Smoke Detectors Vs Smoke Alarms

Smoke detectors and smoke alarms are among the most essential security systems in any home. Besides, you never know when you will need them. But when you do, they will literally save your life.

The dying risk in homes with working smoke alarms is 55% lower than in those without the devices. They also include flashing strobe lights and pillow or bed shakers to alert individuals completely deaf or with ‘hard of hearing.’

Despite the overwhelming benefits of smoke detectors and alarms, buying them is quite confusing for new users. Therefore, let’s break down a common dilemma: Smoke Detectors Vs Smoke Alarms.

A smoke detector only has a sensor and cannot alert you in case of a fire or dangerous smoke levels. Further, it triggers the central alarm unit or sends a signal, which produces a warning to a building’s occupants. Thus, you won’t have a warning alarm if the detector is separated from the fire alarm system.

On the other hand, a smoke alarm is a stand-alone gadget. It has a separate power supply and sound tool to sound an alarm. Moreover, it does not depend on a fire alarm system to warn you of a fire or smoke hazard.

There’s more to learn about these two home security units. So, read this article for more insight into what to expect. You’ll also learn various smoke detector types in the market and how to correctly install them for optimal efficiency.

What Is Smoke Detector?

Smoke Detectors Vs Smoke Alarms
A Smoke Detector

This is a sensory system that detects smoke as the primary fire indicator. It delivers a signal to a fire alarm software or produces a visual or audible signal locally in a home or room.

Usually, smoke detectors are housed in tiny, round-shaped plastic cases about six inches in diameter and one inch thick. Then, they’re placed on the roof, which is more susceptible to fire risks and hazards.

Smoke detectors detect particles in the air using two dominant technologies, namely ionization and photoelectric. As a result, we have three main smoke detector types.

1. Ionization Smoke Detectors

These units use small bits of safely shielded radioactive material that electrically ionizes or charges air particles between two plates. This produces little electric current flowing from one plate to the other.

Further, when the molecules enter the chamber, they attract ions and carry them away. The current reduces and registers the smoke particles, which triggers the alarm.

2. Photoelectric Smoke Detectors

These smoke sensors have infrared ultraviolet light, a photoelectric receiver, and a lens. Further, in some types, the emitted light passes through the air and reaches the photosensor.

In the absence of particles, the beam light does not trigger the light detector, indicating all clear. Otherwise, smoke particles reduce the scattered light intensity, which exceeds the stipulated threshold and sounds the alarm.

NB: Ionization and photoelectric detectors identify either fast-burning ‘flaming’ fires or slow-burning ‘smoldering’ fires. Each technology has particular strengths.

For example, ionization-based smoke detectors detect small black soot molecules from flaming fires more quickly. Here, more particles are produced. They take away more current from the sensor’s plates and activate the alarm. As such, the sensors work best for fast-burning fires.

On the other hand, photoelectric smoke detectors are more sensitive to larger particles. Moreover, these molecules are light-colored or white, and hence, more reflective. So, the sensors are perfect for smoldering fires.

3. Dual Smoke Detectors

These smoke sensors utilize technology in ionization and photoelectric gadgets. They cover flaming fires and smoldering fires and save you the hassle of getting two smoke detector types in your facility.

Below are the top benefits of having smoke detectors.

  • They Guarantee Home Safety. A fire can catch you by surprise when a smoke detector is missing in your facility. Therefore, having it is the difference between getting out safely, getting injured, or even dying in a fire. The device sounds an alarm when it senses a fire threat in your home, allowing you to alert the fire department and leave the space immediately.
  • Round-the-Clock Supervision. Smoke detectors guarantee 24/7 protection, regardless of your location. As a result, you have peace of mind and can concentrate on your endeavors without wondering whether your property is safe.
  • Decreased Fire Damage Risk. Smoke sensors keep your property and loved ones safe from fires. They alert you during a fire outbreak, so you can act promptly before the situation gets out of hand.
  • Smoke Detectors Send Alerts to Multiple Parties. You can automatically set smart smoke sensors to alert the authorities during a fire outbreak. They also notify many people through an app, facilitating a prompt response.

Pros of Smoke Detectors

  • The Unit Does Not Need Regular Checking. Smoke detectors are hard-wired into the facility. Thus, they feed and get power from the building’s electric supply and do not run out in between scheduled checks.
  • The Mains System Has Multiple Detectors. This attribute makes the smoke detectors perfect for buildings with larger surface areas, such as an office or a shop. They quickly pick up an issue that a central sensor might miss or delay in locating. Moreover, the smoke detectors are linked together through a radio. Therefore, when one unit is activated, the others follow suit.
  • Smoke Detectors Are Reliable. Tests and research show that wired or mains smoke alarms and detectors are more reliable and faster at detecting a fire hazard.

The Cons of Smoke Detectors

  • The System Needs Professional Installation. You require professional help to check and fix the alarm in case of any issues. Also, although a warranty will minimize the cost, you’ll have to wait for the said professional, especially during weekends, evenings, and public holidays.
  • Issues in Powering the Smoke Detector. A mains system is advantageous because you do not need frequent battery checks. But since it is powered by mains electricity when the latter goes off, so will the detector.

What Is Smoke Alarm?

This device is an emergency warning system that alerts people during a fire. It makes a loud noise after detecting smoke. Hence, homeowners can promptly act and prevent further damage.

A typical smoke alarm system comprises heat detectors, smoke detectors, and manual pull stations. When these gadgets sense an irregularity, they send a signal to the fire alarm control panel, triggering the alarm.

In addition, the smoke alarm sends alerts to the monitoring team or fire department, who’ll dispatch firefighters to confirm and address the situation.

Fire alarms are essential for guaranteeing home and property safety during a fire. As such, they are prudent for all hospitals, schools, businesses, and apartments to be equipped with operational fire alarm systems.

We have various types of smoke alarms:

1. Ionization Smoke Alarms: These systems are more responsive to flaming fires. They have tiny radioactive material between two electrically charged plates. Further, these plates ionize the air and cause a current flow.

Smoke disrupts the ion’s flow when it enters the chamber. The current flow reduces and triggers the alarm.

2. Photoelectric Smoke Alarms: These alarms respond mostly to smoldering fires that begin with a long period of smoldering. They work by aiming a light source into the sensing chamber at an angle.

Smoke enters the chamber and reflects the light onto the light sensor. Thus, the alarm is activated.

3. Combination Ionization and Photoelectric: These gadgets respond to both flaming and smoldering fires. They have ionization and photoelectric sensors to activate the alarm, guaranteeing the best protection.

4. Intelligent Multicriteria Alarms: These smoke alarms use different sensors, including ionization, photoelectric, and heat, to detect fire. They also have algorithms to help reduce nuisance or unwanted alarms from non-fire sources.

5. Voice Smoke Alarms: These devices produce the temporal three pattern and a voice announcement to alert you where the smoke is being detected or if the unit is faulty. The temporal-three-pattern feature is a continued set of three loud beeps.

Every smoke alarm is advantageous as it is critical to life safety in fire situations. Besides, home fatal fire incidences, day or night, often include flaming and smoldering fires. You cannot predict the fire type you’ll have or when it’ll occur.

Therefore, consider a dual smoke alarm that performs acceptably for both fire types and guarantees maximum protection.

Pros of Smoke Alarms 

  • Peace of Mind. Fire alarms give an early warning during a fire, allowing you to take prompt action before it is too late. So, you’re not worried about your home’s safety while away.
  • Reduced Insurance Premiums. Insurers recognize the safety guaranteed by smoke and fire alarm systems. Better still, they charge lesser on their insurance premiums for homes and facilities with the units.
  • Smoke Alarms are Easy to Install and Maintain. Thankfully, most modern units utilize wireless technology, making them simple to mount and configure without running wires.  In addition, once installed, you’ll incur low maintenance costs. But test them frequently according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Cons of Smoke Alarms

  • The System is Costly. Depending on the selected plan, smoke alarm installation costs range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Further, this aspect does not include routine maintenance expenses such as replacing and testing batteries.
  • False Alarms: Faulty sensors cause false alarms. They increase costs due to fines paid and frustrate building occupants and homeowners when they occur too often.

Which Type of Smoke Detector Is Best?

Generally, dual smoke detectors deliver the best protection. They are available as multicriteria or intelligent devices, meaning they utilize various sensors, such as ionization, photoelectric, and heat. Better still, the gadgets use algorithms to detect fires.

Below are specific smoke detectors to consider for your home safety project.

  1. First Alert SCO7CN

This smoke detector is perfect for homeowners with a tight budget. Besides, it also detects unsafe carbon monoxide levels despite the gas being odorless and colorless.

The alarm has lights to alert you if there is a carbon monoxide or fire emergency. In addition, it talks to you when the alarm is activated and has an easy-to-access battery compartment. Hence, you can easily change batteries without removing the device from the ceiling or wall.

  1. Google Nest Protect

This unit keeps your property and loved ones protected. It features a split-spectrum sensor that detects fires with active flames and smoldering ones. Thus, you don’t need to get two smoke detectors.

Google Nest Protect has an electrochemical sensor to detect carbon monoxide. It flashes an in-built light, sounds the alarm, and uses a voice alert to notify you of increased smoke or carbon monoxide levels.

The gadget also sends alerts to your phone through an application, letting you remotely monitor your property.

This smoke detector has a few aggravation-saving features. For instance, its control application warns you of low batteries and you don’t need to endure constant beeping noises until you replace them.

Better still, the application easily turns off false smoke alarms. You no longer need a broom handle to tap the button.

Google Nest Protect smoke detector links with other Nest Protect alarms in your facility and surrounding to create a network of safety. Furthermore, the voice alert tells you where the fire or smoke was detected. So, you remain safe as you exit the building since you know which rooms to ignore.

However, this alarm is quite expensive. But its merits are worth the price, especially if you have a smaller home that does not need many smoke detectors.

  1. X-Sense

This smoke detector has an in-built digital display, making it different from its competitors. Interestingly, the display shows the battery level and current carbon monoxide levels in the building. It also updates every ten seconds to give up-to-date readings.

X-Sense has ten years expected lifespan. Moreover, you do not need to swap the battery until it’s time to replace the unit.

The smoke detector’s display changes color to alert you when something’s wrong. For instance, green means everything is okay, yellow means something is wrong with the alarm, and red warns that the alarm is going off.

Another helpful attribute is that this smoke and carbon monoxide detector combination helps prevent false alarms. It evaluates three air samples before sounding the alarm.

  1. First Alert SA320CN

This smoke detector has been around since 1958, making it highly trusted. Besides, it is reliable, an essential attribute in fire detection.

First, Alert SA320CN detects active flames and smoldering fires using its dual sensors. It also has a testing button to mute the alarm. So, you can easily turn it off during a false alarm.

Although this unit is not the flashiest, it is a perfect alternative for a budget-friendly, no-fuss expectation.

A smoke detector provides a better chance of saving your home and getting everyone out of a fire scene. Further, whereas any smoke detector is better than none, below are a few considerations when getting a new smoke alarm.

1. Backup power

You need to know when there is smoke or fire energy, regardless of whether your power goes out. So, hard-wired units need a battery backup or another power source to keep them operational.

2. Multifunctional

The most efficient smoke sensors can detect smoke molecules, flames, and carbon monoxide. Better still, a multifunctional system saves you battery life or power when using hard-wired units.

3. Smart.

Although classic photoelectric and ionization smoke detectors are helpful, smart ones are the cutting edge in fire safety. They communicate via apps and deliver alerts to your mobile devices when the alarm sounds.

Smart smoke detectors and alarms also talk to each other. You’ll know where the fire is when the alarm is activated.

How to Install Smoke Detector

Thankfully, installing a smoke detector does not have to be complicated. Thus, unless you’re interested in fire-related literature, the following installation tips should do the trick for your unit.

But first, plan to mount at least one smoke sensor on each floor. Also, have them in all sleeping areas like guest rooms, bedrooms, and living rooms with pull-out couches. Other areas include

  • Basements
  • Garages
  • Attics
  • Common hallways between sleeping areas
  • Near the kitchen

Next, get the following materials and tools for the project.

  • Drill
  • Sharp pencil
  • Smoke detector
  • Screwdriver
  • Wall screws
  • Wire cutter
  • Wire stripper
  • Plastic wall anchors
  • Wire nuts
  • Battery

Step One: Determine Your Preferred Mounting Location

Use the guidelines above to determine if your planned locations are appropriate. This is regardless of whether your facility has a preexisting fire alarm system Also, don’t take a pre-wired unit at face value. Ensure all essential locations, such as off the kitchen and sleeping locations, are well covered.

Step Two: Turn off the Power For Hard-Wired Systems

Head to your electric panel or unit and shut off the breaker labeled ‘fire alarm.’ This way, you are sure that the system is powered off. Sometimes, the unit may be piggy-backed onto a circuit with lighting.

So, pull the detector from its bracket and hold the pen tester to the wires, confirming the circuit is off.

Step Three: Install the Detector’s Mounting Bracket.

Usually, a smoke detector has a mounting bracket to ease installation and battery changes. Remove it by twisting the gadget and unit apart. Twist it until you feel and hear a loud click.

For battery-powered detectors, hold the bracket in place on the wall or ceiling. Then, use a pencil to mark the surface for the two mounting screws.

Use a compatible drill bit and carefully drill the two holes. Next, tap the plastic anchors and install the mounting bracket with two screws. Further, use a screwdriver, not a drill. This way, you’ll avoid over-tightening the screws and cracking the device.

NB: Push the drill bit through a paper cup’s bottom to catch drywall dust when drilling overhead.

For hard-wired smoke detectors, mount the bracket to the previously installed electrical box. Then, loosen the mounting crews and slide the new bracket, pulling the wires simultaneously.

In addition, tighten the screws with a screwdriver, not a drill, to avoid breaking or cracking the bracket.

Step Four: Add power

For hard-wired detectors using the power off at the circuit breaker, connect the included wiring harness to your system. It should tie into the wires pulled through the bracket in step three.

Expose the harness wire using the wire stripper. Then, twist them with wire nuts. However, ensure you match the color wires. And tug the wires to confirm they’re secure before plugging the harness into the detector.

Sometimes the harness wires are white, yellow, and black but the unit’s wires are white, red, and black. Here, tie the red and yellow wires with a wire nut.

The process is pretty straightforward. But remember, hard-wired smoke detectors get their power from the system’s wiring and still have battery backups. Hence, remove a pull tab to activate the dry cell before attaching the detector to the base.

Alternatively, consult the manufacturer’s manual to determine the most recommended way to do the wiring.

On the other hand, battery-operated smoke detectors need a different strategy. First, open the battery door on the detector by catching a coin or your fingernail under the tab. This reveals the battery bay.

Your unit may use CR123,  AA, and  9V batteries. Thus, follow the markings in the bay, and install the negative end of the battery on the negative terminal and the positive end on the positive one.

Your smoke detector might have a pull tab that needs to be removed to activate the battery. Here, open the battery door to confirm it’s not leaking or damaged. Also, write down the battery type to always have replacements.

Step Five: Attach the Smoke Detector to the Base.

This step is a simple twist-lock procedure. Hold the device over the bracket and twist it clockwise till it snaps in place. Also, some battery-operated smoke detectors may light up or beep, so don’t let it startle you.

Step Six: Power Up and Test the Smoke Detector.

Battery-operated detectors are ready to go. But you have to power the electrical system for hard-wired ones to work. So, head back to the electrical panel and flip the beaker into the on position.

The detector will beep, letting you know that it is operational. You may also notice an LED light showing that the unit has power. Next, press and hold the test button on the smoke detector to activate the alarm. If the alarm sounds, the system is okay. If not, consider the following troubleshooting techniques.

  • Ensure the breaker is on when testing hard-wired smoke detectors, or shut it off and assess the wiring.
  • Confirm that you’ve installed the battery correctly, or try another battery.
  • Ensure the smoke detector sits on the base properly. Otherwise, it won’t work.
  • If the above does not solve the issue, perhaps the unit has an issue. So, head back to the store or contact the manufacturer for a replacement.

Here’s a Video Tutorial On How to Install a Smoke Detector:

Can You Just Plug In a New Smoke Detector?

You can just plug in a new smoke detector depending on the situation. Moreover, install an adapter plug or wire nuts to connect the new unit to the house wiring. But first, strip excess insulation from the wire’s ends, then tuck excess wiring into the ceiling box.

Modern smoke detectors have a specially designed plug called a wiring harness, which links to the house wiring. Further, if you stick to the existing brand, the current mounting bracket and plug are compatible. Otherwise, if you switch, you’ll need to mount a new mounting bracket and an adapter plug.

Remember, plug-in smoke detectors vary from hardwired ones. The gadgets differ in how they operate, where they get their power from, and how long they last.

Usually, battery-powered smoke detectors and alarms only get their power from one source: batteries. However, as the power runs down, the alarm weakens and lasts shorter when it is triggered.

Finally, the alarm in hard-wired detectors does not go off until you turn it off since they connect to a power source. Better still, most of them have backup batteries in case of power outages.


Smoke detectors and alarms are your home’s sure line of defense against smoke and fires. They pick up smoke in the atmosphere and alert you before there is a fire breakout. Then, the alarm activates as you get out of the house call and the fire department.

As a result, you minimize damage resulting from a fire and ensure your property and loved ones are secure.

However, smoke detectors only do their job well with proper installation: both in terms of placement and method. This article distinguishes between smoke detectors and alarms and gives a detailed procedure for mounting the devices.

Smoke Detectors Vs Smoke Alarms

A smoke detector is part of a facility’s wide smoke detection and warning unit and is mostly used in health care, office, industrial, and apartment buildings. On the other hand, a smoke alarm is a stand-alone device that detects smoke and warns home and apartment owners.

Basically, a smoke detector monitors smoke and is connected to the building’s fire alarm system, whereas a smoke alarm has a smoke detector and a speaker that notifies home occupants of high smoke levels.

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