Ionization Smoke Detectors Explained

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Ionization Smoke Detectors Explained

Staff Writer · Nov 5, 2009

A whole lot of us rely on an ionization smoke detector to alert us to fire danger in our homes. But what do we really know about this kind of fire alarm device? Looking at the particulars of the gear we use for house or apartment safety can give renters or homeowners more control over how they handle their own fire protection plan.

What Are Ionization Smoke Detectors?

The ionization smoke detector represents an impressive new technology for fire alarms. These types of smoke detectors can be cheaper than other alternatives. They are very often used in both homes and commercial spaces.

In an ionization smoke detector, the principle of the device is to detect fires through sampling interior air at a molecular level. The ionization smoke detector contains a very small amount of Americium, a radioactive element that acts in a specific way to maintain a chemical state inside of the smoke detector. When any smoke enters the smoke detector, it disrupts this chemical balance and sets off the alarm.

Are Ionization Smoke Detectors Safe?

Those testifying to the safety of the Americium in ionization smoke detectors say that the alpha rays emitted by this element cannot pass through a solid such as the plastic housing of the smoke detector. Some experts point out that the unlikely case of inhalation or ingestion of this element could be dangerous. However, the commonly accepted scientific standpoint is that ionization smoke detectors are clearly safe for home or commercial use.

Alternatives: Optical Smoke Detectors

A common alternative to an ionization smoke detector is a photoelectric smoke detector, or a similar kind of optical smoke detector. Smoke detectors that work on an optical principle use a beam of light to detect smoke. When smoke enters the smoke detector chamber, it disrupts light particles and causes the alarm to go off. Fire reports say that photoelectric smoke detectors are commonly better at identifying smoldering or smoky fires, and ionization smoke detectors are better at detecting fires that are flaming rather than smoking.

Because these two types of smoke detectors work well on different fire types, lots of homes and commercial spaces are outfitted with both. Fire safety planners also choose from wireless or hard-wired smoke detector units. Both of these may need periodic battery checks to make sure they are working properly. Buyers can also look for units that include carbon monoxide detection, or offer advance alarm systems, like strobe lights, voice alerts or other high tech offerings.

When it’s time to update your fire plan, think about the above types of smoke detection devices for adding fire safety to your house or apartment. You’ll see that lots of fire safety experts recommend a combination photoelectric/ionization device, outfitted with a simple 9 volt battery, for catching all fire types in interior spaces. Along with a good evacuation plan, these handy devices can save lives and help minimize the chances of losing all of your household possessions to a conflagration.

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