Let’s admit it, smoke alarms are one of the least likable things we have at home. If you burn a piece of toast, they taunt with irritating sirens. They also think 2am is the best time to remind you of a dead battery.
Unfortunately, you need them, so getting rid of your smoke alarms is not an option. What you can do is get a smoke alarm that can do its job without being a burden to you. But how do you choose one?
Traditional vs Smart Smoke Alarms
There are three reasons why smart smoke alarms might be a better choice than a traditional alarm.
First, there are smart smoke alarms that work with other smart home gadgets. Nest Protect is an excellent example. It integrates with devices like the GreenIQ Smart Garden Hub. If Nest Protect detects smoke, it can tell GreenIQ to turn the sprinkler on, which prevents the spread of fire. Second, smart smoke alarms can alert you on your smartphone even if you’re miles away. Sirens are almost useless when you’re not home. Best case scenario, a neighbor hears the siren and calls for help. But worst case scenario, no one will notice until it’s too late. Third, smart features decrease the chance of false alarms.
But should you switch your old smoke alarm for a smart one? Products with the word ‘smart’ have higher price tags, and smart smoke alarms cost around $100 per alarm. The bottom line is, if you need to replace your smoke alarms and you want to spend the money, go with a smart system. If you don’t want to spend the money, there are less expensive alternatives that won’t hurt your wallet as much.
Smarten Up Your Smoke Alarms Without Breaking The Bank
I do my best to make everything in my home smart, yet I decided not to go smart when I had to buy new smoke alarms last year. Why? Because I was able to make a less expensive option smart. How? A workaround. You can do a workaround too and there are several options for doing so.
Roost Wi-Fi Battery
One such option is Roost, a connected battery for smoke alarms or CO detectors. The battery itself connects to Wi-Fi and delivers useful alerts to your smartphone. Is the battery running low? Roost will tell you. Is there an alert? Roost will tell you, and if you want, it can also tell your family and friends. Is the alert nothing but a false alarm? You can silence your smoke alarm using Roost with one tap on your smartphone.
Roost batteries are sold for $35 each, but you’ll be able to save if you buy in bulk. Two batteries cost $65 while four cost $125. Roost batteries are promised to last for 5 years, and when they run out, you don’t need to buy new ones. They sell replacement lithium battery packs for $15 each.
Dedicated Listening Devices
There are also smart devices dedicated to monitoring your smoke alarm, and they are considerably less expensive than a smart smoke alarm. Devices like Leeo, Point, and RemoteLync listen for the sound of your smoke alarms, and when they hear an alarm, they notify you through your smartphone. Others give you the option to listen in or call 911. Another benefit is that you don’t need 10 of these devices to monitor all your smoke alarms. If placed properly, 2 or 3 listening devices will do the job.
Leeo retails for $49.99 each.
RemoteLync retails for $99.99.
Point can be pre-ordered for $99. Currently, Point is shipping with the listening feature, but this promissed feature is “coming soon”.
Cameras That Monitor Smoke Alarms
iSmartAlarm’s Spot and Netatmo Welcome both have advanced sound detection features that know the sound of smoke alarms. They work like the listening devices above, except that you can use video streaming to verify if there really is a fire.
Spot costs $69.
Netatmo Welcome sells for $199 on Amazon
Interconnected Smoke Alarms Compared
Not to be confused with smart smoke alarms, interconnected smoke alarms are not smart but connected to each other. Think of it like this, a smart smoke alarm is connected to other devices like your smartphone. An interconnected smoke alarm can only talk to other smoke alarms from the same system. So when one smoke alarm sounds, they all do. The two best interconnected smoke alarms are from Kidde and First Alert.
Kidde Hardwired & Battery Powered Interconnected Smoke Alarm
The hardwired and battery-powered version of Kidde interconnected smoke alarm work together to keep you safe from fire and carbon monoxide. The hardwired smoke alarms require power from 120VAC, but have 9V battery backup to keep them running when power goes out. They can only be installed where there are existing AC wires for smoke alarms. Meanwhile, the battery-powered smoke alarms can be installed in rooms where you need additional coverage. They run solely on a battery, which lasts for 10 years. However, if you want to make the alarm smart, you can replace the battery with Roost.
Both models feature a hush button to temporarily silence false alarms and radio frequency technology to make them interconnected. Both also use ionization sensing technology to sense fire. What is ionization? More on that later. The hardwired model sells for $57.54 per alarm and the battery-operated model sells for $35.96.
First Alert Hardwired & Battery Powered Interconnected Smoke Alarm
First Alert offers hardwired and battery-operated smoke alarms for the same purpose as Kidde’s. The difference is that the specific units we selected from First Alert use photoelectric sensing instead of ionization. (Both First Alert and Kidde have both photoelectric and ionization options.)
The hardwired model from First Alert costs $56.99.
The battery-operated models sell for $43.
Smart Smoke Alarms Compared
In case you want to go smart, you have plenty of options to choose from—Nest Protect, Halo+, or Birdi.
Overview of Nest Protect
Nest Protect is a smoke alarm/CO detector designed to be user friendly. Instead of a siren, it uses an audible voice, because what you need in an emergency is something to alert you instead of alarm you. If it’s a false alarm, you can quickly silence it using the Nest App. Also, it uses light instead of chirps to communicate. A green light after you turn your lights off at night means all the sensors are working and so are the batteries. A yellow light is a heads-up that something might be out of place, giving you time to check things out. And a red light, of course, means danger.
Nest Protect connects with a number of smart home products, including monitored alarm systems like SimpliSafe and Vivint. If integrated, your security company can call for help if Nest detects a fire.
Overview of Halo+
Halo is a fairly new product that seems to have taken a few pages from Nest Protect. Like Nest, it uses light and voice alerts to warn you. Alerts are sent to your smartphone as well, where you can easily hush Halo if it’s a false alarm.
What makes it unique is weather alerts. They embedded Halo+ with a weather radio to watch for weather threats like tornadoes or hurricanes. That way, it can warn you of a natural disaster so you can plan ahead.
Overview of Birdi
Birdi is not on the market yet, but you can preorder now. Birdi prides itself of the amount of sensors it has. It detects smoke and carbon monoxide, measures the temperature and humidity, and it tells you your in-home air quality. Like Halo, Birdi also looks out for weather emergencies and alerts you.
The biggest downside is that it’s still being tested. The original plan to build Birdi started in 2014. It was successfully funded back then, but they failed to deliver on time. In fact, they are already 2 years late.
Photoelectric vs Ionization
Photoelectric and Ionization are two different kinds of smoke detection.
A photoelectric smoke alarm uses light to detect smoke. A light source beams light to a chamber. If smoke enters the chamber, the light beam is scattered. Some of it will hit the light sensor inside the smoke alarm. If that happens, it triggers the smoke alarm to sound. Photoelectric smoke alarms are better at detecting slow-burning fires a.k.a. smoldering fires. However, there is a downside. While it’s good at avoiding false alarms from burnt food, dust build up inside the unit can trip the alarm. The solution? Clean them every once in awhile.
An ionization smoke alarm is a bit more complicated. It uses a small amount of Americium-241, a radioactive material, placed between two charged electrodes. The Americium-241 creates ionization by turning air to positive and negative ions. The positive ions will start moving toward the negatively charged electrode and the negative ions will move toward the positively charged electrode, creating a current. If smoke enters the chamber, it breaks the current, thus reducing the amount of electricity passing through the electrodes. That’s the cue for the smoke alarm to sound. Ionization smoke alarms excel at detecting flaming fires, but ionization smoke alarms are more prone to false alarms triggered by steam or burnt food.
There’s a third kind of smoke alarm known as a dual smoke alarm. These smoke detectors combine photoelectric and ionization to detect both slow-burning fires and flaming fires. However, if a dual-smoke alarm requires just one sensor to trip, there’s a higher risk of false alarms. On the contrary, if it waits until both sensors are triggered to sound an alarm, response time may be slower.
So which is better? I recommend a photoelectric smoke alarm, mainly because it has fewer false alarms and because smoke has killed more people than fire itself. Photoelectric smoke alarms are proven to detect smoldering fires which produce clouds of thick smoke.
Halo and Birdi use both photoelectric and ionization to detect smoke. Nest uses only photoelectric, but actually, it is better than the two. Why? Because Nest adds split spectrum technology to their smoke alarm. In essence, Nest uses two different spectrums of light—infrared and blue LED light. Infrared light is used in most photoelectric smoke alarms to detect smoldering fires, while the blue light, which has a lower wavelength, acts like a comb to detect the smaller smoke particles that are common in flaming fires.
Hardwired vs Battery Powered
Hardwired smoke alarms are obviously better than battery-powered ones, although there are applications where only battery-powered smoke alarms work. For example, if you want to add a smoke alarm to your outdoor shed where there is no wiring.
Nest Protect is available in same-priced hardwired and battery-powered models. The wired model comes with 3 backup AA batteries while the battery-powered model comes with 6 AA batteries. Halo is hardwired, but it comes with a rechargeable battery that can last for up to 7 days. Birdi can be hardwired or battery-powered.
Nest wins because it has a model specifically designed to run on batteries, which you can use for more than a year without changing batteries. While Birdi allows you to use the smoke alarm unwired, though it is not designed to last as long and you will have to replace the batteries more often.
Extra Sensors and Features
- Carbon Monoxide Detector
- Humidity Sensor to Distinguish Smoke From Steam
- Self Test to Test Batteries, Sensors, and Speaker
- Pathlight Feature – Lights When You Walk by at Night
- Carbon Monoxide Detector
- Embedded Weather Radio
- Carbon Monoxide Detector
- Small Particle Detection
- Temperature and Humidity Measurement
- Air Quality Measurement
Special Features For People With Special Needs
Fires can be especially dangerous for people with special needs and elderly loved ones. All three smart smoke detectors use lights to warn you of dangers, which is very useful if you or someone you live with has difficulty hearing. Nest has an extra advantage because of Works With Nest. For instance, you can hook up Nest with LIFX or Philips Hue so that when Nest Protect is tripped, your smart lights will start flashing colors to warn you.
For people with eyesight problems, Nest and Halo’s audible alerts help. People with eyesight problems rely on their hearing. Blaring sirens won’t help them, instead, it will make it more difficult for them. An audible voice is a better way of warning them. It also helps people who are prone to panic attacks; a calm human voice is proven to help people calm down.
Overall Pick for Smart Smoke Detector
At the end of the day, we will recommend the one that is proven most reliable. Since Birdi is a little far from becoming a reality, the battle is down to Nest and Halo.
My biggest concern about Nest is its slow response time to flaming fires. According to Nest, that’s because they want to deliver real alerts and not false alarms. This may sound reasonable to some, but not to me. It takes just a few minutes for a fast-burning fire to gobble up an entire home, and those extra few seconds must not be wasted. However, Halo’s use of an ionization sensor may produce false alarms, and this concerns me. Folks who are fed up with false alarms usually turn off their smoke sensors, which is a dangerous thing to do. That said, I would recommend Nest Protect over Halo.
Smoke Alarm Tips From NFPA
Your journey to making your home safer from fire doesn’t end with installing smoke alarms. The experts over at the National Fire Protection Agency have a few more tips for you:
- Interconnected smoke alarms are recommended, so that when one trips, all sound.
- There must be a smoke alarm in every sleeping room, outside each sleeping area, and in every level of your home including the basement.
- All smoke alarms must be tested once a month.
- To avoid false alarms, keep smoke alarms 10 feet from stoves.
- Smoke alarms should be on ceilings or high walls.
- Smoke alarms have a certain lifespan (usually 10 years or less depending on the manufacturer). Be sure to replace them.
- Plan your exits and make sure every family member knows your protocols.
- Assign capable family members to assist older adults, disabled, and children.
I’ve got one final tip to add: Smoke alarms are good, but professionally monitored smoke alarms are better. Do you want to know which alarm companies offer fire monitoring? We’ve answered that question here.