Smoke Alarm Technologies: Photoelectric vs Ionisation

Back to blog

Did you Know There are Different Types of Smoke Alarms?

Both types of smoke detectors are 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? That's why we are here to help you learn the different between different smoke detectors, so you can determine the best smoke alarm for your home.

Types of Smoke Alarms

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 flaming 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 alarms are a 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.

How to Tell the Difference Between Ionisation and Photoelectric Smoke Alarms

To determine whether your smoke alarm is an ionisation or photoelectric model, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the smoke alarm from its mounting bracket and look at the back of the unit.
  2. Check for any labels or markings that indicate the type of smoke alarm. It may be clearly labelled as "Ionisation" or "Photoelectric."
  3. If there is no clear label, look for the model number or product code. You can search for this information online or contact the manufacturer to determine the type of smoke alarm based on the model number.
  4. Ionisation smoke alarms often have a small amount of radioactive material, which may be mentioned on the back of the unit or in the product description.
  5. Photoelectric smoke alarms may have a "P" or "Photo" in the model name or description.

If you are still unsure about your type of smoke alarm, it is best to replace it with a new photoelectric smoke alarm to ensure the best protection for your home and family. Remember to replace your smoke alarms every 10 years, regardless of the type, to maintain their effectiveness.


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.

Whether you need help buying smoke alarms, want to replace your current ones, or you are having issues such as nuisance alarms, we are here to help you. We will ensure your smoke alarms are up to Australian standards. Contact our team today and let us protect your home and family!

Why Choose Kenner Electrics?

Kenner Electrics is your trusted local electrician. We have a friendly and professional team of highly qualified, experienced and licensed electricians ready to handle all your commercial and residential electrical needs.

We provide up-front pricing with a clear explanation of the work required to avoid cost overruns. We provide prompt and efficient service and prioritise safety on each and every job. We are fully insured, licensed and accredited, we're a member of the National Electrical & Communications Association, and we are a registered electrical contractor with Energy Safe Victoria. We always provide compliance certificates for all completed electrical installation work.

We're one of the top rated electricians in Melbourne with over 250 genuine 5-star reviews from residential and business customers just like you.

Call our friendly team on (03) 9996 0663 or contact us online now.

Tidy and reliable electrician Melbourne

There's plenty of ways to get in touch With Us Today


(03) 9996 0663

We're always ready to talk to you about your job.


Send through an email, and we'll respond during business hours.

Enquire Online

Submit an enquiry form online

Fill out an enquiry form on our website, and we'll respond within one business day.

Fill Out our enquiry Form Below

As your local electrician, we promise friendly, professional customer service. On the job and after, you're safe with us.

Thanks! Your enquiry has now been sent and we will get back to you soon.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.