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‘Smoke detectors’

Photo or Ion? Battery, battery backup or power?  Which one do you need and why can’t you simply forget about them? Finally, why are the instructions the very last thing you find crammed into the very last little corner on the ‘instructions’ sheet?

If you smoke and tend to fall asleep in your chair the heat and flames that melt the air will alert the ionization detector, but it will very likely be too late for you… so you need a photoelectric detector that ‘sees’ the smoke.

Photoelectric detectors could be called, ‘oops you fell asleep and dropped your cigarette detectors’. Some detectors sense both heat and smoke, but not necessarily in that order. You don’t care which, just follow the dog.

Battery or power?

If you are building a house or installing a detector where none existed before you want a battery powered detector. There are three basic types… AA, 9-volt and 10-year lithium. If the lithium battery expires before ten years it’s likely under warranty. After ten years you buy another detector.

Change AA and 9-volt batteries every three to six months, using the takeouts in other devices, like flashlights and radios. Backup batteries only serve the detector when the power goes out, so you can replace them every year.

If you are replacing a smoke detector supplied by 120 volt power (house power), you have two choices… choose a 120 volt detector, or install a battery detector in a new location.

It’s a rule, you can’t install a battery detector over the power box of a powered detector, unless the manufacturer specifically states that you can. Maybe it’s detector materials, maybe electrical interference, maybe neither, but some brands say ‘don’t do it’.

If you forget about your smoke detectors, they will forget about you.

Dusting your detector might make it grouchy and it will chirp and grumble. Use the ball duster on the vacuum every month like a good soldier. I know it sucks, but it’s necessary.

Paint your detector only when you want to replace it or use it as ‘art’. Boring institutional white is all the rage in contemporary design these days.

So power right?

In most home cases power or ‘hardwired’ means 120 volts. Three wires, black white green and perhaps a fourth wire of some other color. First, turn off the power because black bites! Even if black doesn’t bite, white bites if black is still connected. Green doesn’t bite. We like green.

Also… if you are changing a light switch either one, black or white can bite you.

If you want to work with the power ON forget the detector, natural selection will likely get you before a fire does. You are the reason most of the instructions talk about safety and not installation. Thank you for that.

The other wire…

Some detectors are designed to ‘chat’ with each other, so when gossip has it there’s a fire in a back room, the detector near you can tell you about it. In hardwired (powered) systems that’s likely the purpose of the fourth wire. Battery powered systems communicate wirelessly on a private channel.

Systems means ‘more than one’ detector.

A single detector is not a ‘system’, it’s a thing and it’s not human so it likely doesn’t talk to itself. Systems usually talk to each other or to someone. Sometimes they dial out for a pizza or more likely the fire station.

Fire control is ‘life safety’ and your home Wi-Fi controller is not. If it were it might include security and some means to keep it operational when the power goes out and that’s expensive. You can go there but it will cost you and sometimes it requires a service contract.

Finally, when a man ‘broils’ there’s going to be smoke… it’s a gender thing and whether the man is sensitive or not, the smoke detector is. And because renters tend to tamper with smoke detectors as an American right, not to be confused with ‘the American right’, anti-tamper provisions had to be added.

So you need to be diligent to discover whether your smoke detector of choice can be de-sensitized or defeated when a man is ‘broiling’ in your house. It’s why God invented grills to be used outside. Men just do better outside. There’s a barbecue firing up every minute in Heaven. The sun always shines and smoke is never a problem.