Types of Smoke Detectors and Their Placements in the Home

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), around 26% of fires that occurred in the United States from 2015 to 2019 started as house fires. What’s worse is that 75% of fire deaths were caused by house fires. Hence, to protect yourself and your family from fires, it’s critical to install a fire alarm at your home.

What are the types of smoke detectors?

There are two kinds of smoke detectors for household use: ionization alarms and photoelectric alarms. Let’s take a look at their key features so you can choose the appropriate one:

Ionization Alarm

Ionization alarms contain a tiny amount of radioactive material. This kind of smoke alarm generates a current that is triggered by smoke particles, setting off the alarm. Since they are very sensitive, they are suited for fast-flaming fires that don’t emit a lot of smoke, like burnt wiring. With that said, they’ll likely cause false alarms in the kitchen, so it’s best to keep them in the bedroom.

Photoelectric Alarm

Photoelectric alarms are pricier than ionization alarms, but they’re better at detecting smoldering fires. In other words, they respond rapidly to fires that burn for hours. Photoelectric alarms rely on a photocell and a light beam that faces away from the former. When smoke enters the alarm, it “scatters” the light emitted by the beam. As the light hits the photocell, it triggers the alarm.

What are the other types of alarms?

There are other types of alarms that you should consider installing in your house:

  • Carbon Monoxide Alarm. If your gas appliances such as your gas oven, stove, etc., and HVACs aren’t well-ventilated or well-maintained, they can cause a carbon monoxide leak. Exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) can be extremely dangerous.
  • Heat Alarm. A heat alarm detects a sudden rise in heat instead of smoke, making them ideal for kitchens and the like.
  • Dual-Sensor Alarm. A dual-sensor alarm is an ionization alarm and photoelectric sensor in one. Hence, it responds to both slow-burning and fast-burning fires. It’s your best bet for bedrooms, dining rooms, and so on.

Where should you place smoke detectors?

Fires can start anywhere, which is why you should always install a fire alarm or two. As a rule of thumb, install fire alarms all around your house, particularly in areas such as:

  • Bedrooms. Install a fire alarm inside and outside every bedroom on every floor. That way, you’ll know that you’ll be woken up in case a fire starts while you’re fast asleep.
  • Staircase. If a fire breaks out, smoke will likely go through the stairs. Install a smoke detector at the top of the stairs to alert you or your family members. If you have a basement, you have all the more reason to install a fire alarm by the stairs.
  • Kitchen. Fire will likely start in the kitchen. Make sure your kitchen has a smoke detector and sprinklers.
  • Living Room. Does your living room have a fireplace? If so, protect yourself and your family by installing an alarm. Remember, around 25,000 fires start in fireplaces each year.

What should you keep in mind when placing smoke detectors?

Position your fire alarms properly. When installing a fire alarm, remember these tips from the NFPA:

  • Install smoke alarms at least ten feet from a cooking appliance like an oven or stove.
  • Keep in mind that smoke rises, so install smoke alarms on the ceiling. Wall-mounted alarms should be mounted not more than one foot from the ceiling.
  • Do not paint smoke alarms or add decorations that could affect their functionality.
  • Interconnect your fire alarms. That way, when one sounds, all will sound.


Fire alarms can save your life, so having them in your home is non-negotiable. To protect yourself and your family, hire a professional to inspect the fire-prone areas in your house. You can also call a technician to check your appliances so they don’t pose a fire risk.