What Are Smart Smoke Detectors and How Do They Work?

Can a smart home save your life?

Smart smoke detectors operate much like traditional smoke detectors: They sound an alarm when smoke or fire is detected, providing as much warning as possible for residents to evacuate in the event of a house fire.

Where smart smoke detectors have an edge is in their ability to send a notification to your phone when the alarm is triggered—even if you are away from home. Smart smoke detectors (like those that are part of the Nest product line) can also notify you when the battery gets low or if there is a problem with the sensors in the unit.

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's a problem. Most smart smoke detectors also incorporate carbon monoxide detection.

If your smart smoke detector integrates with your home automation system, it can leverage the features and sensors of your smart home to detect light or heat that much faster.

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 accidentally burn a batch of peanut butter cookies and trigger a false alarm, you can use the phone app to silence the alarm.

If you have multiple smart smoke detectors synced up, all of them should sound alarms even if only one is triggered. Additionally, the notification you receive from your smart home hub can help you determine which alarm has been triggered.

If you are away from home and receive a concerning notification, you can notify emergency services quickly and potentially avoid serious damage.

Smart Smoke Detector Power and Connectivity Concerns

Smart smoke detectors have workarounds for when the power or internet is out. Even if your smart smoke detector is hard-wired into your electrical system, the backup battery system should take over during a power outage.

If there is an internet outage, several smart smoke detector models can also use Bluetooth to communicate with your cellphone (if you are home) or with your smart home system when an alarm is triggered. As long as your smart home hub or system has cellular connection capabilities, it's possible it can use a standard cellular signal to send notifications to you and emergency services.

However, not all smart home automation systems feature cellular connectivity and some options may require an additional device and possibly a monthly fee for a cellular connection. If internet or power outages are common in your area, choosing an option that offers cellular connectivity provides peace of mind that may be worth the extra cost.

What Are Listeners and How Do They Work?

If you have a fairly large home or have several smoke detectors to replace, you might want to invest in a listener. Listeners are devices that plug into a standard wall outlet (and include a battery backup) that listens for your smoke detector alarm. If your smoke detector alarm sounds, the listener device is designed to send a notification to an app on your phone.

The drawback to using a listener is that because it doesn't actually communicate with the smoke detector, you can't silence false alarms. You also miss out on the carbon monoxide detection, self-monitoring of battery life, and sensor function features.

However, if you have to replace your smoke detectors over time instead of all at once, a listener is a smart way to keep you updated should a traditional smoke alarm in your home go off.

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, they tend to lack the ability to self-test or communicate with other smoke detectors in your home.

Where to Buy Smart Smoke Detectors

Smart smoke detectors are available at many home improvement, consumer electronics, and online retailers. Even some household goods stores carry smart smoke detectors.

Installing Smart Smoke Detectors

If you are unsure of anything when installing hard-wired smart smoke detectors, it's best to get help or hire someone with certified electrical know-how to ensure correct installation.

The typical 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.

If you are installing more than one, it's best to insert the batteries and perform testing and pairing before mounting them on the wall. (For testing and pairing, the devices will come with step-by-step instructions.)

Hard-wired smart smoke detectors require you to turn off the power to your home at the breaker box while following the instructions to connect your smart detectors.

Making the Switch to Smart Smoke Detectors

If you're on the fence about whether smart smoke detectors are worth the investment, consider the following points:

  • Fire safety experts recommend replacing smoke detectors at least every 10 years. Many homes have smoke detectors older than 10 years, which increases the risk of sensor malfunction or failure. If your smoke detectors need to be replaced, the additional safety features of smart smoke detectors over traditional smoke detectors are worth the price difference.
  • If you have a smart home system, adding smart smoke detectors that integrate with your existing system gives you added functionality you would not get with traditional smoke detectors. When part of a connected home, you can set your system to flash lights (or change colors for colored smart light bulbs), and you can also shut down your HVAC system from your phone during a fire or carbon monoxide event—a feature that fire safety experts agree can give you and your family more time to get out safely.
  • Updated building codes set to go into effect within the next decade require homes with multiple smoke detectors to be synced or connected, whether through wiring or through smart home technology. This ensures that when one alarm is triggered, all of the alarms in the home will sound. Choosing smart smoke detectors now puts you ahead of the curve.
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