Ninety-six percent of homes in the U.S. have at least one smoke detector in the home, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. But many homeowners are unaware about the different types of smoke detectors and how one may be more effective than the other.
There are two main types of smoke detectors: ionization and photoelectric.
An ionization smoke detector is the most common in U.S. households, with 90 percent of all smoke detectors being this type, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
However, ionization smoke detectors can be slow to detect slow-burning or smoldering fires, such as those in a household caused by cigarettes, framed electrical wires, and fireplace embers. Smoke and carbon monoxide levels are likely already at a dangerous level by the time these alarms activate. Joseph Fleming, deputy fire chief at the Boston Fire Department, blames up to 30,000 deaths in fires since 1990 to ionization smoke detectors.
But ionization alarms’ use are more widespread because they’re cheaper, about half the price of a photoelectric smoke detector, and they tend to have a longer battery life.
A photoelectric smoke detector has been shown to detect smoke 20 to 50 minutes faster than an ionization detector, according to data from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Some states, like Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine, are now even requiring photoelectric alarms in new residential construction.
Experts say photoelectric smoke alarms may be a wise investment to install in bedrooms and hallways. Ionization smoke alarms can be suitable for the kitchen.