Smoke Alarm Technologies: Photoelectric vs Ionisation

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Did you know there are different types of smoke alarms?

They are each designed to be effective at detecting different types of fires, so it’s good to know the difference and which one could protect your home and family better!


The 2 main types of technology are PHOTOELECTRIC and IONISATION smoke alarms. Do you know what type of smoke alarms you have in your house?


Ionisation Smoke Alarms

Ionisation smoke alarms are the most common smoke alarms in homes around Victoria, simply because they’ve been around longer than photoelectric models.


Ionisation smoke alarms are most effective at detecting smoke caused by fast-flaming, clean burning fires with small smoke particles. These type of fires tend to be kitchen oil fires or established fires that have had time to take hold. However, the most common house fires are slow smouldering fires, so ionisation alarms are less likely to detect these types of fires at their early stages. Early detection is vital for giving you and your family the most amount of time to escape to safety.


When I was growing up, I remember our smoke alarm in the kitchen going off frequently when dinner was cooking. This is because ionisation alarms are more prone to ‘nuisance triggering’ from kitchen fumes. This isn’t a danger in itself, but can be such a hassle that some people will remove the batteries from the smoke alarm altogether. A disconnected smoke alarm isn’t going to be any use in a real fire!


Ionisation smoke alarms are an older technology that use a small amount of radioactive material to help detect smoke. The radioactive particles are safe for humans because there is only a very small amount. However, there is the added environmental consideration of how these alarms are disposed of at the end of their useful life, which is currently just to send them to landfill.


Photoelectric Smoke Alarms

Photoelectric smoke alarms area newer technology that use the reflection of light to detect smoke particles that enter the alarm chamber. This type of smoke alarm are more effective at detecting smoky, smouldering and slow-burning fires. As most house fires start off as a smouldering fire before taking hold, photoelectric smoke alarms are better at activating earlier and providing more time to react and get to safety.


Photoelectric smoke alarms are recommended by the Melbourne Fire Brigade (MFB) and the Country Fire Authority (CFA) for home smoke alarms as they are more effective at detecting common home fires.


Additionally, photoelectric smoke alarms do not contain any radioactive/hazardous materials which makes them safer to dispose of at the end of their life. However these alarms can ‘nuisance trigger’ when there is a lot of dust in the air, such as during building or renovation works.


Update your smoke alarms today

If your smoke alarms have expired (smoke alarms have a strict working lifetime of 10 years), or if you’re renovating/extending your home, think about upgrading to photoelectric smoke alarms. Kenner Electrics installs quality hard-wired Clipsal photoelectric smoke alarms to ensure your family and home are safe.

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