If you have not shopped for a smoke alarm in the past few years, then you are likely only familiar with the two most common types of smoke alarms, ionization and photoelectric. Ionization smoke alarms use a small, radioactive isotope contained within an ionization chamber, this creates an electric current within the smoke alarm. When smoke interrupts that electric current, the alarm goes off. Photoelectric smoke alarms work quite differently, they work by projecting a light directly away from a sensor, when smoke enters the smoke alarm, the light is reflected into the sensor, which then triggers the alarm. Each type of smoke alarm senses a different type of fire faster. Ionization smoke alarms are quicker when it comes to detecting major fires, with a large flame. On the other hand, photoelectric smoke alarms are best at detecting fires that smoulder and release a lot of smoke. But, what if there was a smoke alarm that was fast at detecting both types of fires? Well, there is, and they are called “laser smoke alarms.”
Conceptually, laser smoke alarms work in the same way that photoelectric smoke alarms do. Laser smoke alarms have an internal laser and sensor. As with photoelectric smoke alarms, the laser is not shining into the sensor, but away from it. When smoke enters into the laser smoke alarm, it causes the laser to be reflected into the sensor, which then triggers the alarm.
This probably the main reason why you (and everyone else for that matter!) should be switching over to laser fire alarms when it comes time to replace your current set of fire alarms. If you use photoelectric or ionization fire alarms, then you are going to have to accept that they cannot detect all types of fires rapidly, this could potentially put you and your family at risk. Laser fire alarms can detect all types of fires equally.
The laser used in a laser smoke detector is extremely sensitive, meaning it can pick up even the faintest smoke particles. Any smoke alarm can pick up the smoke particles let off by a major blaze, but it can be difficult for smoke alarms to pick up the smoke particles let off by small fires that have just started. This is not the case with a laser smoke alarm. Because of the sensitivity of the laser (for those that do not know, laser literally stands for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”), even the smallest particle will be picked up. This means that the alarm can detect small fires, before they turn into major blazes. In terms of performance laser smoke alarms are much quicker at detecting fires than either ionization smoke alarms or photoelectric smoke alarms.
Now, you may be thinking “if the laser is very sensitive, that must mean it is more prone to false alarms?” You’d be justified in thinking that, after all, less sensitive fire alarms are prone to going off when toast is burned, so surely a more sensitive fire alarm will go off more often. But, you would be completely wrong. Laser fire alarms tend to use very technologically advanced algorithms to help prevent false alarms. To give you an example, regular photoelectric smoke alarms tend to have problems with dust. Dust settles in the photoelectric smoke alarm, which then messes with the light, which causes the alarm to trigger for no reason. With laser smoke alarms, the internal algorithms are quickly able to distinguish between a dust particle and a smoke particle, meaning that if your smoke alarm goes off, you know it is because there is a fire.
There are types of smoke detectors known as “aspirating smoke detectors.” They are not extremely common, so most people will not have heard of them. Aspirating smoke detectors work by having a central unit installed somewhere in the house, which analyses smoke brought to it by a series of pipes. These pipes are filtered to remove impurities, like dust, dirt, fluff, or anything that could interfere with the smoke detector. Aspirating smoke detectors are better than ionization or photoelectric smoke detectors, so you may be tempted to get an Aspirating smoke detector as opposed to a laser smoke detector. However, you should know that aspirating smoke detectors are extremely expensive and time consuming to install, because you have to get the pipes installed, in addition to the central unit. Laser smoke detectors are just as good as aspirating ones, but with the added bonus of being extremely easy to install. So, if you go to get your smoke alarms upgraded, and someone recommends that you get an aspirating system installed, do not, because laser smoke alarms are just as good, while being a fraction of the price.
By now it should be pretty clear to everyone that laser smoke detectors are the best option for keeping you, your family, and your home same from fires. Smoke alarms are legally required to be in your home (not only in Australia, but in most western countries as well), this should be a signal to everyone that having working smoke alarms is important. But, many people do not put enough time and effort into selecting the right smoke alarm; even though selecting the right smoke alarm could be the difference between life, or serious injury and even death. There is no need to rush out and buy a new smoke alarm system right away, but next time your smoke alarms need to be replaced (the batteries of a smoke alarm need to be replaced at least once a year, smoke alarm systems need to be replaced every ten years), put some serious consideration into getting a laser smoke alarm system. Hopefully, you will never need to use it, but if a fire does break out, you will be glad you got a laser smoke alarm system.