Are Ionization Smoke Alarms Really Junk?

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velvetfoot

Minister of Fire
Dec 5, 2005
10,055
Sand Lake, NY
The State of Vermont apparently thinks so and will only accept the photo-electric kind on new houses.

I'm re-evaluating my interconnected smoke alarm system, which currently has no photo types, but 2 CO/ion combos on the stove and basement levels and all ions in the rest of the house (no garage).
 

Detector$

Member
Dec 16, 2007
127
NC
No ionization detectors aren't junk. They contain a radioactive substance (americium) and can pose environmental risks if not disposed properly. They also tend to detect flaming fires better than smoldering fires and false alarm more than photoelectric detectors. Photoelectric detectors and much better at detecting smoldering and smokey fires. I would suggest a few of each.
 

velvetfoot

Minister of Fire
Dec 5, 2005
10,055
Sand Lake, NY
Well, I guess I'm replying to my own thread, but I found a dual alarm that Consumer Reports liked, Kidde PI2000. Alas it was the subject of a recall in July 2009, http://www.kidde.com/utcfs/ws-384/Assets/PI2000-Smoke Alarms-CPSC.pdf . One web site said Jan 2010 for availability, but that's not definitive.
 

d.n.f.

New Member
Dec 14, 2007
504
Nelson BC
I have always heard (from those smoke detector pamphlets we hand out every year at fire prevention week) that you put the smouldery kind in the halls outside bedrooms, and you put the flame kind in the kitchen.

You guys (at great expense) have installed radiation detectors at most Cdn border crossings (one at a Montana crossing that gets like eight vehicles per day). Big yellow posts you drive through. Wonder how many smoke detectors are needed to set them off?
 

firefighterjake

Minister of Fire
Jul 22, 2008
19,384
Unity/Bangor, Maine
Detector$ said:
No ionization detectors aren't junk. They contain a radioactive substance (americium) and can pose environmental risks if not disposed properly. They also tend to detect flaming fires better than smoldering fires and false alarm more than photoelectric detectors. Photoelectric detectors and much better at detecting smoldering and smokey fires. I would suggest a few of each.
Couldn't have said it any better myself.

Vermont had a good idea in terms of requiring PE (that would be photo electric not Pacific Energy) detectors following the tragedy in Barre . . . but they messed up in my opinion . . . the very best protection is not to advocate one type of detector over another, but rather suggest that folks go with both types for the best protection . . . and of course add in a CO detector or two to protect against CO . . . and if folks really wanted to go crazy . . . make those detectors interconnected or a monitored system . . . or even add heat detectors in select locations.

That said, there are proponents and opponents to the detector tech . . . read all sides and make up your own opinion . . . all I can say is that in my house I have dual ion/PE detectors throughout the house along with a couple of CO detectors.
 

firefighterjake

Minister of Fire
Jul 22, 2008
19,384
Unity/Bangor, Maine
velvetfoot said:
So, it's all political? A state gov't banned their installation after 1/1/09.
http://www.dps.state.vt.us/fire/smoke/index.html
It sounds like they're even banning the use of photo/ion combos.
Short answer based solely on what I've read and what I heard at the NFPA Conference where the Barre Firefighters did a presentation . . . yes. As mentioned before, it was a good idea to advocate or even mandate the PEs . . . but in my opinion both types are equally as important.
 

firefighterjake

Minister of Fire
Jul 22, 2008
19,384
Unity/Bangor, Maine
d.n.f. said:
I have always heard (from those smoke detector pamphlets we hand out every year at fire prevention week) that you put the smouldery kind in the halls outside bedrooms, and you put the flame kind in the kitchen.

You guys (at great expense) have installed radiation detectors at most Cdn border crossings (one at a Montana crossing that gets like eight vehicles per day). Big yellow posts you drive through. Wonder how many smoke detectors are needed to set them off?
Actually most folks do not advocate smoke detectors of any kind being installed in a kitchen . . . some folks looking for maximum detection will install simple heat detectors in the kitchen though.
 

firefighterjake

Minister of Fire
Jul 22, 2008
19,384
Unity/Bangor, Maine
Speaking of protection . . . I guess I really should back up and say the best fire protection you can get in a home is a sprinkler system . . . but this idea hasn't caught on yet in most places in the US . . . and retrofitting an existing home could be pricey.
 

raybonz

Minister of Fire
Feb 5, 2008
6,208
Carver, MA.
firefighterjake said:
Speaking of protection . . . I guess I really should back up and say the best fire protection you can get in a home is a sprinkler system . . . but this idea hasn't caught on yet in most places in the US . . . and retrofitting an existing home could be pricey.
First let me say that both types of smoke detectors have their place.. Outside my bathroom I use a photoelectric as it is more tolerant of steam and greatly reduces false alarms however ionization type is very good too.. Both sense different types of fires.. I think sprinklers systems will never be popular in homes because insurance companies dislike them due to the water damage they cause especially if one goes off accidentally.. Smoke detectors are very good life savers for a very low cost and I for one would never be without them.. The same thing goes for GFCI outlets and CO detectors however I am not not big on arc fault breakers and I happen to be a licensed electrician.. To me it is overkill unlike the other lifesavers in use today.. Just my 2 cents...

Ray
 

d.n.f.

New Member
Dec 14, 2007
504
Nelson BC
firefighterjake said:
Speaking of protection . . . I guess I really should back up and say the best fire protection you can get in a home is a sprinkler system . . . but this idea hasn't caught on yet in most places in the US . . . and retrofitting an existing home could be pricey.
Going to be code in the future.
 

velvetfoot

Minister of Fire
Dec 5, 2005
10,055
Sand Lake, NY
Well, I ordered 6 of these dual sensor smoke alarms to replace my current ionization only interconnected alarms:
http://www.brkelectronics.com/product/SA773CN

My plan is to add an interconnected CO detector on each floor too, but I bet that won't be too easy but I think I should be able to join wires to the wire nut connections in the smokes' boxes and put another one in the area for the CO detector.

New regs for Mass as of 1/1/10:
http://www.mass.gov/Eeops/docs/dfs/osfm/cmr/cmr_secured/527032.pdf
 

Detector$

Member
Dec 16, 2007
127
NC
Make sure you keep them away from ceiling fans and air supply registers. They just won't work. Smoke detectors save lives. Test them regularly, keep fresh batteries in them, and replace them if you're getting false alarms and/or poor performance. You can buy smoke detector tester (canned smoke) at most hardware stores. Put them in each bedroom, outside of each bedroom, along the egress path from the sleeping areas to the door (top and bottom of stairways), not a bad idea to put them in the laundry room. Keep them out of bathrooms, kitchens, and shower areas. If you really want to put something there, consider fixed temperature and/or rate of rise heat detectors.
 

firefighterjake

Minister of Fire
Jul 22, 2008
19,384
Unity/Bangor, Maine
Detector$ said:
Make sure you keep them away from ceiling fans and air supply registers. They just won't work. Smoke detectors save lives. Test them regularly, keep fresh batteries in them, and replace them if you're getting false alarms and/or poor performance. You can buy smoke detector tester (canned smoke) at most hardware stores. Put them in each bedroom, outside of each bedroom, along the egress path from the sleeping areas to the door (top and bottom of stairways), not a bad idea to put them in the laundry room. Keep them out of bathrooms, kitchens, and shower areas. If you really want to put something there, consider fixed temperature and/or rate of rise heat detectors.
+1 . . . I'm beginning to really like Detector$ since he pretty much thinks like me. ;)
 

maggard

New Member
Nov 17, 2009
8
arkansas
My house has one in every room and they are all connected if 1 goes off then they all go off. Dont know which kind they are though. chad
 

velvetfoot

Minister of Fire
Dec 5, 2005
10,055
Sand Lake, NY
Does the canned smoke simulate a smoldering fire? Just kidding.
The detector won't save a life if it doesn't go off. The videos on the Barre fire dept. site concerning smoldering fires, which are more common compared with flaming fires, are compelling.
I think the key is to replace the existing ionization only sensors with dual sensor units - oh wait - that's what I'm doing - just kidding again.
THEN, you have to slap up the CO detectors on each floor. THEN have them interconnected so you can be warned in sufficient time when something downstairs goes off.
CO detectors have to be replaced every 5 years, with the new ones beeping at that time, so if you have a combo unit, say photo and CO, the entire unit has to be replaced.
Anyway, I think it's a little complicated for such a serious subject, if one wants to get the optimum (current code? whose code?) solution.
The amount of bucks spent compared with potential to save you life isn't that much.

The wireless photo electric/CO sensors that BRK makes in its OneLink line also seems to have a lot of potential for remodeling, example: http://www.brkelectronics.com/product/SC7010BV . It communicates to an existing hardwired interconnected system.

I just got into this when I changed my batteries a couple of days ago.
I never realized there was any controversy on the subject.
 

firefighterjake

Minister of Fire
Jul 22, 2008
19,384
Unity/Bangor, Maine
velvetfoot said:
Does the canned smoke simulate a smoldering fire? Just kidding.
The detector won't save a life if it doesn't go off. The videos on the Barre fire dept. site concerning smoldering fires, which are more common compared with flaming fires, are compelling.
I think the key is to replace the existing ionization only sensors with dual sensor units - oh wait - that's what I'm doing - just kidding again.
THEN, you have to slap up the CO detectors on each floor. THEN have them interconnected so you can be warned in sufficient time when something downstairs goes off.
CO detectors have to be replaced every 5 years, with the new ones beeping at that time, so if you have a combo unit, say photo and CO, the entire unit has to be replaced.
Anyway, I think it's a little complicated for such a serious subject, if one wants to get the optimum (current code? whose code?) solution.
The amount of bucks spent compared with potential to save you life isn't that much.

The wireless photo electric/CO sensors that BRK makes in its OneLink line also seems to have a lot of potential for remodeling, example: http://www.brkelectronics.com/product/SC7010BV . It communicates to an existing hardwired interconnected system.

I just got into this when I changed my batteries a couple of days ago.
I never realized there was any controversy on the subject.
There are some other viewpoints besides those of the Barre, VT firefighters . . . again . . . I believe in both technologies . . . having seen folks that have escaped from a fire due to a working ion smoke detector in their home. It's not a case of "which detector is better" or "which type is junk", but rather "am I really protected as well as I could be" . . . and the answer in my mind to that question is to have a dual ion/PE detector or one of each in key locations.

Just a FYI: As you probably know smoke detectors need to be replaced every 10 years. CO detector replacement rate varies according to the manufacturer -- I've heard of some manufacturers recommending changing them in 3 years, 5 years and as long as 7 years depending on the make/model. In general, however 5 years is probably a good rule of thumb to go by.
 

velvetfoot

Minister of Fire
Dec 5, 2005
10,055
Sand Lake, NY
Some people do feel they're junk, apparently, big coverup, etc, but you do cover your bases with both types of sensor.
As I said, now the CO detectors are beeping at end of life, http://www.brkelectronics.com/product/CO5120PDBN .
The one above has an effective date of 8/09, so I bet that's when some new rule went into effect.
The limited warrenty on the above example is for 5 years, so I figure it goes off shortly thereafter. :)
 

oconnor

Minister of Fire
Nov 20, 2005
1,074
Nova Scotia
Studies I read stated that fast hot fires are often detected by Photoelectric Detectors up to 30 secs later that Ionization detectors, and that slow smouldering fires can be detected by ionozitation detectors up to 30 minutes later that Photoelectric detectors. I have also seen my Ionization detector in my kitchen being bathed in dark black smoke from my stove (that pizza just didn't turn out :) ), and not go off at all, but the room had 6 inches of black smoke, like one can see from a poorly tuned diesel dump truck, all along the ceiling.

I now have both Ionization and Photoelectric and CO detectors on all levels of my home.

Interesting note - when I was looking for Combo units in Canada, I was only able to find Ionization/CO units, but US manufacturers tended to sell Photoelectric/CO units. Not sure why there is a cross border difference. I was also able to find Ionization units for sale that had already lost 3 years of thier life just by sitting on the shelf. What I could not find was a three way Ion/Photo/CO unit.
 

velvetfoot

Minister of Fire
Dec 5, 2005
10,055
Sand Lake, NY
Also, it might be a good idea to register when you buy these things. In case there's a recall, like the Kidde PE/CO combo I mentioned earlier, maybe there's a slight chance anyway that you'll be notified. I for one don't go looking for stuff I have that's been recalled, but maybe I should.

"They" should've had all this sorted out long ago. I haven't see a 3-way unit yet either. What's also interesting is that there seems to be more choice with the battery-only models than the hardwired units.
 

oconnor

Minister of Fire
Nov 20, 2005
1,074
Nova Scotia
I found the study I was refering to. Here are the conclusions, and the link should you want to see the truly technical data.

Link: - http://smokealarm.nist.gov/pdf_files/NIST_TN_1455-1_Feb2008.pdf

9 Conclusions (Copied from page 259 of the report)

1. The data developed in this study include measurement of temperature and smoke
obscuration in addition to gas concentrations for a range of fire scenarios and residences.
Measurement of the response of smoke alarms, CO alarms, heat alarms, and tell-tale
sprinklers are also included. These data could be of significant value in developing
appropriate algorithms for alarms that may include one or more sensor types.

2. Smoke alarms of either the ionization type or the photoelectric type consistently provided
time for occupants to escape from most residential fires.

a In many cases, available escape time would be sufficient only if households
follow the advice of fire safety educators, including sleeping with doors closed
while using interconnected smoke alarms to provide audible alarm in each
bedroom, and pre-planning and practicing escape so as to reduce pre-movement
and movement times.


b. Smoke alarms may not provide protection for people directly exposed to the
initial fire development (so-called "intimate with ignition").

c. Consistent with prior findings, ionization type alarms provided somewhat better
response to flaming fires than photoelectric alarms, and photoelectric alarms
provided (often) considerably faster response to smoldering fires than ionization
type alarms.

d. Smoke alarms of either type installed on every level generally provided positive
escape times for different fire types and locations. Adding smoke alarms in
bedrooms increased the escape time provided, especially for smoldering fires. It
is important to note that the available safe egress times may overlap with the
range of estimates of necessary egress time for the residences studied. Some of
this is due to conservative tenability criteria based on incapacitation of the most
vulnerable occupants that was used for the current study.

I left the rest of the conclusion on the site - too long to post. The key points for me are what I bolded above.
 

velvetfoot

Minister of Fire
Dec 5, 2005
10,055
Sand Lake, NY
Yeah, somewhat vs. considerably + smoldering as majority of house fires = ionization detectors may be junk

I'm kidding, sort of, but it sure sounds like some economic decisions were made in the past, or whatever, to favor the ionization technology over photo electric.
The Barre and other people might ask how many lives that cost over the years.

"Consistent with prior findings, ionization type alarms provided somewhat better
response to flaming fires than photoelectric alarms, and photoelectric alarms
provided (often) considerably faster response to smoldering fires than ionization
type alarms."
 

pen

There are some who call me...mod.
Staff member
Aug 2, 2007
7,957
N.E. Penna
oconnor said:
Question - How to a practice getting a 5 year old down an escape ladder from the second story and not have him try it for fun later and break a leg?
When I was a young boy I had just such a ladder in the closet of my second story bedroom. My father pulled it out, showed me how it worked, and made in no uncertain terms his point clear that the ONLY time it were to be used were in the case of an emergency. Should I have gotten a bright idea and tried to use this for FUN there was no question in my mind what the consequences were going to be, even without him explaining them to me. As such, that item sat in my closet for many years with much regard but no use.

Be firm, be clear, be honest.

pen
 
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