Photo of a Heat Detector

What types of home smoke, heat, and other detection devices are currently on the market?

There are several types of home smoke, heat, and other detection devices available now. These include: smoke alarms, heat detectors, residential sprinkler systems, carbon monoxide detectors, and radon gas detectors.

Which, if any, of these devices does the Fire Department regard as necessary?

First and foremost, Fire Departments everywhere want all citizens to have and properly maintain at least one smoke alarm in their residences (two-story homes need at least two--one on each level). That smoke alarm should ideally be located on the ceiling of the hallway outside bedrooms. If there are several bedroom areas, there should be one smoke alarm in the hallway of each bedroom area. It's also recommended that homes with electric (hard-wired) smoke alarms have at least one battery-powered back-up smoke detector, as well.

As far as other types of detection devices go, it depends on two things:

  1. How much and what kind of detection do YOU regard as necessary to maintain the safety and well-being of your household? And
  2. how much can you reasonably afford to pay for that protection?

    Explain the differences in how these various types of detectors operate.

    Smoke detectors: Incorporate a couple of types of detection mechanisms to identify the products of combustion in their earliest stages, thereby setting off a warning alarm. Often, they will be invisible to the eye. About 85 percent of those who die in home fires die from smoke rather than flames or heat, most often during sleeping hours. Smoke alarms are proven life-savers. Because of their early-warning feature, not only do they save lives, they also help to reduce the amount of fire damage to one's property because fire departments get called much earlier.

    Heat detectors: Heat detectors activate an alarm when the temperature at their sensors reaches a specific point. They are best located in areas where smoke alarms are not recommended, such as kitchens and garages.

    Residential fire sprinklers: Operate on the same principle as heat detectors. When the temperature at an individual sprinkler head reaches a specific point, a fusible link melts causing the head to pour water on the fire in an attempt to control it. At the same time, an alarm is activated. Fire sprinklers do not, however, address the problem of smoke, which remains the big killer; and, even a small fire can fill an entire building very rapidly with lethal smoke.

    Carbon monoxide and radon detectors: These detectors are designed to detect the presence of harmful gases in one's residence. Deadly carbon monoxide can result from faulty heating and gas appliances and the presence of unvented heaters, barbecues, or vehicle emissions. Radon is a poisonous radioactive gas formed by the disintegration of radium.

    What about the costs of these various detection devices?

    As with any other purchase, you should do some comparison shopping as costs will vary. Remember, as is the case with smoke alarms, which range from about $10 to $20, spending more money will not necessarily increase your level of protection.