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What Are Smart Smoke Detectors and How Do They Work?

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Smart smoke detectors operate much like traditional smoke detectors: They sound an alarm when smoke or fire is detected, providing as much warning as possible for residents to evacuate in the event of a house fire. Every home has smoke detectors. Its required by law. Each region has specific laws but generally, each room will have a smoke detector in or close to it. They are a staple in any home and most people only interact with it when they need new batteries.Smart Smoke Detectors

Smart smoke detectors are making there way onto the scene, but what exactly is a smart smoke detector? A smart smoke detector is not much different than a traditional smoke detector as its main function is to alert you when it senses a fire. Smart smoke detectors take it a step further and alert you with a notification to your phone, whether you are home or not.

Where smart smoke detectors have an edge is in their ability to send a notification to your phone when the alarm is triggered—even if you are away from home. Smart smoke detectors can also notify you when the battery gets low or if there is a problem with the sensors in the unit.

What Are Smart Smoke Detectors?Smart Smoke Detectors

If there is one smart device for your home worth investing in, it is a smart smoke detector. While the types of sensors used (ionized or photoelectric sensors) are the same for both traditional and smart smoke detectors, that’s where the similarities end.

Smart smoke detectors incorporate self-testing features to monitor battery power and proper sensor function and send a notification to your phone if there’s a problem. Most smart smoke detectors also incorporate carbon monoxide detection.

If your smart smoke detector integrates with your home automation system, it can leverage the features and sensors of your smart home to detect light or heat that much faster.

How Smart Smoke Detectors Work

The easiest way to understand how smart smoke detectors work is to think of them as Wi-Fi smoke detectors. When an alarm is triggered, the smart smoke detectors use Wi-Fi or similar communication technology to connect to your smart home hub (if you have one) and an app on your smartphone.

Smart smoke detectors work just like the traditional smoke detector you have in your house now. When it senses a fire, it tells you. How it tells you is the big difference.

The traditional smoke detector beeps or chirps until you poke it a few times. That’s it. It keeps beeping if the batteries are low.

A smart smoke detector will notify you through your phone and actually tell you where the issue is. If you aren’t home, you are still in tune with what’s going on at the house.

If you accidentally burn a batch of peanut butter cookies and trigger a false alarm, you can use the phone app to silence the alarm.

If you have multiple smart smoke detectors synced up, all of them should sound alarms even if only one is triggered. Additionally, the notification you receive from your smart home hub can help you determine which alarm has been triggered.

If you are away from home and receive a concerning notification, you can notify emergency services quickly and potentially avoid serious damage.

Look at the Nest Protect, the leading smart smoke detector out right now. When there is an issue, it will actually talk to you and tell you where it is.

“Heads-Up. There’s smoke in the (room name). The alarm may sound.”

Nest Heads Up Warning

Nest Actually tells you whats going on and where the problem is. Pretty cool, right?

There is also visual cues that relay the alarm with color. With Nest, a warning glows in yellow and an emergency flashes red.

Smart Smoke Detector Power and Connectivity Concerns

Smart smoke detectors have workarounds for when the power or internet is out. Even if your smart smoke detector is hard-wired into your electrical system, the backup battery system should take over during a power outage.

If there is an internet outage, several smart smoke detector models can also use Bluetooth to communicate with your cellphone (if you are home) or with your smart home system when an alarm is triggered. As long as your smart home hub or system has cellular connection capabilities, it’s possible it can use a standard cellular signal to send notifications to you and emergency services.

However, not all smart home automation systems feature cellular connectivity and some options may require an additional device and possibly a monthly fee for a cellular connection. If internet or power outages are common in your area, choosing an option that offers cellular connectivity provides peace of mind that may be worth the extra cost.

What Are Listeners and How Do They Work?

If you have a fairly large home or have several smoke detectors to replace, you might want to invest in a listener. Listeners are devices that plug into a standard wall outlet (and include a battery backup) that listens for your smoke detector alarm. If your smoke detector alarm sounds, the listener device is designed to send a notification to an app on your phone.

The drawback to using a listener is that because it doesn’t actually communicate with the smoke detector, you can’t silence false alarms. You also miss out on the carbon monoxide detection, self-monitoring of battery life, and sensor function features.

However, if you have to replace your smoke detectors over time instead of all at once, a listener is a smart way to keep you updated should a traditional smoke alarm in your home go off.

Types of Smoke Detectors

If you aren’t familiar with smoke detectors in general, there are two main types of fire detection: Ionization and photoelectric. These two types detect fires differently, depending on how the fire is started.

Ionization smoke detectors are generally more responsive to flaming fires. Lets say you leave a candle to close to your new drapes and it catches them on fire. Ionization will alert you to this hazard quickly.

Flaming fires emit smaller particles that an ionization smoke detector will pick up quicker.

Photoelectric smoke detectors are more responsive to smoldering fires. Let’s say you are a smoker and one of your lit cigarettes finds its way to your couch somehow. It could be hours before a flame is produced but in that time the couch will be a smoldering mess.

Smoldering fires emit larger particles that the photoelectric smoke detector is better at recognizing and alerting to.

Determining which one is better is almost impossible. Both types do alert to fire, each just has advantages over the other based on the type of fire. Unless you have a crystal ball that sees the future, knowing what to expect is just a guessing game.

Smart smoke detectors will take it further by adding sensors that take from both of these detection methods. For example, Nest uses what they call a split-spectrum sensor. This sensor is great for catching flaming fires and smoldering fires.

While Nest has implemented there own smoke sensor, products like the Netatmo Smoke Alarm use what they call a high-performance photoelectric sensor.

Another competitor, Birdi, touts a sensor that also detects flaming fires and smoldering fires too.

What Are Smart Batteries and How Do They Work?

Smart batteries are made to work with traditional smoke detectors and fit inside the standard battery case. The difference with smart batteries is they include the capability to send you a notification if the alarm is triggered or if the battery power is low.

While smart batteries are the least expensive option, they tend to lack the ability to self-test or communicate with other smoke detectors in your home.

Where to Buy Smart Smoke Detectors

Smart smoke detectors are available at many home improvement, consumer electronics, and online retailers. Even some household goods stores carry smart smoke detectors.

Installing Smart Smoke Detectors

If you are unsure of anything when installing hard-wired smart smoke detectors, it’s best to get help or hire someone with certified electrical know-how to ensure correct installation.

The typical installation of smart smoke detectors depends on whether they are battery-powered or hard-wired. Battery-powered smart smoke detectors are the easiest to install, as you can mount them on any wall or ceiling.

If you are installing more than one, it’s best to insert the batteries and perform testing and pairing before mounting them on the wall. (For testing and pairing, the devices will come with step-by-step instructions.)

Hard-wired smart smoke detectors require you to turn off the power to your home at the breaker box while following the instructions to connect your smart detectors.

Making the Switch to Smart Smoke Detectors

If you’re on the fence about whether smart smoke detectors are worth the investment, consider the following points:

  • Fire safety experts recommend replacing smoke detectors at least every 10 years. Many homes have smoke detectors older than 10 years, which increases the risk of sensor malfunction or failure. If your smoke detectors need to be replaced, the additional safety features of smart smoke detectors over traditional smoke detectors are worth the price difference.
  • If you have a smart home system, adding smart smoke detectors that integrate with your existing system gives you added functionality you would not get with traditional smoke detectors. When part of a connected home, you can set your system to flash lights (or change colors for colored smart light bulbs), and you can also shut down your HVAC system from your phone during a fire or carbon monoxide event—a feature that fire safety experts agree can give you and your family more time to get out safely.
  • Updated building codes set to go into effect within the next decade require homes with multiple smoke detectors to be synced or connected, whether through wiring or through smart home technology. This ensures that when one alarm is triggered, all of the alarms in the home will sound. Choosing smart smoke detectors now puts you ahead of the curve.

What to look for in a smart smoke detector?

Smart Smoke detectors aren’t that different from your traditional smoke detector. With that being said, there are some smart features you are going to want to look out for. Not only smart features but those functional aspects most of us are likely to overlook.

  • Smoke detection. Ionization or Photoelectric sensors or maybe a combo of the two (more on this in the types of smoke detectors section). make sure the sensor your new detector is accurate and reliable.
  • CO2 detection. Every smoke detector these days should have CO2 sensors. I haven’t been able to find a smart one that doesn’t, so chances are you will be covered.
  • Notifications. No matter the smart smoke detector you choose, you will be receiving notifications if anything goes wrong. But how does it communicate with you when you are home. Sirens? Does it talk? Can it identify potential issues, like Nest, and warn you? All things to think about.
  • Smart home compatibility. make sure the device you choose fits into your smart home ecosystem.
  • Air quality. Some smart smoke detectors can monitor air quality, or in the case of the Netatmo, pair with an external air quality monitor.
  • Interconnectivity. Want your devices to work together in harmony? Check in to see what fits into where. I know the Nest Protect fits into Nests ecosystem and works in conjunction with other Nest products.
  • Company. Make sure the company who produces your smart smoke detector is going to be around for a while. Birdi, a smart smoke detector company went out of business basically rendering all of their products out “dumb”.
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