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There are two main types of smoke detectors: ionization and photoelectric.

An ionization smoke alarm works by using a small amount of radioactive material that conducts electricity through the air between two electrodes. When the current is interrupted by smoke particles, the alarm goes off. Ionization alarms respond faster to fast-flaming fires, like petrol fires, for example, so are the best choice for garages or commercial premises where flammable liquids are being stored. With an ionization alarm, as the battery fails, so does the electrical current, which causes the alarm to emit an intermittent chirping noise to tell you when the battery needs changing. A photoelectric alarm uses a beam of light and a light sensor - as smoke comes into contact with the light beam, the beam gets diverted towards the light sensor, and when it reaches a certain level, the alarm will sound.

Photoelectric alarms are quicker to respond to smoky fires, like a bed that's slowly burning from a lit cigarette that's been left unattended â?? most household fires start with smoky fires, so this type is best for domestic situations, although they can also easily be set off by dust or flies getting in the mechanism, so make sure you go for a model with a dust and insect screen.

If you want total protection, you should go for a combination of the two types, allocated to the areas where they will be most effective. You can now find combination units that include both types of sensors, and even some that also provide a carbon monoxide detector to protect your family against gas leaks, although these tend to be much more expensive to purchase.

If possible, look for systems that interconnect all your alarms, so if one goes off, they all do â?? this is particularly desirable in big houses where you may not hear an alarm in your basement when you're asleep two floors up. You should also look for alarms that incorporate a test button, so that you can regularly check (at least once a month) that all the units are operating, or if the batteries are flat. While you can now find alarms with lithium-based batteries that will last a full ten years, a hard-wired system that connects to your electricity supply and has as a back-up battery should the power fail is still the best guarantee of early and reliable warning should fire break out.

Other useful, though not essential features to look out for are a hush button that will silence your alarm if you've just left the chips cooking too long, exit lights that engage when the alarm sounds to guide you out of the house, and remote-controls that let you test and silence your alarm without breaking out the step ladders.

With all this in mind, don't forget that any smoke detection system is only ever as good as the placement of its sensors â?? so seek advice from your local fire brigade or alarm expert. As a rule of thumb, there should be at least one sensor in every bedroom and one on every floor of your house, although this will differ depending on the layout of your home.



Author R. Germain
date added Thu 13 08 2009

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