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Which type of smoke detector is the best?

St. Tammany Fire District #1 Chief, Chris Kaufmann, explained there's two types, ionization and photoelectric.

ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. — If a fire breaks out in your house, seconds matter. That's why most of us have smoke detectors to alert us.

But did you know there are two different kinds? 

St. Tammany Fire District #1 Chief, Chris Kaufmann, explained there's two types, ionization and photoelectric.

Photoelectric smoke detectors use LED light. 

"When the smoke particles get into the chamber it breaks the light or deflects the light where it sets the sensor off," Kaufmann said. 

Meanwhile, the ionization detectors use a different type of technology. 

They have a small amount of radioactive material between two electrically charged plates. This ionizes the air and causes a current to flow between them. 

But when smoke enters the chamber, it disrupts the ions, and reduces the flow of the current. Then, this activates the alarm.

“The ionization detectors they actually detect more of your flame fires quicker than the photoelectric. The photoelectric detector detects more smoldering fires a little bit quicker," Kaufmann said. 

How do you know what kind of smoke detectors are in your home? You'll have to look at the back of them to find out. 

“Every detector is going to have a label on it that will tell you if it’s both, if it’s ionization, or photoelectric. You’ll see a capital I or a capital P that will determine which one you have, and you may have one that does both," Kaufmann said. 

Kaufmann recommends homes have both types of detectors because they detect different types of fires quicker. 

"We recommend always to have both because you can’t predict as a homeowner what type of fire you’ll have so having an ionization or a photoelectric would be the recommendation," Kaufmann said, "That way you have both areas covered.”   

Some smoke detectors are made with both technologies built in, which is what Kaufmann recommends. 

“We just want people to stay safe. You know, smoke detectors do save lives. It’s a very inexpensive cost that can save a life at any given moment," Kaufmann said. 

How expensive are they? 

“The prices I’m going to say are anywhere from $25 to $40 a piece. So, you may want to shop price. Some of them sell in packages, so you could get multiple detectors for a little bit less," Kaufmann said. 

You want to have multiple detectors because Chief Kaufmann said where your detectors are, is just as important as what kind you have. 

"Make sure you have them in every bedroom and outside those bedrooms, basically in the hallway, and on every level," Kaufmann said. 

Remember, without batteries these life-saving tools are useless. 

That's why St. Tammany Fire recommends investing in a smoke detector with a lithium battery. Those only need to be replaced every 10 years. 

Kaufmann also recommends detectors that have a carbon monoxide detector built in. 

And of course, having one type of smoke detector is better than having none at all. 


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