everyone in your home. Contact ONIT today for a free quote and to learn more about how we can help you secure your home from smoke, water, and so much more. Want protection against flames that go beyond smoke detectors? Reach out to our insurance team that can help you build an effective insurance policy ready for handling emergencies of all sizes. Give us a call at 1-833-433-0331.

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