Smoke detectors: what kind should you buy?

Posted By: Camila Orti

Is the smoke detector in your home providing all the protection you need? A Good Morning America investigation raised some questions.

We’ve heard it time and time again.

“Not having a smoke detector is like not wearing a seatbelt in the car,” Fire Inspector Rick Campos said.

A smoke detector is crucial for protecting families and homes in fires, but experts say they’re not all created equal.

There are three varieties of residential smoke detectors: ionization, photoelectric, and a combination of the two. The difference is in the technology, and how the fire is detected.

“A photoelectric does better on the smoldering fires, the ionizations is a faster reaction on the rapid burning fires,” Campos said.

Good Morning America recently put them to the test. Experts say most homes have ionizations detectors. In one of the demonstrations using a slower, smoldering fire, some of those brand new ionization detectors didn’t go off at all. The photoelectric ones sounded first, and at 22 minutes the dual alarms went off.

The outcome even surprised Campos.

“I’ve never been in a fire where a smoke detector has malfunctioned on its own, it’s been human error,” he said.

Experts say the combination option with the dual sensors is the way to go. You’re paying just $10 to $15 more for that extra layer of protection, which Campos says is well worth the money.

To tell which type of detector you’re buying, check the packaging, but it might not be clearly posted. If it doesn’t say on the label, look for a small ‘P’ or ‘I’ printed directly on the device.

The bottom line- smoke detectors of any kind can save lives if used correctly. Remember to check smoke detectors monthly, and keep in mind they do expire after ten years. While the combination detectors are recommended by most fire officials and manufacturers, Campos says they use up battery life more quickly.