Smoke Detector vs. Fire Alarm: What’s the Difference?

Understanding why these two devices are not always interchangeable. 


September 7, 2020

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When it comes to homeowners discussing security, it’s easy to hear the words smoke detector and fire alarm being used interchangeably. But when it comes to how they actually go about protecting your home, there’s a little more to the story than that. Fires are caused every day for any number of reasons, whether someone’s in the home or not. Here’s what you need to know about the difference between a smoke detector and a fire alarm.

How They Work

Essentially, a smoke detector is a device that senses when there’s smoke around. So, if there’s any type of combustion   going on, whether it’s smoke arising from the oven or the cigarette butt that managed to light fire to the curtains, the smoke detector will be activated. Once this happens, it sends a signal to sound an alarm so that everyone has a chance to get out of the building. (Or, if the flames are low enough, to use a fire extinguisher to put them out.) When it comes to how the alarm is sounded, it may be triggered by the smoke detector itself or the detector may  send the signal to a connected fire alarm. Once triggered, the fire alarm will emit a high-pitched sound or flash warning lights for those with hearing impairments.

A fire alarm is triggered  by the smoke detector to alert residents to a potential fire. The smoke detector will sense the smoke, and may or may not make noise when it does. A  fire alarm going off for no reason  could potentially mean that you have a low battery and it’s probably a good idea to test it.

Who Needs What

Smoke detectors are generally seen in smaller homes while fire alarms are used in larger buildings. If you have a luxury home, it’s highly recommended that you get a working fire alarm. This way, if there’s a fire in one wing of the home, the central alarm will  alert everyone as opposed to just one section of the house. It’s also important to ensure that the fire alarm is correctly connected to all of the smoke detectors in the home. About 2/3 of fatalities from fires were caused because the owners of the property either didn’t have an alert system, or because their system wasn’t in working order. Smoke detectors need to be in the major areas of the home, including one in every bedroom.

Additional Benefits

People with fire alarms typically have more options than those with smoke detectors, so this is also something to keep in mind: a fire alarm can do a lot more than just make noise. Those who want to take the extra precautions for their home and the people within it can enjoy the following advantages from the right fire alarm.

  • Sprinkler systems to put the fire out immediately

  • Alarm box to call authorities as soon as the system is triggered

  • Transmitters to call for help if the resident is elderly or otherwise impaired

  • Warning lights for those with hearing impairments

Fire alarms that are more than 10 years  old should likely be looked at by a professional — especially if the home is on a connected system. It helps to have a trained technician ensure that not only is everything working properly, but also that it will continue to work without fail as the years roll by.

The right mechanism for you depends on the size of your home and as well as the people living in it. Calling Brinks Home™ today for a free quote  can make it easier to determine the right choice for you.

Lauren Slade is a Dallas-based writer and editor.

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