The following models scored the best results in our test.
|What to buy|
|First Alert SA302CNAUS Ultimate Dual Sensor
|Kidde PI9000 Dual Sensor
|First Alert SA710CNAUS (photoelectric)
# Discontinued model.
Recommended These models quickly detect smouldering fires, typically when the smoke obscuration is only 7% or less, and are also fast at detecting flaming fires. The dual sensor models contain both ionisation and photoelectric sensors.
Worth considering These models are all activate while the amount of smoke is fairly low, although not as consistently well as the recommended models. The Family Gard FG888DCAUS is the only ionisation model worth considering as it detected smouldering fires fast enough in most cases, but not as fast as the photoelectrics. If you buy this model, also install at least one photoelectric alarm for peace of mind.
Not recommended These models are not recommended due to their relatively poor performance in smouldering fires. If you only have one smoke alarm in your home, these (or any other ionisation model) should not be your first choice. However, if you have photoelectric alarms installed and want an additional safeguard against fast-flaming fires, these models are suitable.
Using the table
Scores The overall score is made up of:
The smouldering and flaming fire scores are based on the level of smoke obscuration at the time the alarm activated. The heavier the smoke obscuration, the lower the score. If the obscuration was 50% (very thick smoke), the alarm scored zero. High scores in either of these tests indicate the alarm activated when the smoke was still very light; visibility would be very good in these cases and you'd be able to easily find your way out of the house, or even have time to fight the fire if it was safe to do so.
Features See What to look for for details.
Price Recommended retail as at February 2010.
How we test
The smoke alarms are tested by an expert fire laboratory. A fire is started in a room with a smoke alarm positioned on the ceiling of an adjacent hallway, connected by an open doorway. The temperature, time of activation and level of smoke obscuration in the hallway are electronically logged.
Smoke obscuration is the key factor. Obscuration of 100% per metre means only one metre of visibility; you’d barely see your outstretched hand. The Australian Standard for smoke alarms requires photoelectric alarms to activate before obscuration gets worse than 20% per metre. Performance criteria for ionisation alarms are different.
We test with two types of fires:
Flaming fires Dry timber is set alight, producing flames quickly but initially with relatively little smoke.
Smouldering fires Polyurethane foam (commonly used in furniture) is placed over a hot soldering iron. Such fires can smoulder for a long time, gradually producing more and more smoke, before bursting into flames. If these fires occur at night, you can inhale their toxic smoke while sleeping, which makes waking – and escape – more difficult. Smoke inhalation is a major cause of death in fatal household fires.
Ease of use Our tester also assesses how easy it is to push each alarm’s test button, including the force required, how long the test takes to activate, and whether the button can be easily pressed with a broom handle (important if the alarm is mounted on a ceiling).
Susceptibility to nuisance alarms Even though this is a common complaint about smoke alarms, it’s difficult to test this properly so we reluctantly excluded this aspect from testing. Ionisation models are generally more prone to nuisance alarms than photoelectrics, particularly from cooking fumes. Steam can also cause nuisance alarms.
Photoelectric and dual sensor alarms are the best all-round performers. All the alarms tested respond fast enough to flaming fires, so our recommendations are based on their responses to smouldering fires. In this test, the dual sensor and photoelectric models clearly outperform the ionisation models. Most of the ionisation models are a little faster at detecting flaming fires, but not enough to outweigh their poor performance in smouldering fires.
There are many more models of smoke alarm on the market than we were able to test. But whichever you choose, make sure at least some are photoelectric or dual sensor models.