Are you saddled with the responsibility of getting a smart smoke detector for your home, and don’t know what to look out for? You are in the right place, as this guide is aimed at showing you all you should look out for in a smart smoke detector. Do well to read and pay attention to the key points.
What Are Smart Smoke Detectors?
If there is one smart device for your home worth investing in, it is a smart smoke detector. While the types of sensors used (ionized or photoelectric sensors) are the same for both traditional and smart smoke detectors, that’s where the similarities end.
Smart smoke detectors incorporate self-testing features to monitor battery power and proper sensor function and send a notification to your phone if there is a problem.
Most models of smart smoke detectors also incorporate carbon monoxide detection into their features as well.
If your smart smoke detectors integrate with your home automation system, your connected home can use the capabilities of the smart smoke detectors along with sensors from other devices that detect heat and light to alert you faster should a fire occur.
How Smart Smoke Detectors Work
The easiest way to understand how smart smoke detectors work is to think of them as Wi-Fi smoke detectors. When an alarm is triggered, the smart smoke detectors use Wi-Fi or similar communication technology to connect to your smart home hub (if you have one) and an app on your smartphone.
If you just accidentally burned a batch of peanut butter cookies while watching the football game and it’s a simple false alarm, you can use the phone app to silence the alarm.
If you have multiple smart smoke detectors synced up, all of them will sound alarms even if only one is triggered. Additionally, the notification you receive on your phone or communications from your smart home hub can help you determine which alarm has been triggered to help you find the problem.
Some smart smoke alarms are much better than others at letting you know when there’s smoke around, both in terms of how quickly they detect smoke and the methods they use to let you know.
- Some smart models sound an alarm on your smartphone and through the alarm itself when triggered – this is the most helpful kind of smart alarm.
- Others will sound the alarm through the alarm unit itself, but then send texts or emails to your phone, rather than sounding an alarm on your phone.
So if you’re out of your home and not near your phone when the messages come through, you’ll have no way of knowing the alarm was sounding.
Pros: The best smart smoke alarms will trigger quickly and will sound the alarm on your phone, as well as through the alarm itself. They will have easy-to-use apps and be straightforward to set up, maintain, and use.
If you are away from home and receive a notification that is concerning, you can notify emergency services quickly and potentially avoid serious property damage.
If a system is professionally monitored instead of self-monitored, it provides even greater protection. For example, if you have a Frontpoint-monitored system, personnel will call you to verify the emergency when a smoke and heat sensor is triggered.
More than just alerting you to fire, a smart smoke alarm that’s compatible with other smart devices you own (or may purchase later) can be set up to perform other life-saving tasks, like shutting down your HVAC system during a fire, turning on your cameras to record, unlocking your front doors, and turning on smart lighting to make it easier for you to get out and firefighters to get in.
If there is no answer or an incorrect passcode is provided, emergency services will be dispatched to your home immediately—providing 24-hour protection, seven days per week—whether you are away, sleeping, injured, or otherwise indisposed.
Cons: The worst smart alarm we’ve seen isn’t really smart at all – it will send emails and texts to your phone when there’s smoke around, but it doesn’t sound the alarm through your phone. In one of our tests, it was slow to sound and in others, one sample tested failed to detect any smoke at all.
What Are Smart Batteries and How Do They Work?
Smart batteries are made to work with traditional smoke detectors and fit inside the standard battery case. The difference with smart batteries is they include the capability to send you a notification if the alarm is triggered or if the battery power is low.
While smart batteries are the least expensive option if you just want to receive a notification should the alarm go off when you are away from home, they lack the ability to self-test and monitor sensor function or to communicate with other smoke detectors in your home.
How many smart detectors do I need?
The number of smart detectors you need depends on the size and layout of your home. The National Fire Protection Association recommends installing a smoke alarm “inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement.”
CO alarms have similar requirements, so you don’t have to worry about installing extra detectors anywhere you wouldn’t normally place a smoke alarm. You’re not required to replace every device with a smart version, but note that by mixing smart detectors and non-smart detectors, important functions are lost — like the ability to alert you to the specific room that smoke has been detected in.
What to look for when shopping
- Smoke and CO:
Today, you want a detector that handles both smoke and carbon monoxide in a single device. There’s simply no point in forgoing carbon monoxide detection in any smoke alarm you install today, and all the alarms we tested to support both types. Note that, as discussed above, smart batteries and smart listeners do not actually detect smoke or CO directly, so you’ll need to ensure the actual alarms in your house do support types of detection if you decide to go that route.
- Detector sensitivity and accuracy:
It’s very difficult to scientifically test how well a smoke/CO detector does its primary job without actually burning your house down. That said, simulating smoky conditions can reveal a little about how sensitive a detector is. As well, you can consider the consensus about the underlying technology in a smoke detector. The Nest Protect, for example, uses a photoelectric split-spectrum sensor that is considered superior to the ionization sensor used in many older devices and which is more prone to false alarms.
- Notification variety:
A loud siren is expected, but voice alerts are quite handy: They not only tell you what type of hazard has been detected but also alert you to its location and can even tell you how to. Color-coded lights on the alarm itself are another plus. And, of course, speedy push notifications to your phone are a must in the smart alarm space.
- Multiple users:
Obviously, you’re safest if more than one person receives a push alert that there’s a fire in the house. Look for a system that supports multiple users through an invitation system.
Some devices support an interconnectivity feature, so if one alarm goes off, all the other alarms in the house will go off as well. This can be a big benefit if you have a very large home and fear you might not hear an alarm going off elsewhere in the house. We didn’t test interconnectivity features in our review since we tested single alarms individually, so check specifications when shopping if this feature sounds useful.
Smart home hub support: If you want to integrate your smoke alarm with the rest of your home, consider whether it is supported by a major smart home hub. The Nest Protect is obviously tied to the Nest ecosystem, but Alexa, SmartThings, and HomeKit options are also available.
Note that we had lackluster results with several of these hooks—and even if you do connect the alarm to your smart home hub, the ultimate usefulness of this connection can be limited.
That said, when paired with a smart thermostat, some smart smoke alarms can trigger the thermostat to shut down your HVAC system, so that smoke isn’t pulled into your ventilation system and circulated all-around your home.
Installing Smart Smoke Detectors
Installation of smart smoke detectors depends on whether they are battery-powered or hard-wired. Battery-powered smart smoke detectors are the easiest to install as you can mount them on any wall (or ceiling) the same way you would any other item such as a painting or decorative shelf.
If you are installing more than one, it’s best to insert the batteries in all of them and perform testing and pairing first before mounting them on the wall (for testing and pairing, the devices will come with step-by-step instructions for you to follow).
Hard-wired smart smoke detectors require you to turn off the power to your home at the breaker box while you remove your old hard-wired traditional smoke detectors and follow the instructions to connect your smart detectors.
If you are unsure of anything when installing hard-wired smart smoke detectors, it’s best to request assistance or hire someone with electrical know-how to ensure correct installation.
After going through the above review, we believe your question has been answered. Now that you know what to look out for in a smart smoke detector, you can go ahead and get one for yourself.
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