Photoelectric Smoke Detector

One of the most common hazards that homeowners fear is a house fire. And rightly so, in 2013 alone there were 1,240,000 fires reported in the US (National Fire Protection Association). As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, therefore there is no better safety measure one could take than installing a smoke detector. After all, almost two-thirds of deaths caused by home fires were in houses with no smoke detectors (NFPA). A photoelectric smoke detector, therefore, could be especially useful as it usually has a faster response time to fires that smolder than any other type of smoke detector.

How Photoelectric Smoke Detector Works

A photoelectric smoke alarm is designed to use optical detectors to detect smoke. Connected to an alarm control panel (FACP), the fire alarm is designed to trigger when smoke enters the chamber and reflects light onto a light sensor. This type of detector may have a faster response time to smoldering fires and is less prone to false alarms from cooking or steam. Photoelectric smoke detectors may be bought as a standalone alarm or as part of an integrated home security system.

Where to Place

Photoelectric smoke detectors could be placed almost anywhere in the house. However, recommended areas for installation are:

  • Bedrooms, sleeping areas and every level of the house

  • The detectors should be installed in the living room or near the stairway or in both locations

  • On the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to upper level, if installed in the basement

  • At least ten feet from cooking appliances to avoid false alarms

  • High on walls or ceilings

Don’t install the device near a place where windows, doors, or ducts could affect its functioning. Never paint over a smoke alarm or put stickers on it as it could malfunction. Also keep the manufacturer’s instructions with you for reference.

Testing of Photoelectric Smoke Detector

The worst possible scenario after buying a smoke detector is if it stops functioning during an emergency situation and you were unaware of it. According to a survey carried out by Underwriters Laboratories, around 20% of homes have detectors that are missing batteries or otherwise not working. In order to avoid such a mishap, the detectors should be tested frequently, or at least once a month, using the test button. If the detector runs on replaceable batteries, then they should be replaced at least once a year or right away if the detector sounds a low battery warning. However, be careful when replacing batteries as the detector may not work if the battery is incompatible. Check the manufacturer’s instructions or the back of the device for the list of batteries that are recommended for use. If it’s running on non-replaceable batteries, the detector should be replaced every 10 years. Finally, clean the device regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Things to Consider

  • Laws governing the installation of smoke detectors vary depending on your area.  You could contact your local fire marshal or building inspector for information.

  • Check with your local fire department as many communities may provide free smoke detector, batteries and installation services if you cannot afford them.

  • Smoke detectors should bear the label of an approved testing agency (UL or FM). Also, look for the letter “P” or the word “photoelectric” on the packaging.

  • Installing interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms (wired or wireless) could be useful, as every detector throughout the house may sound if one goes off.

  • Never remove the battery or disconnect the power source if a false alarm is triggered. Some detectors may come with a button which could temporarily silence the device.

Mechanisms connected to the detector, such as vibrating pillow pads, could be bought to accommodate the hearing impaired. In the event of an emergency, make sure everyone understands what to do when they hear the smoke detector alarm goes off.

There is one home fire reported every 85 seconds, and subsequently one civilian death by fire reported every 2 hours and 42 minutes (NFPA). Therefore as the figures suggest, buying and setting up a photoelectric smoke detector could be the difference between life and death.



Q:How much is it to get a house wired with photoelectric smoke detectors?

A:Photoelectric smoke detectors emit a beam of light, which is scattered as soon as it makes contact with smoke. This then sends signals to the alarm. Photoelectric detectors are the most popular types of smoke detectors. There are a number of security companies offering this product. The price range will vary from place to place. Before you select any, make sure the company you are purchasing it from is reliable.

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