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3 Basics Of Photoelectric And Ionisation Smoke Alarms

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Few things in life are as destructive or damaging as a home fire. At best, it will leave your belongings in a pile of ash. In worse cases, it will cause injuries or even death.

A home fire can strike anytime, but while it is hard to predict, it is something that you could and should prepare for. That is why in most countries, homeowners are required by law to install smoke alarms.

There are two types of detectors that dominate the market today: photoelectric smoke alarms and ionisation smoke alarms. Some people prefer the photoelectric alarm for various reasons, but before you get to them,  take a closer look at each type of detector.

The Photoelectric Smoke Alarm

Inside a photoelectric smoke detector, you will see a light source, a light-sensing chamber, and another light sensor outside the chamber. Under ideal conditions where there is no fire, the LED generates a beam of light and aims straight into the chamber.

When there is a fire nearby, the beam of light will be partially deflected as soon as the smoke enters the alarm. This deflected beam of light will be detected by the sensor outside the chamber, triggering the alarm.

The Ionisation Smoke Alarm

This type of alarm contains a small amount of radioactive material between two opposing plates, each with an electrical charge. Under normal conditions, the setup ionises the surrounding air, causing electricity to flow between the two plates.

In case a fire breaks out, the smoke that enters the alarm will disrupt the current flow. When this happens, the alarm is triggered.

Which is Better?

Photoelectric smoke alarms are designed to detect smouldering fires that produce a lot of smoke. It is less likely to trigger false alarms due to smoke coming from the kitchen or steam from the bathroom.

On top of that, most home fires start as smouldering fires. For instance, if a cigarette falls on the couch and gradually catches fire, this alarm will inform you early on and give you plenty of time to get out or even put the fire out with an extinguisher.

Another thing that homeowners like about this alarm is that it does not contain any radioactive material that can potentially harm the occupants of the house.

The ionisation smoke alarm is better suited for detecting a fast-flaming fire. However, it is prone to false detections and slower in detecting smouldering fires.

Still, while it may seem that the photoelectric smoke alarm is better suited to the more common type of house fire, there is no way for you to predict which kind of fire will break out in your home.

What is more, a fast-flaming fire can be more destructive due to the ignition of highly flammable materials like curtains. Therefore, detecting it in its early stages is crucial for your safety and your family’s as well.

Your best option is to have both types of smoke alarms installed in your home. There are also combination alarms available in the market, offering both technologies in a single device. Either way, with these alarms in your home, you and your family can rest easy knowing that you will be alerted in case either type of fire occurs.


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