Smoke Detectors

Tuesday, 18 November 2008 | Tags: , , , , , ,

Home smoke detectors can cut your family's chances of dying in a house fire roughly in half. We put on our ear protection and tested the reaction times of some battery-operated smoke detector options.

The Basics

  • There are two types of battery operated detectors:

    • Photoelectric alarms are better at sensing slow-burning or smouldering fires.

    • Ionization alarms are better at picking up fast burning flames.

  • Consider installing both types, or models that incorporate both types of technology, so you are alerted as early as possible. In our tests, dual-detection alarms didn’t respond as quickly so we recommend buying the two separate.

  • Make sure your smoke detector is approved by the Underwriters’ Laboratories of Canada (ULC), which means it has met national safety standards.

  • Fire prevention experts say the biggest mistake people make is not installing enough of them. The general rule is one detector per floor, including the basement.


Other Considerations

  • It’s better to buy a separate carbon monoxide detector because they work best when mounted in different places than smoke detectors. CM detectors should be placed four to five feet up the wall, while smoke detectors should go on or near the ceiling.

  • We like models with hush buttons large enough to push with a broom handle. They’re easy to shut off in a false alarm, like when dinner gets slightly charred (a common problem for Kristina).


We tested these five different battery-operated alarms with the help of trained firefighters:

  • Code One (Ionization): $6
  • Garrison (Ionization): $20
  • First Alert (Ionization): $22
  • Kidde Night Hawk (Photoelectric): $20
  • Firex (Dual sensor): $32

Fast Flame Fire Test

We tested how long each detector took to respond to open flames:

  • Code One: 1 minute, 6 seconds
  • Garrison: 2 minutes, 6 seconds
  • First Alert: 44 seconds
  • Kidde Night Hawk: 3 minutes, 49 seconds
  • Firex: 1 minute, 10 seconds

Smouldering Fire Test

Then we tested how long for each to respond to a smokier situation:

  • Code One: 6 minutes, 42 seconds
  • Garrison: 58 seconds
  • First Alert: 1 minute, 7 seconds
  • Kidde Night Hawk: 37 seconds
  • Firex: 3 minutes, 45 seconds


The First Alert ionization detector performed well in both tests. It was also priced well and came with a lithium battery that claims to have a 10-year life.

Thanks to Our Experts

The Langley Fire Department


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