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

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Understanding Why These Two Devices Are Not Always Interchangeable

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. Protecting your home with the proper device can help you ensure that your home and family are safe in the worst-case scenario. Here’s what you need to know about the difference between a smoke detector and a fire alarm.

How They Work

At their core, a smoke detector and a fire alarm share the primary goal of detecting and alerting occupants to potential fire hazards. Essentially, a smoke detector is designed to sense 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 the smoke detector is triggered, it sends a signal to sound an alarm to notify everyone that they need to reach for a fire extinguisher if the flames are low enough to put out the flames or give everyone the chance to get out of the home or building if it is more serious. 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 life and it's probably a good idea to test it.

Do I need a smoke detector or fire alarm?

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 the fire alarm is correctly connected to all the smoke detectors in the home. Smoke detectors need to be in the major areas of the home, including one in every bedroom.

Choosing to not have a working fire alarm or smoke detector could put your home and family at risk. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, “the risk of dying in reported home structure fires is 55 percent lower in homes with working smoke alarms than in homes with no alarms or none that worked.” The NFPA also reported that “almost three out of five home fire deaths were caused by fires in properties with no smoke alarms (41 percent) or smoke alarms that failed to operate (16 percent).”

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 extra precautions for their home and the people within it can enjoy the following advantages with the right fire alarm.

  • Sprinkler Systems: Put the fire out immediately with integrated sprinkler systems.

  • Automatic Communication: Alarm box to call authorities as soon as the system is triggered for rapid assistance.

  • Assistance for Vulnerable Residents: Transmitters call for help if the resident is elderly or otherwise impaired.

  • Adaption for Diverse Needs: Warning lights in addition to sound 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 to ensure that everything is working properly and that it will continue to work without fail for the foreseeable future. That way, if the worst-case scenario ever does occur, you will be able to get everyone in your home out safe and sound and call the proper authorities as soon as possible.

The right mechanism for you depends on the size of your home as well as the people living in it. Contact Brinks Home™ today for a free quote and learn how life and home safety devices can protect your home and family from a multitude of scenarios. Invest in the safety of your home today and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with robust fire detection and customized alarm system tailored for your life.


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