Two types of smoke detectors with two different technologies; what's the best for your home?

WEST PALM BEACH - There are two types of smoke detectors that use different technology to alert you to a fire, but many people do not know what type they have in their own home.

Two college students with two bright futures, cut short by roaring fires.

“If the detector did go off, by the time it went off, it was too late,” said Doug Turnbull.

Fathers united in grief are sounding an alarm.

“Our kids would probably be alive today had their been photoelectric detectors in the houses,” said Turnbull.

Smoke detectors use two different types of technology. Photoelectric alarms detect smoldering fires faster, but the alarm in most homes uses ionization technology.

The Consumer Watchdog spoke with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue spokesman, Jeff Heinz, about the photoelectric alarm.

“It's going to detect flash fires, fires with big flames,” said Heinz.

Manufacturers are rolling out more photoelectric alarms, like the $129 Nest Alarm tested by Consumer Reports. It has handy features, such as, for false alarms it turns off when you wave your hand in front of it. It picked up the smoky fire quickly, but not the flaming fire because it only uses photoelectric technology.

“Nobody really knows what type of fire you're going to have in your house,” said Heinz.

At a house in Cleveland, Ohio, the Consumer Watchdog tested smoke detectors. During a smoldering fire, the ionization detector, found in 90% of homes, sounded nine minutes after the photoelectric alarm. The room was so smoky, the firefighters were breathing through oxygen tanks. In government testing, the difference was even larger by a full thirty minutes.

The Consumer Watchdog asked Heinz what consumers should do to try and pick out the right alarm. Heinz said, “Ideally from NFPA, it is recommended to have both. So either you can get each type of alarm and have them in your home or get a combo alarm that has both technologies in it.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission and leading fire safety groups recommend both alarms, but you wouldn’t know that from most packaging. You have to read the fine print on the back to see that warning.

If you don't want to buy one of each alarm, you can buy a dual alarm with both technologies in it. Consumer Reports recommends the Kiddie Alarm for $23.

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