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It’s daylight savings time again – when you are supposed to replace the batteries in your smoke detectors. This year, you should consider replacing more than batteries. You probably have the wrong type of smoke detector in your house!

When we bought our house it came with the original issue smoke detectors. That January there was a story in the news about a tragic fire in Annapolis.  So a few weeks later when I discovered a sparking outlet in the basement I decided to get new smoke detectors.

In my research (I always research things before buying them) I discovered some significant safety recommendations I didn’t know about smoke alarms. Maryland also has a specific law about smoke alarms you better know about. If you have smoke alarms in your house you MUST read this post so you can keep your family safe!

First, the Safety Alert

Did you know that the smoke alarm in your house probably stinks at alerting you to the type of fire most likely to kill you? And buying one that will actually save your family is not very expensive?

Who even knew there were two types of smoke alarms!? I didn’t! And you probably have the cheap kind that might kill you.

Turns out there are two types of smoke detector sensors – ionization and photoelectric. Most houses have ionization units. Ionization sensors are good at detecting the particles from fast, flaming fires, but they are terrible at detecting the large particles from smoldering fires. Photoelectric sensors are good at detecting smoldering fires, but are slightly worse than ionization units at detecting flaming fires. Photoelectric units may be 60-90 seconds slower at detecting flaming fires, but ionization units are 15-30 minutes slower at detecting smoldering fires.

Half an hour delay at alerting me to a fire in my house!!! That scared the heck out of me! Of course, I had old ionization units in my house. I also found most units on the market are ionization units. You probably have them in your house.

Guess which type of fire is more likely to kill you in the middle of the night? Smoldering fires. They start slow, and produce a lot of smoke. They usually start without you knowing, and the smoke can kill you long before the fire gets going strong. These are the type of fires that start in the middle of the night. And these are the type of fires your cheap smoke detector probably doesn’t detect very well.

Flaming fires are much more likely when you are awake, because someone usually does something to start them (like a grease fire in a kitchen or a dropped candle). They are less likely to catch you asleep, which is how most people die in house fires.

Therefore, you really should have photoelectric units in your house – NOT ionization units. But most houses have the ionization units because they are cheaper.

But they aren’t that much cheaper – at least not if you consider why you are buying them. You have to spend another $20 to get a good ionization unit. Isn’t that worth it?

Ideally you should have dual sensor units. Then you have the best of both worlds. I just bought a highly recommended one for $30 ish dollars. I could get a cheap ionization unit for $10. I consider the additional $20 cheap insurance for my family’s safety. This is NOT the place to be cheap. And if you buy the lithium batteries, they last 10 years. No more midnight chirping!

Yeah, I know you never buy just one. That is where it gets pricey. But at least get one photoelectric unit for each level of your house. That is probably doable, and much better than doing nothing.

Here are some of the sources of that research if you want to see for yourself. Check out the National Fire Protection Association, and the Consumer Reports Smoke Alarm Buyer’s Guide.

Maryland’s Law

In 2013, Maryland passed a law mandating safer smoke alarms. Here is a good link to a fact sheet explaining it. The bill phases in compliance and everyone must have new smoke alarms by 2018.

The law requires replacing a smoke alarm that is over 10 years old, and requires a sealed unit with a 10 year lithium battery. The “sealed in” part is there so you cannot tamper with it. Fire fighters find a lot of smoke alarms without batteries after deadly house fires. Most newer units have a “hush” button for false alarms so you never have to mess with the battery anyway.

The law says nothing about photoelectric over ionization – a glaring omission if you ask me. And I think they limited your choices by requiring a sealed battery. The highest rated alarms by some consumer organizations do not have sealed batteries. So Maryland forces you to get a sub par detector just to force you not to tamper with it. I am not sure I like that part either.

In any event, you would do well to get new smoke detectors for your home – with dual sensors and a 10 year lithium battery. Oh, and I didn’t even mention CO2 alarms. You need one of those on every level of your house too.

No, this isn’t cheap. But what price is your family’s safety? You really need to do this soon.

Next Steps

Want to know more? Discover what you need to know about Maryland law. Click here to see our Free Legal Consumer Guides and get answers to your questions today. Know your options. Be informed. Protect yourself.

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