According to the U.S. Fire Administration, residential fires account for 75 percent of fire-related deaths in the United States. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that 40 percent of residential fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms or alarms that don’t work. A properly working smoke detector is essential in protecting your home and family.
Smoke detectors are available with a range of features, from basic stand-alone devices to smart-home technology. A smart smoke detector’s primary advantage over a regular model is its ability to warn you of danger when you aren’t home. Smart fire alarms provide the option of exchanging beeps and sirens for voice alerts and smartphone notifications.
The best smart smoke detector for your home depends on your preferences, other types of smart technology you use, and the detector’s features. This guide presents recommendations for some of the best smart smoke detectors on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Ring Alarm Smoke and CO Listener
- BEST BUDGET: FIRST ALERT Z-Wave Smoke Detector
- UPGRADE PICK: FIRST ALERT Onelink
- HONORABLE MENTION: Amazon Echo Dot
Types of Smoke Detectors
Two types of smoke alarms are used in residential properties to detect smoke: photoelectric and ionization. According to research conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Center for Fire Research, ionization smoke alarms usually respond faster to the smoke produced by flaming fires, while photoelectric smoke alarms react more quickly to smoke from smoldering fires.
The U.S. Fire Administration states that since every fire is different, one type of alarm is not necessarily better than another. This guide explores the primary differences between the two types of detectors.
In homes across the U.S., ionization smoke alarms are the most common type. Constructed with a small amount of radioactive material between two electrically charged plates, the plates ionize the air and cause current to flow between them. When smoke enters the detector, it disrupts the flow of ions, which activates the alarm.
Flaming fires—caused by combustibles that burn rapidly, such as flammable liquids, newspapers, cleaning products, and cooking grease—are the most common types of home fire. Flaming fires ignite quickly and produce large quantities of flames with small amounts of smoke. Ionization smoke alarms trigger easily from smoke caused by food on the stovetop or in the oven.
To detect fire, photoelectric smoke alarms use a light-emitting diode (LED) positioned at a 90-degree angle with a light-sensitive sensor in a sensing chamber. When smoke enters the chamber, the suspended smoke particles scatter the light beam. The light is then reflected onto the light sensor to trigger the alarm.
Photoelectric smoke detectors sense smoldering fires very quickly. Smoldering (slow-burning fires) can burn for hours and produce large amounts of smoke. The most common causes of smoldering fires include cigarettes, fireplace embers, and electrical shortages. Photoelectric detectors are not as likely to be triggered by the smoke generated by burning food as an ionization smoke detector.
To offer maximum protection, some smoke detectors contain both ionization and photoelectric sensors. Dual alarms usually cost more, but they provide comprehensive fire detection. For additional security, you can install one of each type in your home.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Smart Smoke Detector
Old-school smoke detectors served as effective fire warning systems for decades, so why even consider a replacement? Smart-home detectors offer many advantages over the older versions. Most importantly, they can facilitate a faster call to emergency services, a critical ability when the house is empty. A notification from your smoke detector can save your pet’s life. Before you make a purchase, consider the following information.
Sensitivity and False Alarms
Smoke alarms are designed to be quiet, but that silence is a two-edged sword. Since the alarm only sounds when something has gone wrong—it’s detected smoke or the battery is dying—it’s hard to know if it’s functioning properly. Occasionally, the alarm will go off for seemingly no reason, such as when a dish is burning in the oven or a large swath of steam escapes the shower.
Ionization smoke alarms tend to trigger false alarms more often than do photoelectric smoke alarms, and some alarms simply are more sensitive than others. Some smoke alarms allow you to adjust their sensitivity level, but proceed with caution: The last thing you want is to inhibit the detector’s ability to detect traces of smoke.
As technology improves, so does the alarm’s sensitivity to smoke. If the alarm is in the recommended location, kept dust-free, and tested monthly, it should function fine.
Smart Tech Compatibility
Some stand-alone alarms work with any type of mobile device, while others are specific to certain types of smart hubs. Before making a purchase, first consider your existing smart technology. The new alarm should be compatible with both your home’s hub and your mobile devices.
If mixing technology is necessary, use a smart listener, another type of hardware, such as a smart-tech night light or speaker that plugs into a power outlet. These devices listen for an alarm going off and send an alert to your phone if they hear one. A smart listener is an inexpensive option that turns a traditional alarm system into a smart device.
Consumers choose smart alarms because they expect them to do more than just sound an alarm. Consider how “smart” the device should be to suit the needs of your household. When an alarm detects smoke, some smoke alarm models simply simply “ping” a message, while others have the advanced ability to trigger the thermostat to shut off the HVAC to prevent smoke from filling the ventilation system.
To integrate a smoke alarm with the rest of the home, consider whether it’s supported by a major smart-home hub like Nest, Alexa, or HomeKit. Smart-home hubs allow the control of smart devices by voice command or a smart-device app. Users can monitor their smoke alarms from anywhere in their home (or the world) as long as they’re connected to the hub. Having one “control center” is a good idea, and it eliminates the need for multiple apps on smart devices.
Since experts recommend that most homes should have more than one smoke detector, make sure they all connect. Interconnectivity means that if one alarm goes off, all the other alarms in the house will go off as well. Beneficial in large homes, it ensures that no matter where the family is in the house, someone will hear the alarm.
Smoke alarms are interconnected by WiFi, radio frequencies, or via a hardwire to the home’s electrical system. The WiFi option is easier to install, but it only works when the WiFi is connected. Hardwired alarms are more reliable, but they’re harder to install and might require professional installation. Systems that connect to radio frequencies share the same channel and are easy to install.
Almost everyone is familiar with smoke detectors’ siren-alert feature. However, a smart detector can differentiate the type of hazard it detects, the location of the hazard, and how to respond. The sophistication and variety of these notifications depend on the model.
Typically, users can manage the amount of information in the associated smoke detector app. Notifications can be controlled via the app or phone. The more detailed the information the detector offers, the more it will help provide access to the fire danger level in your home.
The more people who receive an alert when an emergency occurs, the faster the response. It’s safer (and smarter) if more than one person receives a notification if a fire breaks out in the house. Every member of the family needs access, with the exception of young children.
Giving temporary access to pet sitters, nearby family members, and neighbors when out of town increases the likelihood of the home and its contents staying safe while its occupants are away. Choose a system that supports multiple users through an invitation feature.
Hardwired vs Battery-Operated
Battery-operated smoke detectors, which operate solely through the power they receive from batteries, are easy to set up. As the batteries drain, the alarm becomes ineffective. Check this type of detector monthly to determine the amount of “juice” the batteries have left.
Since they connect to the home’s power supply, hardwired detectors are more dependable. They will work indefinitely as long as they have power. Hardwired detectors also have battery backups to ensure they continue in the event of a power failure. However, a hardwired unit is harder to install and may require an electrician.
Ease of Installation
Battery-powered smoke alarms are easier to install, and they can be up and running in a matter of minutes. Since they’re the only power source, remember to frequently test and replace the batteries.
Hardwired smoke alarms are connected to your home’s power supply. To install or perform any type of maintenance on the unit, the power must be off at the main electrical panel. Many people hire a professional electrician for the installation.
Our Top Picks
Taking the features and shopping tips mentioned here into consideration, the following list of recommendations can help consumers choose the best smart smoke detector for their home.
The Ring listener alarm offers an inexpensive way to turn your home’s existing fire alarms into “smart” units. From its revolutionary video doorbell to its smart lights and locks, Ring is known for smart-home and DIY security equipment. A dedicated smart listener, the Ring Alarm Smoke and CO Listener works with existing smoke and CO alarms.
Users can place the Ring Listener up to 6 feet away from their existing smoke and carbon monoxide detector. If the detector goes off, the listener senses the alarm and sends an alert to a smartphone. However, users already must have a Ring Alarm security system base station. A smart choice for renters or for those who have a hard-wired detector installed, the Ring Listener is easy to set up.
If you need multiple alarms throughout your home, this FIRST ALERT combination smoke detector is an affordable option. Equipped with both electrochemical and photoelectric smoke sensors, the 2-in-1 device has a combined smoke and carbon monoxide detector. It also features an 85-decibel horn, a tamper-resistant battery door, and a single test/silence button.
This FIRST ALERT device uses wireless Z-wave technology to communicate with other smart devices and send notifications to a smartphone. The alarm works well in homes already equipped with a Z-wave-compatible smart-home hub, such as the SmartThings Hub or Nexia Home Intelligence. The smoke detector is simple to set up and sync to companionable smart hubs, and it runs on two AA batteries.
FIRST ALERT’s device is a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector with built-in Alexa services. The alarm is basically an Echo with the additional ability to detect smoke via photoelectric sensors and carbon monoxide. It responds to voice commands and can be used as a standard Bluetooth speaker.
This FIRST ALERT unit is also compatible with Apple HomeKit. The companion app allows users to test or silence the alarm, control other entertainment devices, or adjust the included nightlight from a smartphone or tablet. The alarm is available only as a hardwired, AC-powered unit (with a 10-year lithium backup battery).
Some concerns exist that a multifunctional device such as the Onelink may not be as dependable as a dedicated smoke alarm. However, the Onelink is one of the only smart alarms on the market with 100-percent voice command capabilities without interconnection with a smart hub.
Amazon Echo Dot is relatively inexpensive and compatible with a growing list of smart-home devices, including security cameras, lights, and thermostats. Add Alexa Guard, free to any Echo owner, to Echo’s skill set to transform the smart device into a basic security alarm.
With Alexa Guard enabled, any Echo speaker becomes an economical security device. The same sensitive microphones used to hear voice commands also can detect the siren of an existing smoke detector or carbon monoxide alarm. Additionally, it can “hear” the sound of glass breaking from a window and send a notification to your smartphone.
Guard is a nifty addition to Alexa’s already extensive bag of tricks. Although the Echo might not have onboard sensors to detect smoke or carbon monoxide, it’s an inexpensive way to make existing tech “smarter.” Echo with Alexa Guard is a lightweight but clever alternative to a traditional home security system.
The Advantages of Owning a Smart Smoke Detector
A smoke detector that integrates with other smart-home technology is safer, smarter, and more efficient than a traditional smoke detector. Standalone detectors alert to only one hazard in one part of the home, but smart-home smoke detectors can provide warnings to multiple areas of the home, even when the home’s occupants aren’t present. By fully integrating all their home’s existing smart devices, users receive the full advantages of smart technology.
The best smart smoke detector should pull information from devices inside and outside the home and provide the ability for users to take action in the event of an emergency. Your house is safer when all the devices are connected to each other through a smart-home hub platform. When selecting a smart smoke detector, it should have, at minimum, these three features:
- Interconnectivity via WiFi, radio, or hardwiring.
- Compatibility with other smart devices and smart hubs.
- Easy to use and troubleshoot.
FAQ About Smart Smoke Detectors
Still wondering if a smart smoke detector is worth it? Read on for answers to the most frequently asked questions about these home products. The manufacturers can also assist with product-specific questions.
Q. What are smart smoke detectors?
A smart smoke detector detects smoke, sounds an alarm, and sends notifications to a smartphone or device. It can be connected to a WiFi network or home security system.
Q. Which is better, a smoke detector or a heat detector?
In most cases, smoke detectors detect fires faster than heat detectors. Smoke is generated in the early stages of a fire; heat detectors activate only when they detect high temperatures or temperatures that are rising unusually fast. Both alarms can be used together to provide extra protection. However, if your budget only allows for one device, it’s better to install a smoke detector.
Q. What is the best place to put a smoke detector?
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends installing smoke alarms inside all the bedrooms, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home (including the basement). NFPA also recommends installing alarms in living rooms, family rooms, or near stairways on levels without bedrooms.
Q. How are smoke alarms interconnected?
Smoke alarms are interconnected either by a hardwired connection using the wiring in the home or by WiFi. In some cases, they can be interconnected through radio frequencies.
Q. How can I get my smoke detector to stop chirping?
The chirping sound from your smoke detector indicates that the unit needs a battery replacement. Replace the battery and reset the unit to eliminate the chirping noise. If the noise persists, contact the manufacturer of the unit.