Electrical Question: How Do Smoke Detectors Work?

Smoke detectors have been a standard part of homes for long enough now that homeowners rarely think about them. However, it’s important to make certain they receive proper installation, updates, maintenance, and repairs so they continue to keep you and your family prepared for emergencies.

If you’ve ever been curious about how smoke detectors do their job, we have some answers for you. If you are interested in updating your smoke detector to one of the newer models, have a talk with our electricians at HB Energy Solutions. For all things electrical in Southern Vermont, they are the right people to come to.

The basics of the smoke detector

The most common kind of smoke detector in homes today is the photoelectric model. These devices use a beam of light that can determine when there is excessive smoke in a room. Smoke particles scatter light, which then deflects from the main light beam and onto a sensor. The sensor then activates the horn to signal there is too much smoke in the room. Photoelectrical sensors are excellent at detecting the most common kinds of household fires, which smolder and produce large amounts of smoke: a good example would be a mattress fire.

Another type of smoke detector is the ionization detector, which is better at detecting the smaller amount of smoke that comes from fires that are mostly flame. These detectors contain a radioactive element called americium-241 (in a small enough amount to be harmless) inside an ionization chamber, where a battery runs voltage through two metal plates. The americium produces alpha particles that ionize the oxygen and nitrogen in the chamber, and if smoke enters the chamber to interrupt the current of ions moving toward the plates, it sets off the alarm.

There are dual sensor smoke detectors that combine the features of both if you would like s wider range of options for smoke detection. In general, we recommend the photoelectric model for most homes.

Maintain your smoke detector

No matter what kind of smoke detector you have guarding your house, you need to know it is working properly. You should test your smoke detectors once a month and replace the batteries whenever the low-power warning sound comes on.

Hard-wired detectors need electricians

Many smoke detectors are hard-wired into the walls, so for proper installation or replacement you will need an electrician to handle the job. Call us at HB Energy Solutions and speak to our smoke detector experts. They can handle any installations or problems with your electrical system in Southern Vermont in order to keep your family safe.

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