Return to the Home Page
HOME>Buyer's Centre

| E-mail me: |


Smoke Detector Controversy

In January 2000, a Canadian public affairs television program, W-Five, reported that the most common smoke detectors on the market do not detect smouldering fires and companies that sell them failed to inform the public of the device's limitations. A few weeks later, independent testing was conducted which disputed the program's claims. The result is consumers who are concerned about the safety of their families and the accuracy of both reports. 

The research used by W-Five was provided by Texas A&M University, reportedly a leading testing lab for smoke detectors. Tests showed that both ionization and photoelectric style smoke detectors failed to sound alarms within the legal time limit. As well, in three out of four of their tests on ionization alarms, all 11 of them failed to detect smouldering fire three metres away. This is in violation of safety standards both in Canada and the United States. 

Ionization alarms are triggered when smoke particles interrupt ion current that flows between two metal plates. Photoelectric alarms use a beam of light to detect the presence of visible smoke particles.

Different fires produce different types of smoke and some are more easily detected by the ionization alarms. Smouldering fires, such as couch fires, failed to trigger alarms in the Texas A&M research. Kitchen fires, which produce more smoke particles, were easier to detect. 

In the United States, a leading manufacturer of ionization alarms has been sued for product failure. In July 1998, First Alert was found liable and forced to compensate a couple who lost a child in a fire. The judge ruled that First Alert ignored more than 400 complaints about its detectors and was ordered to pay US$20-million. In another case, the court awarded US$50-million after a First Alert alarm failed to warn them of a fire that killed two children.

The shadow of doubt that has been cast over smoke alarms has raised concern among fire fighters. The head of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has expressed his hope that people will continue to use and maintain their smoke alarms. This controversy also prompted the Underwriter's Laboratories of Canada (ULC) to conduct its own studies on alarm effectiveness published in February 2000. Their report states that both types of alarms detect all types of smoke and give people enough warning to evacuate their homes in the event of fire. 

When the ULC questioned the integrity of Texas A&M's research, the head researcher's response was they had wanted to test the detectors in "real-world fire situations" instead of following the ULC's standard methods. 

Consumer safety should not hinge on test methods but unfortunately the controversy continues. The silver lining may be that eventually smoke alarms will be improved and new products will be introduced. 

In the meantime, consumers are advised to use both ionization and photoelectric detectors. If you currently have a photoelectric type, invest in an ionization detector and visa versa. Since research seems to indicate a limited detection range try to have one in each room. Combination alarms (which perform both functions) are available starting at about $40. Smoke detectors should also be interconnected so that when one alarm sounds there is a chain reaction. Those few extra seconds can make the difference between safety and tragedy. - By Lisa Harrison

What You Need to Know About Smoke Detectors

Everyone dreads the idea of a fire destroying his or her home. It's hard to imagine the treasured possessions accumulated over a lifetime turned to ashes and charred remains. Even more difficult is coping with the irreplaceable loss of loved ones. Fortunately, much of this could be prevented. The number of reported fires in houses with smoke alarms is 10 times less than in those without alarms. 

Most people realize that detectors are their best protection in a fire yet approximately 13% of Canadian households don't use them. A lack of information and reluctance to make the investment seem to be the main reasons. These homeowners put themselves in danger when they are most vulnerable. Statistically, the worst fires occur in the evening when people are sleeping. By the time they smell smoke or feel heat, the fire is rampant and the occupants of the home can become trapped or overcome by the carbon monoxide present in smoke. Alarms are designed to sound at the first sign of smoke increasing the odds that both the residents and their possessions will survive. 

It's important to be aware that there are different types of fires and different types of detectors. Ionization alarms are triggered when smoke particles interrupt the ion current that flows between two metal plates. The advantage of these detectors is that the smoke can be invisible to the human eye, while remaining "visible" to the ionization detector. The ion conductivity is produced by a tiny amount of radioactive material-Americium-241 (or AM-241). Some research has been done which indicates ionization detectors may not be very good at detecting smouldering fires which produce small amounts of particles. These detectors work best in smoky fires such as kitchen fires. 

Photoelectric devices work on an entirely different principle-smoke particles cross a steady beam of light and set off the alarm much like a motion sensor. There are conflicting reports on the efficiency of this detector and it is recommended that homeowners invest in a dual photoelectric/ionization device which combines both functions. At the very least, if you already have an ionization device you should invest in a photoelectric version and visa versa. 

For greater protection install at least three alarms-one in the living room (41 percent of fatal fires start in the living room), one near the bedroom and one place few people think of-in the basement. Hot water heaters and furnaces in the basement can pose a significant fire hazard especially since a small fire there is likely to go unnoticed until the fire is too large to control. 

You should also consider wiring your detectors for a chain-reaction. Normally, an isolated fire would have to burn intensely before setting off alarms at the opposite end of the home. Chain-reaction alarms sound simultaneously at the first sign of smoke giving your family valuable minutes to get to safety. When you purchase alarms, ask about connective wiring options. 

Remember that tradition noise-producing alarms are ineffective for occupants who are deaf or hard of hearing. There have been great new innovations in the warning signal itself. A new product, The Scent of Life Signalling Device releases a pungent aerosol spray into the air when smoke is detected. This device also works well in high noise level areas. For more information on this product check out Strobe light alarms are also effective for the hearing impaired but must be placed well within view. If you opt for a strobe alarm for residential use be sure to place one in the bedroom. 

The annual fire-death rate in houses without alarms is 130 deaths per million households. By installing several battery-operated detectors in each house, that rate would be reduced by almost two-thirds. Battery operated models range from $20-50. The safety rates are even better with wired-in smoke detectors which have been mandatory in new housing since 1980. These devices are more heat-resistant and reliable than battery operated alarms. Wired-in systems cost approximately $500. 

Whichever system you choose be sure to follow installation and maintenance instructions. Battery operated models will either use staggered beeps or a blinking light to indicate low power. Don't wait that long though-install new batteries when you change your clocks for daylight savings time in the spring and fall. You and your family will sleep easy knowing you're protected. Hopefully the only alarm you'll hear when you're sleeping will have a snooze button!

Try our Auto Home Search absolutely FREE!  Click Here.  Not only will you be notified by e-mail of all new listings that match your search criteria within our web site, but your home search will also be compared against other participating agents listings within your desired area(s). All new listings added to the system that match your criteria will be emailed to you. 

| Here's what people are saying about Mark |
Hotsheet & Newsletter Signup | Personal Home Shopper | Guide to Saving Money
| How Do I Know What I Want |
Do I Need a Buyer's Agent? | Getting Ready for the Move | Love It or Leave It - My Guarantee | Order Your Home Buyer's Kit
    Click to launch Website

Free Home Buyer's Handbook Online
PLUS Additional Free Information You Can Order Here

Order your Home Buyer's Handbook Here

For an interactive map of Halifax filled with neighbourhood information and useful links, click here.

In addition to our comprehensive website offering you all types of information on real estate, we have also gathered a large volume of material that we believe will help you even more in your decision making process for your home purchase. Please feel free to order as much material as you need.

We are available to help in any way and answer questions that may be unique to your own personal situation.

Here are a few handy links:

Home Fix-up (Hometime TV Show)

Home Inspection Companies:

AmeriSpec Home Inspection Company

Pillar to Post Home Inspections

©2002-2003 Mark Lummis. Any reproduction of this site is prohibited.
Website Design & Hosting:


Email me anytime Find out more about Mark & his proven marketing techniques! Find out more about Mark & his proven marketing techniques!