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What is a Smart Smoke Detector?

Last Updated Jan 3, 2022
Smart smoke detector
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Every home has smoke detectors. Its required by law. Each region has specific laws but generally, each room will have a smoke detector in or close to it. They are a staple in any home and most people only interact with it when they need new batteries.

Smart smoke detectors are making there way onto the scene, but what exactly is a smart smoke detector? A smart smoke detector is not much different than a traditional smoke detector as its main function is to alert you when it senses a fire. Smart smoke detectors take it a step further and alert you with a notification to your phone, whether you are home or not.

Smart smoke detectors also alert you when your batteries are low, saving you from the very annoying beeping the traditional smoke detectors let off when their batteries are low. We are all familiar with that beep, I’m sure.

You can also find smart smoke detectors that monitor air quality and weather as well. Sometimes through external devices that work in tandem with the smoke detectors.

When there is a problem in your home, you want to know as soon as possible, especially if that problem is a fire. If you are away from your home, or maybe have a second home somewhere else, getting a notification of a fire can make all the difference.

Lets take a closer look at how these things really work, and figure out if they are worth the upgrade.

How Smart Smoke Detectors work?

Smart smoke detectors work just like the traditional smoke detector you have in your house now. When it senses a fire, it tells you. How it tells you is the big difference.

The traditional smoke detector beeps or chirps until you poke it a few times. That’s it. It keeps beeping if the batteries are low.

A smart smoke detector will notify you through your phone and actually tell you where the issue is. If you aren’t home, you are still in tune with what’s going on at the house.

Look at the Nest Protect, the leading smart smoke detector out right now. When there is an issue, it will actually talk to you and tell you where it is.

“Heads-Up. There’s smoke in the (room name). The alarm may sound.”

Nest Heads Up Warning

Nest Actually tells you whats going on and where the problem is. Pretty cool, right?

There is also visual cues that relay the alarm with color. With Nest, a warning glows in yellow and an emergency flashes red.

Most Smart detectors also come with Carbon Monoxide warnings too. Now, this feature isn’t specific to smart detectors but always good to point out. Here is what you will hear from Nest if it senses Co2:

(Alarm Sound) “Emergency. There’s carbon monoxide in the (room name). Move to fresh air.”

Nest Emergency Warning

Lets say you are away from home and your traditional smoke detector starts going off. There’s a fire in your kitchen. You better hope a neighbor hears it or sees it before it engulfs your entire home.

Now, same scenario but you have a smart smoke detector. The detector senses the fire and immediately sends you a notification. You aren’t home but alert the fire department ASAP! They arrive and save the day.

Or was it the smart smoke alarm that saved the day?

On top of that, most smart smoke detectors, like the Nest protect, have safety checkups to make sure everything is still in working order.

Although these things function essentially the same up to the alert, the added functionality of sending notifications after a problem is identified is huge!

The old ones get the job done, they have been working for a while now. Smart smoke detectors, in my opinion, work better.

Types of Smoke Detectors

If you aren’t familiar with smoke detectors in general, there are two main types of fire detection: Ionization and photoelectric. These two types detect fires differently, depending on how the fire is started.

Ionization smoke detectors are generally more responsive to flaming fires. Lets say you leave a candle to close to your new drapes and it catches them on fire. Ionization will alert you to this hazard quickly.

Flaming fires emit smaller particles that an ionization smoke detector will pick up quicker.

Photoelectric smoke detectors are more responsive to smoldering fires. Let’s say you are a smoker and one of your lit cigarettes finds its way to your couch somehow. It could be hours before a flame is produced but in that time the couch will be a smoldering mess.

Smoldering fires emit larger particles that the photoelectric smoke detector is better at recognizing and alerting to.

Determining which one is better is almost impossible. Both types do alert to fire, each just has advantages over the other based on the type of fire. Unless you have a crystal ball that sees the future, knowing what to expect is just a guessing game.

Smart smoke detectors will take it further by adding sensors that take from both of these detection methods. For example, Nest uses what they call a split-spectrum sensor. This sensor is great for catching flaming fires and smoldering fires. You can learn more about this sensor here.

While Nest has implemented there own smoke sensor, products like the Netatmo Smoke Alarm use what they call a high-performance photoelectric sensor.

Another competitor, Birdi, touts a sensor that also detects flaming fires and smoldering fires too.

What if the internet or power goes out?

With most smart devices, having an internet connection is key. With something as vital as a smart detector, what happens if the power or internet is interrupted. Will it still work? Will it still be able to still perform its most basic duty, detect fires?

Fret not. Your smart smoke alarm will still work without an internet connection. You won’t be able to control it remotely, though, or receive notifications.

Some smoke detectors only use batteries too, so power outage won’t affect them much. Internet outage will limit you to bluetooth notifications.

Some models will also offer Bluetooth connectivity. If your power or internet goes out and your home, you can still receive messages via Bluetooth if there is a fire.

The Netatmo only uses batteries but the batteries have a 10-year battery life span and switches to Bluetooth if there is an internet outage.

Nest Protect has an advantage if your smart home utilizes Nest products. Even without an internet connection, Nest products can still talk to each other through their Wireless Interconnect feature. If your smoke alarm detects smoke or CO2, not only with the smoke detector itself alert you but so will all of your other Nest products as well.

If you have a smoke detector that is hard wired into your house, they should also come with a battery back up that will take over if the unit loses power.

So, if you do have a smart smoke detector and the power or internet goes, you still have a functioning detector, just take away the smart.

What to look for in a smart smoke detector?

Smart Smoke detectors aren’t that different from your traditional smoke detector. With that being said, there are some smart features you are going to want to look out for. Not only smart features but those functional aspects most of us are likely to overlook.

  • Smoke detection. Ionization or Photoelectric sensors or maybe a combo of the two (more on this in the types of smoke detectors section). make sure the sensor your new detector is accurate and reliable.
  • CO2 detection. Every smoke detector these days should have CO2 sensors. I haven’t been able to find a smart one that doesn’t, so chances are you will be covered.
  • Notifications. No matter the smart smoke detector you choose, you will be receiving notifications if anything goes wrong. But how does it communicate with you when you are home. Sirens? Does it talk? Can it identify potential issues, like Nest, and warn you? All things to think about.
  • Smart home compatibility. make sure the device you choose fits into your smart home ecosystem.
  • Air quality. Some smart smoke detectors can monitor air quality, or in the case of the Netatmo, pair with an external air quality monitor.
  • Interconnectivity. Want your devices to work together in harmony? Check in to see what fits into where. I know the Nest Protect fits into Nests ecosystem and works in conjunction with other Nest products.
  • Company. Make sure the company who produces your smart smoke detector is going to be around for a while. Birdi, a smart smoke detector company went out of business basically rendering all of their products out “dumb”.


The installation will depend on whether the detector is hard-wired into your home or if it is battery powered. There are those detectors that are a combination of the two and do require a little more work, but not much.

For a hard wired detector, be sure to turn the power off to the circuit in your breaker. You will have to remove the existing smoke detector to make room for the new one. Follow the directions that came with your detector from there. We always say if you are uncomfortable with any of the electrical installation, get a pro to take care of it for you.

Here is a quick 3 minute video from Nest that goes over how to install the Nest Protect:

If the detector is only powered by batteries, you really wont have any problems. Insert the batteries and place the detector where it needs to go.

If you are installing multiple battery powered detectors at a time, be sure to test them first. If they are supposed to talk to each other, its easier to troubleshoot before they go up on the wall if there is a problem.

The Roost Battery

Maybe smoke detectors aren’t for you for whatever reason, but you would still like some of those smart features. Well then, the Roost Smart Battery was made for people like you. Its a solid, low priced alternative for adding some smarts to your existing smoke alarm.

Roost will retrofit your existing smoke detector into a smart smoke detector. But how? Its actually pretty simple.

Roost is a Wi-Fi connected 9-volt battery replacementt hat comes with its own app for notifications. It will sit in the detector and power it just like your old 9-volt battery and if the alarm sounds, it sends you an alert.

It listens for the alarm with its built-in microphone and takes action if it does ever go off. If there is a false alarm you can also snooze it from the app. Something that will extremely helpful to me as I can’t tell you how many dinners I have burnt in my lifetime.

They are pretty interesting in how they work so simple but really help you stay connected with your home detectors at all times.

Right now, the Roost is the only smart battery on the market but I don’t see that being the case forever. They are priced around $35 and won’t break the bank.

They do recommend you changing all of the batteries for smart ones if you do decide to go down this route. It makes for better coverage of the home.

These batteries are also supposed to last about 3-5 years. They notify you when they are running low on juice. The best part, you won’t need to buy a completely new unit! You can replace the battery portion for about $15 and reuse the rest.

One downfall with the Roost battery is the lack of inter-connectivity. If one of your smoke detectors does go off, it is going off alone or until smoke reaches another detector.

You also don’t have the ability to self test the detector either.

Smart Listeners

Smart listeners are another alternative to the smart smoke detector. They are pretty simple in how they work. You attach them to a wall, plug them into a power source and they listen for the smoke alarm. If it does go off, the listener will hear it and send you a notification.

Now, these aren’t great if you have a huge house. They do need to be in the range of the smoke detector. A lot of listeners also come with battery backups, just in case the fire decides to go out.

The Leeo smart sensor, coming out soon, includes a nightlight and humidity and temperature settings. In my opinion, all the extra features you can add to something like this, the better. I feel like they need a boost to prove they are actually worth it.

Leeo integrates with IFTTT so that could be interesting as well.

Are they worth it?

Lets be honest, we really hope to ever interact with smoke detectors when they are beeping for new batteries, at least we hope. If there were ever to be a fire of any sort in my house, I would want to know ASAP!

For something so vital when it comes to safety and prevention in the home, adding smart technology can and never will be a bad choice. The added convenience of warnings or getting notifications on my phone while I’m away from the home make smart smoke detectors 100% worth it.

To be fair, the old fashioned smoke detectors have worked for many, many years. And they will keep working for as long as we decide to keep them. But through innovation and societal acceptance and buy into connected homes, it might be time to let go of the past.

No one wants to have to deal with a fire and I hope everyone reading this never has to go through that. These things make that unfortunate event a bit easier to handle and manage, no matter where you are.

This space is not as crowded as other smart technologies, but most likely will be in the coming years.

Check out the Nest Protect. It was our clear favorite and the favorite of many other bloggers out there. It works and it works well. It’s sleek and looks good on the wall and has visual and voice alerts.

Now, they will be a bit of an investment upfront. But can you really put a price on the safety of your home or family? Expect the best but prepare for the worst. That’s what these things do, keep you prepared for the worst,

Imagine how much you could save if you caught that kitchen fir 15 minutes earlier when you were at work.

New laws Coming Up

There are new laws in the works across the country around smoke detectors. In the next decade or so it will be required that all smoke detectors in a home have the ability to connect with each other somehow. That could be through the internet or through hard wiring. Why not get a head start now and outfit your home with some good preventative smart home smoke detectors

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