Buy a smoke alarm
The tyranny of choice
It will surprise you, but the purchase of a smoke detector reminds me of a basic article on "tyranny of choice". After that, the freedom to choose can be burdensome. If we had walked into an electronics store twenty years ago, the salesperson would probably have recommended a smoke alarm. Which we would have bought then. In the meantime, the (online) offer has overwhelmed us.
Use the time for the really important things in your life. The following section contains everything that is important when buying a smoke alarm. You are of course welcome to continue reading afterwards if you wish.
For fast readers
Here we make short work. Choose your smoke detector like this, do everything right:
- Buy a smoke alarm with a built-in battery (10-year smoke alarm).
- Make sure it has pollution compensation.
- The smoke detector should have the quality seal "Q".
- Invest at least 20 euros.
That's it 😃. If you like, read on. I will then explain to you what is behind the short list. If you have better things to do... go ahead!
Expensive or cheap?
Are you okay with changing the smoke alarm battery regularly? Then you can buy a smoke alarm that runs on a battery (9 volts are common). These smoke detectors cost around 5 euros. However, 10-year smoke detectors with a built-in battery are slowly conquering the market (see the following section "How do I recognize a good smoke detector?"). The new models cost around 20 euros.
As you will see below, you must replace both smoke alarms after 10 years. Therefore, a brief estimate of which type of smoke detector is cheaper. I assume you change the battery every year. I assume the price for a block battery to be 1 euro. All prices may vary slightly.
- Smoke detector with replaceable battery: 5 euros for the smoke detector plus 10 euros for the annual battery change = 15 euros.
- Smoke detector with built-in battery (10-year smoke detector): 20 euros.
That makes a difference of only 5 euros per detector. My point here is just to show that the new models with a fixed battery are not much more expensive than the previous models. This saves you the trouble of changing the batteries regularly. I therefore recommend that you buy the 10-year models. More reasons for this follow below.
How do I recognize a good smoke detector?
Does the price determine whether a smoke detector is good? I do not believe that. I think the equipment is more important. A good smoke detector should have two things: pollution compensation and the "Q" seal of quality. If it fulfills both, it is more expensive than a product from a hardware store's rummage box. You pay for a good device with a long-life battery according to the test report from Stiftung Warentest but also only about 17 euros.
Pollution compensation? What a bulky word - after all, it names the function well. A smoke detector with this property can compensate for its pollution. Even if it's a pity, we don't live completely dust-free, despite our best efforts. Over the years, the dust collects in the smoke chamber of the smoke detector and can lead to frequent false alarms. What does dust have to do with it? Conventional smoke detectors go off as soon as particles within the smoke chamber break a beam of light and throw it onto a sensor. The smoke detector cannot distinguish whether these are smoke or dirt particles. Nevertheless, good smoke detectors get this problem under control. The sensitivity of your sensor adapts to the increasing pollution of the smoke chamber and avoids false alarms.
All smoke detectors approved in Germany have cleared the lowest hurdle: they meet the requirements of the standard for smoke detectors DIN EN 14604 and have the CE mark. The CE mark guarantees that an independent test center has tested the smoke detector and that the smoke detector meets the requirements of DIN EN 14604.
Demand your smoke detectors a little more! It is awarded the so-called "Q" seal of quality if it also clears the hurdle of vfdb guideline 14/01:2009-10. The association for the promotion of German fire protection (vfdb) places higher demands on smoke detectors, such as:
- The smoke detectors are more resistant to mechanical impacts;
- they don't age as much;
- they are more resilient to fluctuating temperatures;
- They are electromagnetically compatible;
- They have a built-in 10-year battery.
The independent testing institutes VdS and Kriwan check whether the smoke detectors meet these requirements.
Has Stiftung Warentest carried out a smoke detector test?
Stiftung Warentest regularly examines smoke detectors. She published the current test on December 30, 2020. The report summarizes the tests on 17 long-life battery smoke detectors. Of these, 13 smoke detectors performed well. Only one failed the test because he warned too late. You can then get a good smoke detector for as little as 17 euros.
Heat detector (also: heat detector or thermal detector)
Normal photo-optical smoke detectors are not good for smoke and dust. They respond to particles in the air, which refract the light in the smoke chamber, thus triggering the alarm. Where do you tend to do without normal smoke detectors?
- In the kitchen, where smoke and water vapor can trigger false alarms.
- In the bathroom because of the steam.
- If you have an (open) fireplace, then you probably don't equip this room with a normal smoke detector.
- In a dusty attic, in the garage, or in your hobby room if that's where you kick up a lot of dust.
- In your smoking room.
Of course, you can test yourself whether you generate enough particles for the smoke detector to trigger an alarm. If that's too much of a hassle for you, it's best to buy a heat detector (also known as a heat detector). They sound an alarm when the room temperature exceeds a certain maximum value (about 60°C) or the temperature rises rapidly. Heat detectors cost about the same as photo-optical smoke detectors.
Dual smoke detector (also: thermo-optical smoke detector)
It makes sense to combine the advantages of the normal smoke detector and the heat detector. The so-called dual smoke detectors react both to particles in the air (photo-optical method) and to the temperature in the room (heat detector). The devices only alert you when both the optical sensor and the thermal sensor are activated. In the trade, these devices are called, for example:
- Dual smoke detector;
- thermo-optical smoke detectors;
- Heat/Smoke Detector;
- Smoke detector with combined smoke and thermal sensor.
Are there smoke detectors without LEDs?
The LED on most smoke alarms will pulse every 40 to 60 seconds. Depending on the model, this either means that the smoke detector is working. Or exactly the opposite, for example that the battery is weak or the device has a malfunction. Some smoke alarm manufacturers have recognized that the flashing LED bothers some people, for example if you are a light sleeper. The following solutions are available on the market for this problem:
- Smoke detector without LED;
- Smoke detectors where the LED only lights up when there is a fault;
- Smoke detectors where the LED only flashes during the day.
For the deaf: hearing-impaired modules
If there is a fire, normal smoke detectors warn you with a shrill signal. This does not help people who can hear poorly or not at all. Some manufacturers therefore offer smoke detectors that warn you of a vibrating handpiece. The handset protects you at night if you put it under your pillow, for example. In addition, the smoke detectors warn with a stronger optical signal than normal smoke detectors.
More posts in this series
The following articles have appeared in this series on the topic of smoke detectors:
- Infos zur Legislation for smoke detectors;
- installation of smoke detectors;
- maintenance of smoke detectors;
- errors with smoke detectors.
I can recommend the following video:
- ARD report " House or apartment fire: How to behave properly.", duration approx. 6 minutes.