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Ranking the Best Smoke Detectors of 2020

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Smoke detectors

Smoke detectors are possibly the most important piece of safety equipment you can purchase for your home. There are hundreds of thousands of house fires in the U.S. every year. Having effective and well-maintained smoke detectors in your home is the first line of defense for your family and property.

Our list below includes the very best options curated from numerous popular products. Every smoke detector on the list will give you excellent performance.

Rankings 

1. First Alert SC07CN 

First Alert SC07CN

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The First Alert SC07CN combines a highly effective photoelectric smoke detector with a sensitive carbon monoxide detector. This allows it to be used in sensitive areas like bedrooms, hallways, and even kitchens. Plus, the included voice alert system makes it easy for everyone to know where the alert is coming from and how rapidly they should evacuate.

Why we like it: The SC07CN offers comprehensive protection against the most dangerous threats and includes some of the most in-demand extra features. The Voice Location feature tells you exactly where in your home the danger is to let you know the best egress route.

Flaws: The SC07CN doesn’t offer the connected features or smart alerts that other alarms provide. It can connect with other First Alert smoke and carbon monoxide detectors but doesn’t link up with a security system or similar setup.

2. Nest Protect 2nd Generation

Nest Protect 2nd Generation

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The Nest Protect 2nd Generation is an upgraded version of the company’s popular first-generation smart smoke detector. It pairs a carbon monoxide sensor with both a photoelectric and ionization detector. That protects you and your family against fast and slow-burning fires plus the silent killer that is carbon monoxide.

Why we like it: The 2nd Gen Protect is just about the most advanced smart smoke detector on the market. It offers a suite of pairing and alert features that other manufacturers just can’t match, all backed up by Nest’s reputation for quality and ease of use. Even better, it can be operated either as a wired detector or as a battery-powered one.

Flaws: The first generation Protect had a few issues, one of which necessitated a recall. The 2nd Gen model seems to have fixed all those problems and further improved upon the things that made the first one an attractive choice, but it’s still worth mentioning.

3. Kidde 21026043

Kidde 21026043

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The Kidde 21026043 is a combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector designed for battery only use. It goes up easily anywhere in your home and includes excellent features like a voice alert system and responsive hush feature. This allows you to quickly turn off the alert if you know the source of the smoke or steam, such as while cooking.

Why we like it: The 21026043 is a rock-solid combination detector that provides all the key features we look for in an excellent safety product. It’s reliable, easy to use, and includes the latest features consumers demand in a workable yet affordable package.

Flaws: It only includes an ionization sensor. This is great for detecting fast-burning fires but not as effective at picking up slow smoldering ones. You should make sure you’ve got other photoelectric smoke detectors in your home as well.

4. First Alert BRK 9120LBL

First Alert BRK 9120LBL

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The First Alert BRK 9120LBL is a hardwired dual sensor smoke detector with an included battery backup. It’s designed to provide effective protection against both smoldering and fast-burning fires while still including in-demand alert features. 

Why we like it: The BRK 9120LBL is one of the most reliable dual sensor smoke detectors on the market. It meets all the requirements for building codes that require both ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors and provides an earsplitting 85 dB alert when it detects either a fast or smoldering fire.

Flaws: It’s a hardwired unit. If you don’t already have standard brackets and wiring installed in your home you’ll need to get an electrician out to wire these in. It reduces maintenance in the long term but is a hassle when getting started.

5. SimpliSafe 2nd Generation Smoke Detector

SimpliSafe 2nd Generation Smoke Detector

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The SimpliSafe 2nd Generation Smoke Detector is one of the most popular in a new line of smart home safety and security systems. It integrates seamlessly with SimpliSafe’s DIY home security system and connects through the same hub to a 24-hour monitoring service.

Why we like it: SimpliSafe was already one of our favorite DIY home security systems, with the addition of a comprehensive suite of smoke detectors it takes it to the next level. When this alarm is triggered it sends an alert to the monitoring staff. This allows you to receive an alert about the alarm even if you’re away from home.

Flaws: While it will function as a basic photoelectric smoke alarm by itself, you need to pay for a monitoring package to get the most important features. The monthly charge isn’t high, especially compared to some legacy fire alarm systems, but it’s important to take it into account.

6.  X-Sense Smoke Detector Alarm 

X-Sense Smoke Detector Alarm

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The X-Sense Smoke Detector Alarm is a specialized photoelectric smoke detector designed to provide the most accurate detection possible. It offers a ten-year battery life right out of the box and uses both multicolored blinking lights and an ear-splitting alarm to alert you to potential fires.

Why we like it: The X-Sense provides you with a reduced incidence of false alarms through a three-step verification process. It uses an advanced photoelectric sensor that helps prevent false alarms and oversensitivity to things like cooking steam or small amounts of smoke from searing meat. 

Flaws: As a photoelectric only smoke detector, the X-Sense isn’t as efficient at detecting faster burning fires as it is at picking up smoldering ones. It also lacks any kind of CO detection or smart features such as interconnectivity.

7. Kidde i12060

Kidde i12060

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The Kidde i12060 is an ionization type smoke detector designed to be hardwired into your home. It offers the ability to connect with up to 24 other Kidde safety products to better alert your family throughout your home. 

Why we like it: It’s basically bulletproof. The i12060 is as barebones as it gets but in a good way. It has a single ionization sensor and fits right into standard smoke detector brackets. Even better, it offers a battery backup in case of power outages. There’s very little to go wrong in the i12060, something that’s great if you just want basic and effective protection.

Flaws: The i12060’s flaw is the same as its benefit: It’s basic. There’s no smart home compatibility, no CO or photoelectric sensor, and certainly no voice alert to tell you what room the fire is in. If you’re looking for these features this isn’t the smoke detector for you.

8. Kidde 21026044 Wireless Interconnect

Kidde 21026044 Wireless Interconnect

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The Kidde 21026044 is an ionization type smoke detector that runs off a standard 9-volt battery. It’s easy to install and easier to monitor, with just a basic test each month and battery change required twice a year. It’s a great option for those who already have CO detectors and photoelectric smoke detectors and want to cover all their bases.

Why we like it: The 21026044 requires no wiring or other professional installation. You can pop these bad boys up anywhere you like with nothing but a few screws and a couple of minutes of effort. Even better, they offer full interconnectivity features with up to 24 other Kidde safety products.

Flaws: It lacks many of the more advanced features newer smoke detectors offer. It can interconnect with other alarms, but it can’t alert you as to what room the fire is happening in with a voice alert.

9. First Alert NBsDH 2-in-1 Z-Wave Smoke Detector & Carbon Monoxide Alarm

First Alert NBsDH 2-in-1 Z-Wave Smoke Detector & Carbon Monoxide Alarm

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The First Alert NBsDH 2-in-1 is a Z-Wave compatible smoke and carbon monoxide detector. It offers comprehensive protection against fire and CO buildup and includes the ability to wirelessly connect with other detectors and even your smartphone.

Why we like it: As a Z-Wave wireless unit this smoke detector can pair with nearly all the most popular home security systems. This allows you to receive text alerts when the alarm goes off and call the fire department if necessary. Even if you aren’t at your home, this detector can help protect your family.

Flaws: If you don’t already have a home security system, most of the key features of this smoke detector are unnecessary. It’s a solid smoke detector on its own, but you can get models just as capable without the Z-Wave capability for a cheaper price.

10. Ring Alarm Smoke and CO Listener

Ring Alarm Smoke and CO Listener

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The Ring Alarm Smoke and CO Listener is a curious addition to your home security system that allows you to integrate your existing smoke detectors into an active monitoring network. It doesn’t actually contain a smoke or carbon monoxide detector, instead, it listens for one to go off and sends out an alert message.

Why we like it: The Ring Alarm Smoke and CO Listener adds an extra layer of performance onto your existing smoke detectors. When placed next to smoke or CO detectors it can trigger an alert message to your monitoring service and smartphone. This can massively speed up emergency services response time.

Flaws: This isn’t a full-fledged smoke detector. If you don’t already have both a comprehensive set of smoke detectors and a Ring Security System it probably isn’t the best way to go.

What’s new with smoke detector

Fire destroys Valparaiso home with no working smoke detectors, officials say….

Family escapes house fire thanks to smoke detectors….

Two-alarm fire damages Metro headquarters building in downtown D.C…..

Who should buy a smoke detector?

Let’s be clear right off the bat, everyone needs working smoke detectors in their home. The list of who should buy below applies solely to who should buy new and updated smoke detectors immediately. 

New homeowners – It seems obvious, but new homeowners should absolutely consider purchasing new smoke detectors. This is especially true if you’re purchasing an older home or one that needs substantial renovations. 

The smoke detectors may still operate and even beep when you test them, but there’s a very good chance they don’t have the same level of performance as a modern smoke detector.

People with older smoke detectors – If you’ve got older smoke detectors in your home, it’s time for an upgrade. Given the relatively low cost of modern smoke detectors and their high level of sensitivity and effectiveness, there’s no reason not to upgrade.

Modern sensors are more sensitive to small fires and better able to distinguish between things like cooking smoke or a fireplace fire and dangerous smoke from a nascent house fire. There’s also the fact that smoke detectors in general become less effective the longer they’re in your home. Dust can easily accumulate on the sensors and blunt their effectiveness (1).

Preppers with young children – Welcoming a new member of the family is a joyous occasion, but it should also be a time to rethink your safety and security precautions around the home. Check to make sure all your smoke detectors are within their working lifespan and that they aren’t showing any signs of wear or malfunction.

You want to make sure you have the best possible protections in place for your children and the rest of your family.

Preppers updating or adding a security system – If you’re considering a modern home security system you should absolutely take your smoke detectors into account. Old school smoke detectors were ‘dumb’ appliances without connectivity features.

They were great for alerting your family to smoke and fire while they were there but didn’t offer alert features or the ability to call for help. Most home security systems now offer full integration with all types of life protection equipment such as smoke detectors and CO monitors. This is a major value add for your family’s safety at a very minimal cost.

Preppers with multiple properties or multiple structures on a larger property – For preppers who own multiple properties such as an investment property or preppers living on a large property with multiple buildings, advanced smoke detectors are a necessity. They allow you to more effectively monitor your outbuildings for small fires and more dangerous blazes while also making it easy to check in on the integrity of a rental property or bug-out location.

People with gas appliances or generators – If you have gas appliances such as a water heater, stove, or central furnace you should invest in upgraded smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The same goes for things like wood-burning fireplaces, gas or diesel equipment such as generators, or any large agricultural equipment in your home (2).

CO is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. Without a reliable detector, you’d never know that it was present in your home until there was a potential incident.

Preppers a hunting or vacation residence – If you own a hunting cabin or similar seldom-used vacation property upgraded smoke detectors are a must. Old school detectors are adequate for alerting your family if there’s a fire while they’re present but rarely offer monitoring or alarm features.

Having a modern interconnected smoke detector allows you to monitor your vacation home even when you aren’t present. If there’s a fire while you’re gone you’ll know in seconds rather than finding out after everything is over.

The law requires it – Smoke detectors have been required under the National Fire Alarm and Signalling Code (NFPA 72) for decades, but the newest requirements may surprise you. Many older homes may not be up to code for the number and placement of smoke detectors (3).

If you have an older home and you haven’t updated the number of smoke detectors since you purchased it you may not be in compliance. This can make it more difficult to sell your home, but it also puts your family at risk. Double-check to find out if you need to add more smoke detectors in egress routes and living spaces of your home (4).

How we ranked 

We used five key metrics when evaluating different smoke detectors. These were response time and sensor type, power source, display/alert/lighting features, smart features, and the UL stamp of approval.

Response time and sensor type – There are two main types of sensors that are used in modern smoke detectors. These are ionization detectors and photoelectric detectors.

Suffice it to say that you need both in your home. Ionization detectors are responsive to fast-burning fires that blaze up. Photoelectric detectors use an actual beam of light that detects the buildup of smoke in the air. They’re designed for slow-burning or smoldering fires and can give you an early warning system (5).

With both types of sensors response time is key. You want them to be sensitive enough to provide an early warning but not too sensitive that they go off with kitchen steam or similar.

Power Source – How your detector is powered determines its working life and how often you’ll need to maintain it. The three to consider are hard-wired, sealed lithium, and primary battery.

Hard-wired detectors are connected to your home’s power system with a battery backup. They’re great in that they operate effectively indefinitely without issue and will still work during a power outage with the battery backup.

Primary cell detectors use standard batteries such as AA or 9-volt batteries and require replacement every six months. Sealed lithium detectors come from the manufacturer with a power cell designed to power them for their entire working life. They’re the best from the perspective of maintenance and are the easiest to remember to replace when their working lifespan is up.

Display, alert, and lighting features – In the past a smoke detector only provided you with an alarm and maybe a flashing light if it detected a fire. Now smoke and especially carbon monoxide detectors can provide a lot more information and features.

Digital displays can tell you the concentration of carbon monoxide in the air, interconnected features can tell you what alarm is going off, and emergency strobe lights can provide a source of illumination at night in the event of a fire.

One really interesting feature that many people find beneficial is a voice alert. Some manufacturers offer smoke detectors that will actually call out ‘FIRE’ and its location in the event of a fire.

Smart features – One of the most exciting advances in smoke detector technology has been the inclusion of smart features. Nowadays you can get excellent smoke detectors that tie into your home security system or smart home systems, such as an Amazon Alexa or Google Home.

There are a lot of benefits to this design. First and foremost, your smoke detectors become a full-fledged fire alarm with the ability to alert your security provider or send you an alert in the event of a fire. They can also connect with all other detectors in your home, causing them to go off together if one of them detects a fire.

UL stamp of approval – Underwriters Laboratory, commonly referred to as UL, is THE stamp of approval to look for in a smoke detector. They’ve been performing stringent tests on fire alarms, smoke detectors, and other fire prevention technology for the insurance industry since 1894 (6).

If a detector doesn’t have the UL stamp you shouldn’t consider it.

Brands we trust – First Alert and Kidde are two of the oldest and most trusted names in the smoke and carbon monoxide detector field. They make some of the best and most highly rated safety devices available, especially more basic models not designed to connect with smart home systems. 

Nest is our pick for connected smoke detectors. They offer some of the best home security and safety equipment designed to work together as part of a smart home. Their detectors have top-notch technology and combine some of the most in-demand features into attractively styled products.

Things to avoid – For smoke detectors there aren’t a lot of bad products on the marketplace, but there are some things to consider. Overly sensitive smoke detectors can become a nuisance, especially if near the kitchen. One danger from this is the temptation to remove or disable a detector because of false alarms.

Taking all this into account we compared some of the most popular smoke detectors on the market. The ones that made our list were the best of the best, perfect for those looking for serious protection.

Benefits 

Smoke detectors protect your family from one of the most dangerous threats at home – A house fire is one of the most devastating and dangerous events someone can experience. It’s estimated that 354,400 house fires occur in the U.S. every year, causing over 2,000 deaths and untold billions of Dollars of property damage (7).

Smoke detectors are the minimum level of protection you need to keep your family safe. They allow you to identify a fire even when your family is asleep and can even help you stop a small fire before it turns into a major blaze by pointing it out early.

Smoke detectors provide precious time when seconds count – Once a house fire begins, you’ve got a lot less time than you probably think. Experts say that you have on average just three minutes from the ignition of a fire in your home to the point where it’s considered a major structural fire (8).

Smoke detectors can grant your family precious extra seconds to evacuate, time that can be the difference between life and death. Having high-quality and well-maintained smoke detectors is the minimum steps you should take to prepare your family for a fire.

Smoke detectors are more effective than in the past – Like many things, smoke detectors have just gotten better and better as the years go by. Old-school smoke detectors were independent devices that would detect a fire alright, but they didn’t offer advanced safety features.

Even worse, they weren’t as sensitive as newer detectors or as good at discriminating between cooking steam and a real fire. If your detectors are more than a few years old it’s a very good idea to consider replacing them.

Smoke detectors can more easily be linked to security and monitoring systems – One of the biggest advances in smoke detector technology is the growth of the smart smoke detectors. This new generation of safety equipment connects you smoke detectors directly with a home security or smart home system.

The benefits of this are numerous. Your smoke detector not only detects a fire and triggers its own alarm, but it can also send an alert to every other smoke detector in your home and get the whole family moving at once.

It can also automatically trigger a call to emergency services or even alert you that there’s a problem if you’re away from home.

FAQ 

Q: How do smoke detectors work?

A: How a smoke detector works depends on what kind of smoke detector it is. Ionization detectors have a small amount of radioactive material between charged plates. When smoke enters the chamber between the plates it disrupts the flow of the current and triggers the alarm.

Photoelectric sensors use an actual beam of light that reflects on the particles of smoke. This allows it to see the smoke in the air (9).

Q: How many smoke detectors do I need?

A: The exact number of smoke detectors you need will depend on how large your home is. You should have both a smoke detector on every level and in every bedroom of your home. The kitchen, bathrooms, and other accessory rooms that don’t act as primary living spaces are still not a bad idea but aren’t a necessity (10).

Q: Where should smoke detectors be placed?

A: One of the first safety facts we’re taught as children is to stay low in a fire. Smoke rises naturally, so your smoke detectors should be placed to detect it as early as possible. They should be placed no more than 12 inches from the ceiling and a minimum of six inches from vents, fans, and doorways. For kitchen smoke detectors you should make sure they’re placed at least 10 feet away from any cooking surfaces. This will help prevent false alarms (11).

Q: How often should smoke detector batteries be changed?

A: The type of smoke detectors you have determines how often the batteries should be changed. Many modern battery-operated smoke detectors come from the manufacturer with a sealed lithium battery. These are fully powered for their entire working life and require very limited maintenance. Older battery operated and battery backup smoke detectors should be changed whenever the low battery signal goes off, or every six months, whichever comes first (12).

Q: What types of smoke detectors are there?

A: There are three types of smoke detectors, photoelectric, ionization, and combination detectors. We covered how each type of sensor works, but it’s important to know the benefits of each. Ionization detectors are great at picking up fast-burning fires, while photoelectric are more effective at detecting smoldering fires early. Combination detectors have both types of sensors and are an excellent option. 

Our top pick for a combination smoke detector is the First Alert BRK 9120LBL.

Q: How often should I replace my smoke detector?

A: You should always follow the manufacturer recommendations as to smoke detector lifespan. Some detectors have longer working lives than others, while a few need more frequent replacements. The National Fire Protection Association also recommends that you replace all smoke detectors every 10 years no matter what (13). 

If you’re unsure how old your smoke detectors are, it’s a good idea to replace them for safety’s sake.

Q: Are smoke detectors hardwired?

A: Some smoke detectors are hard-wired, while others are battery operated. Which type you choose for your home comes down to what level of installation you’re prepared for and the existing wiring. Keep in mind that hardwired smoke detectors also include a battery backup. Depending on where you live and the age of your home, hardwired smoke detectors may be a legal requirement (14).

Q: Why is my smoke detector beeping?

A: The most common cause of a beeping smoke detector is a low battery that needs changing. Depending on the age of your smoke detector beeping may also indicate an error message or more significant malfunction that requires replacement. Try replacing the battery first to see if that stops the beeping, if not, check your owner’s manual or consider replacing the smoke detector (15).

Q: Do I need a carbon monoxide detector?

A: Yes. In the U.S. alone more than 200 people per year die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. Without a carbon monoxide detector, you’d have no way to know if there were high levels of CO in your home. People with gas appliances, a fuel furnace, a fireplace, or other sources of CO are even more at risk (16).

Q: Will my smoke detector detect carbon monoxide?

A: No. Smoke detectors aren’t designed to detect carbon monoxide, just like a carbon monoxide detector isn’t designed to pick up smoke. There are some combination smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors that fulfill both roles, but they use different sensors to do it.

Our top smoke/carbon monoxide detector, and our overall number one pick, is the First Alert SC07CN.

Q: What’s the best smoke detector for my kitchen?

A: Your kitchen is the most likely place in your home to trigger a false alarm with your smoke detectors. Because cooking smoke and steam more closely resembles a smoldering fire than a fast-burning one, photoelectric smoke detectors are the better option. They’re less like to go off while you’re frying up some bacon. 

Our number one pick for a photoelectric smoke detector, and our overall top pick, is the First Alert SC07CN.

Q: Will a smoke detector detect a gas leak?

A: No. A smoke detector can only detect physical particles of smoke in the air. Natural gas and propane both have odorants added to them to make it easier to smell if they’re in the air. If you suspect a gas leak, Evacuate Immediately and call 911 (17). Take all family members and pets with you and leave your doors open after you leave. If you have the knowledge and believe it to be safe, turn off the outside gas connection to your home (18). 

Q: How often should I test my smoke detector?

A: You should test all your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors every month. This is also a good idea to open up the battery compartment and check for signs of corrosion (19).

Recap

Smoke detectors are an essential piece of safety equipment for your home. Buying the best smoke detectors you can afford is one of the most important preps you can make to protect your family and your home. 

If your smoke detectors are getting up there in years it’s a good idea to upgrade to some of the highly capable and affordable modern options.

For Survival At Home’s #1 smoke detector recommendation, click here.

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