Smoke detectors are one of the most important devices we have in our homes, yet they are also one of the most overlooked as well. The bottom line is that they save lives and people should give more thought to make sure they have good quality alarms and also ensure that they are working.
So what should a buyer look for? There are two main types of sensors that detectors employ – photoelectric and ionization. Most models have just an ionization sensor that works for detecting flaming fires. Photoelectric sensors detect smoldering smoke. So the best smoke alarms will have both sensors, but you can also use a combination of both types placed in strategic spots throughout your house.
Buyers should also be aware that they can be powered either by batteries or hard-wired into your electrical system. Those that are hard-wired can be more difficult to install, but are more likely to work in the event of an emergency. Interconnected alarms are another feature to look for. These models can communicate with each other so that when one alarm goes off, they all go off. These are typically hard-wired, but there are now wireless options available.
Below we review our choices for the top 10 best smoke detectors.
We ranked the $27 First Alert BRK 3120B as our best smoke alarm. This unit is also recommended by the leading consumer magazine. It is hardwired for power and connectivity with 2 AA batteries providing backup power. The dual sensors work great at detecting hot or smoldering fires to protect you and your home. Overall there is nothing really to complain about with this First Alert model, however since it is hardwired it can be a bit of a pain to install.
If the $28 Kidde RF-SM-DC smoke alarm had dual sensors it probably would have scored our top rating, however it only has an ionization sensor. It also is not hardwired, but instead powered by 3 AA batteries and features wireless interconnectivity which makes it very convenient to install in any home. If you do purchase this model you want to install a photoelectric sensor somewhere in your house as well.
One of the cheapest units on our list is the Kidde i4618 alarm which sells for about $13.25. It is hardwired, interconnected, and features a 9V battery backup. The i4618 only has an ionization sensor so again we recommend that you install a photoelectric sensor in conjunction with this smoke detector.
If you don’t need networked detectors then we highly suggest you look at the First Alert SA320CN which will cost about $25. Powered by 2 AA batteries this model features dual sensors which work great at detecting smoke or fire. The SA320CN is a perfect choice for small homes that only need one alarm.
The $99 2nd generation Nest Protect is like peering into the future. This thing is beautiful and works amazingly well as part of a smart home with wireless connectivity and an app that you can use to control it. Besides being just a smoke alarm, it also is a carbon monoxide alarm and can be either hardwired for AC power or powered by 6 AA batteries depending on the unit you buy. The main drawback is the price. At $99 for one device this thing is expensive, especially if you have a large home that will require several units.
The First Alert SA501CN2 is a battery powered, wireless networked model that costs about $90 for a 2-pack. It requires 2 AA batteries to operate and the units will be interconnected so that when one goes off, so will the other. It, however, only has a photoelectric sensor and not an ionization sensor. The SA501CN2 would make a good choice for anyone who needs a simple 2-unit system that is interconnected.
If you are looking for a cheap smoke and carbon monoxide alarm then take a look at the $24 Kidde KN-COSM-BA. It is the best-selling alarm on Amazon and powered by 3 AA batteries. It can not network with other models and features only an ionization sensor, so it is best for small homes that only need one unit.
The cheapest smoke detector on our list is the First Alert BRK 9120B which is priced at just above $12. This model is hardwired for AC power and connectivity with a 9V battery for backup power. It only has an ionization sensor, so it is best used in conjunction with other models including at least one photoelectric model.
The $30 Kidde Pi2010 is a hardwired AC unit with a 9V battery backup and received a recommendation from the leading consumer magazine. It is interconnected and features dual sensors. Unfortunately The biggest problem is that is seems to give off a lot of false alarms – which has resulted in a lot of 1-star reviews recently on Amazon.
This dual sensor model will set you back about $23. It is powered by a 9V battery and is not interconnected. When the Kidde Pi9010 works it does work well, however the main problem reported from many buyers is that they fail prematurely – typically by setting off the alarm even when no smoke or fire is present. However, it is still a decent buy for someone who wants a battery powered alarm considering that it has both photoelectric and ionization detectors and is pretty cheap.