Last updated: August 10, 2021

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Fire alarms are compulsory in most countries for a reason. These inconspicuous little devices have already saved many lives. There are many different smoke detector models. Not all of them are equally suitable for private households or, for example, your workshop in the basement. The many different quality certificates can also be somewhat confusing. In this article you will find the most important information about fire alarms.

With our large fire alarm test 2021 we want to give you a good overview of the different devices so that you can find the ideal fire alarm for your needs. We have compared different models and functions and show you their advantages and disadvantages. To make your purchase decision easier, you will also find interesting information on how and where your fire alarm should be installed.




The most important facts

  • Smoke detectors are important devices that are installed in private living spaces to alert people to a fire as quickly as possible and thus save lives.
  • A good fire alarm does not necessarily have to be expensive. However, it is important to pay attention to quality when buying a fire alarm. Only properly and recognised certified smoke detectors offer the desired protection.
  • There are different types of fire alarm. From the type of gas detection to the way they work and how they are mounted.

The Best Fire Alarm: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a fire alarm

Smoke detector, smoke alarm, fire alarm or fire alarm - what are the differences?

In everyday life, the terms smoke detector, smoke alarm, fire alarm or fire alarm are often used as synonyms. In fact, however, they are different devices. The terms fire alarm and fire alarm are often used as umbrella terms for all devices that trigger an alarm in case of fire. There are also automatic fire alarm and those that have to be triggered manually

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Fire alarms are small and inconspicuous, but they can save lives!
(Image source: pixabay.com / PublicDomainPictures)

If you are a private person looking for a device to warn you of a fire at home, you are probably looking for a smoke alarm. These are the familiar round white boxes that start beeping loudly when smoke is detected.

Smoke detectors can be networked with each other, but they are not connected to any other agency, such as the fire brigade.

Fire alarm or fire alarms, on the other hand, are part of fire alarm systems. If smoke is generated, a fire alarm sends a signal to the fire alarm system. This triggers an alarm and forwards the warning to the fire brigade or police. A distinction is made here as to whether the alarm is triggered automatically or not.

In the case of an automatic alarm, one speaks of fire alarm and in the case of a non-automatic system, of a fire alarm. This is why fire alarms are often called manual fire alarms. These are the usually red boxes with the inscription "fire brigade", where the glass has to be smashed in order to press the alarm button. In both cases, there is a direct connection to a fire alarm system.

As you can see, it's not that easy with all these fire alarms. But now you know the most important differences between the various devices and which one is right for you. This article always refers to smoke alarms, regardless of which of the above terms is used

How does a smoke alarm work?

Smoke alarms detect fire or smoke gas and become active when a certain amount of smoke is detected. Becoming active means that the devices start beeping and/or light up

Some devices have the option of linking them if several smoke detectors are installed in one room. Then the signal is passed on from one smoke alarm to the other.

Am I legally obliged to install a fire alarm in my home?

In the UK, smoke detectors are compulsory in all new buildings as well as in renovations. For stores or businesses, this obligation also applies to existing buildings. You should install fire alarms in bedrooms, children's rooms and hallways. In some federal states, smoke detectors are also compulsory in living rooms.

When buying a fire alarm, you should pay particular attention to the CE marking and other certifications. Among other things, this guarantees compliance with European manufacturing standards.

Who is responsible for installing a fire alarm in rented flats?

Who is responsible for installing fire alarms depends on the respective federal state. The respective state building regulations specify exactly who must install the smoke detectors. The application standard for smoke detectors is also important here.

What does a fire alarm cost?

There are large price ranges between the different fire alarm. The price varies depending on the function, quality and certification. The cost of a fire alarm starts at around 3 euros and can go well over the 100 euro mark per unit. Many fire alarms can be bought in sets of 5, 10 or 20.

Since the battery is often permanently installed, you often don't need to buy it separately. There are also sets that contain everything you need to install the smoke detectors. Depending on the type of installation you choose, you will find magnetic pads, dowels or adhesive foil in the sets

More expensive fire alarms usually offer even more protection in addition to the test seals, for example, because they are more robustly built or have special protection against dirt. Good models with alkaline batteries are available from around 10 euros, fire alarms with fixed batteries (10-year life) from 20 euros or in multipacks from 8 euros

Fire alarm types price
Without battery from €5
10-year battery life from €20
10-year battery life, app control from €50

If you want to be easy on the wallet when buying a smoke detector, you should compare prices after you've done a little research.

When it comes to quality and cachet versus price, you can take a look at test results from reputable companies, such as Stiftung Warentest

What is the alternative to a fire alarm?

There is basically no alternative to a certified fire alarm because they are mandatory in the UK. There are only different types of fire alarms. Depending on the rooms in which the smoke detectors are installed, you can decide which is the best alternative.

Decision: What types of smoke detectors are there and which is the right one for you?

If you want to buy a smoke detector, there are three alternatives to choose from:

  • Photo-electric or photo-optical smoke detectors
  • Thermo-optical smoke detectors
  • Ionisation smoke detectors

In terms of handling, installation and appearance, there are no major differences between these three variants. However, it makes a difference for which rooms the different types are used. Depending on where you want to install your smoke detector, one of the three alternatives is more suitable. The following section should help you decide

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Firefighters on a burning house - an image we would like to avoid.
(Image source: pixabay.com / Milan A.)

What are the characteristics of a photo-electric or photo-optical smoke detector and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

A photo-electric smoke detector has a diode in its smoke chamber. An infrared beam is emitted from this diode. If normal conditions prevail, the beam is not refracted and does not reflect. However, when the smoke chamber fills with a certain concentration of smoke, the beam is refracted and the fire alarm sounds the alarm

In photo-optical smoke detectors, there is no infrared beam but a laser beam in the smoke chamber, but otherwise the two fire alarms work in the same way

Photo-electric/optical smoke detectors are the most commonly used among the different types

Advantages
  • Reliable in case of smoke formation
  • beams well concealed to prevent false alarms
Disadvantages
  • May cause false alarms in rooms with increased steam

What distinguishes a thermo-optical smoke detector and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

Thermo-optical fire detectors are a combination of photo-optical fire alarms and heat detectors. In addition to the mode of operation described above, they also detect the ambient temperature. This is done with the help of a heat conductor. This reacts when the room temperature rises

A fire alarm that only reacts to heat is not very suitable for private households. Unfortunately, this type of smoke detector does not react quickly enough to a fire

Advantages
  • Useful in rooms where steam is regularly generated (kitchen, bathroom)
Disadvantages
  • No added value compared to photo-optical smoke detectors

What distinguishes an ionisation smoke detector and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

Ionisation smoke detectors have a radioactive element integrated. Alpha and beta rays ionise between two metal plates. This creates an electrical flux. At the lowest concentration of smoke in the unit, the current flow decreases. At this point, the fire alarm immediately sounds the alarm

Advantages
  • Very reliable
Disadvantages
  • Often sounds the alarm early
  • Radiation when the device is opened
  • Sensitive disposal, especially with burnt fire alarms

Buying criteria: Use these factors to compare and evaluate fire alarms

In the following, we will show you which aspects you can use to decide between the many possible fire alarms.

The criteria you can use to compare fire alarms with each other include:

In the following paragraphs, we will explain to you what is important in the individual criteria relating to the topic of fire alarms.

Certification

Fire alarms save lives. It is important that you check well whether a smoke detector fulfils the important characteristics. This is important so that it offers you reliable protection and also functions safely in the event of a fire. Here are some features and quality labels you should look out for.

  • Quality label "Q": Fire alarms with the quality label Q have been especially tested for high standards and guarantee a higher level of safety and quality. If a fire detector has this label, it had to pass more stringent tests. These tests are usually carried out by two different institutes, the Vds or the KRIWAN.
  • CE marking: It is mandatory by law that the CE marking is present on every fire alarm. This is the EU-wide standard for technical devices. However, the CE marking is not an independent quality test by a third party. It is the marking of the manufacturer that the basic requirements for fire alarms under DIN EN 14604 have been met by the manufacturer.
  • DIN14604: DIN EN 14604, often used without EN, is an EU product standard. This standard is bound to certain requirements for fire alarms. They include, for example, the technical requirements or test procedures that must be applied. With this standard, the standards of the fire alarms are defined, so that a further EU sale is permitted at all. This standard is used as the most important reference point for testing by independent institutes such as the Vds or the KRIWAN Test Institute.
  • VdS recognition: This test institute belongs to the insurance industry and tests services and products in the security sector, including fire protection devices and fire alarms. VdS-tested fire alarms or those with the Q label always have the EU-wide CE mark. If a fire alarms has been certified by VdS, this is considered a safety feature.

Gas type detection

In addition to pure smoke detectors, there are also combinations of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

An additional carbon monoxide detector makes sense especially if you heat with fossil fuels.

If you want to be even more on the safe side and want to be alerted to broken heaters at an early stage, combination devices make perfect sense

A carbon monoxide detector makes sense especially if you heat with fossil fuels such as oil, gas or wood or use them to generate energy for other purposes. However, fire alarms with an additional carbon monoxide detector are not mandatory in the UK.

Installation options

There are several options for mounting your fire alarm correctly. From magnet systems, to adhesive options, to the classic dowels, there are many options. Often you can also mount a model in different ways

It is important that you mount the fire alarm correctly, and there are a few rules of thumb here:

  • At least 50 cm from other objects (sloping roof, furniture, lamps, etc.)
  • Always mount the fire alarms on the ceiling, as smoke always rises. (Unless the instructions for use say otherwise!)

The most important thing is to read the instructions for use carefully beforehand and to install the fire alarms as described there.

To give you a better idea of how to install a fire alarm, we have a suitable video for you here.

Battery life and type

Leading fire protection experts recommend fire alarms with permanently installed long-term lithium batteries. These batteries normally have a service life of about 10 years. After 10 years, every fire alarm should be replaced. If the battery is nearing the end of its life, the fire alarm will start to beep at regular intervals at least 30 days before this time. The manufacturers are obliged to perform this function

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There are different batteries for your fire alarm.
(Image source: pixabay.com / Willfried Wende)

If you prefer a fire alarm with a replaceable battery, there are two options. In most cases, alkaline or lithium batteries can be used. Here, you should note that lithium batteries have a significantly longer runtime.

Running time of alkaline batteries running time of lithium batteries
approx. 2 - 3 years approx. 10 years

You should definitely refrain from using rechargeable batteries, and another tip: brand-name batteries certainly pay for themselves when using fire alarms

How it works

  • Flashing or not flashing There are different models of fire detectors. For example, you can decide whether the fire alarms should flash permanently (signalling readiness) or whether it should flash when there is a fault with the device. Especially in bedrooms, a continuous flashing of the smoke detector can be rather disturbing. However, you may be one of those people who find it reassuring to see that the smoke alarm is working
  • Volume All certified smoke alarms must have a working signal tone. The volume for this is prescribed by law and must be at least 85 dB
  • Operation When it comes to how you operate a fire alarm, you also have a few options. Some models have to be operated in the traditional way with a ladder. However, there are also smoke detectors that can be controlled via a remote control or an app. Here you are free to choose which operating method suits you best.
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Steam from the kitchen can easily cause false alarms if the ideal fire alarm is not used.
(Image source: pixabay.com / Melanie Feuerer)

Facts worth knowing about fire alarms

How do I properly test and maintain a fire alarm?

A fire alarm must be tested at least once a year. You can find out how to properly maintain your smoke detector in any case in the instructions for use. But here are the most important points:

  1. Cleanliness: The fire alarm must be regularly cleaned of all dirt. If the smoke detector is dusty or has other residues, its function is limited.
  2. Battery replacement: The batteries must be replaced regularly. The fire alarm normally indicates a low battery level with regularly recurring beeps. If it is a smoke alarm with a fixed long-life battery, the manufacturer recommends that you replace the device at least every 10 years.
  3. Placement: You must also check that the fire alarm is still correctly placed. If furniture is moved around and rooms are rearranged, the smoke detector may no longer be the right distance from the furniture.
  4. Function test: You must also carry out a function test. You can also find out how to do this in the instructions for use for your fire alarms. Normally, the test button must be pressed for some time. This triggers a test alarm.

To ensure that everything is done correctly, we recommend that you document the annual maintenance. This is also stipulated in the user standard DIN 14676. It helps to use a device passport and a maintenance booklet. For your own safety, it is best to check your fire alarm once a month.

To give you a better idea of how to maintain and test a fire alarm, we have prepared a short video for you.

Malfunction: What do I do if the fire alarm starts beeping for no reason?

There are a few reasons why your fire alarm may suddenly start beeping out of the blue without any danger from fire

Here we have listed the main reasons and briefly explained what you can do about it.

Cause Explanation
Steam from the kitchen or bathroom If the fire alarm suddenly starts beeping because steam is coming from the bathroom or kitchen, open the windows and ventilate thoroughly. If this happens often, you should consider either using a different fire alarm model or installing the smoke alarm in a different place.
Low battery Manufacturers are required by law to warn you when the batteryis running low. If so, you will hear a beeping sound at regular intervals for at least 30 days before that. At this point, you must change the battery or, if the battery is permanently installed, the entire fire alarm.
Dust or insects a fire alarm may set off a false alarm if it is too dirty. It is best to clean your fire alarm carefully with a microfibre cloth or hoover.
Too much sunlight While we all like the sun, your fire alarm does not. If it gets too much sun, this can also cause a false alarm. It is best to find a darker place for your smoke detector.
Radio contact is broken There may also be several linked fire alarms in a room. This can cause interference due to the placement. Reinforced concrete walls can be a reason for this.
Generally incorrect placement Your fire alarms must not be placed too close to furniture or a wall. The basic rule is: always keep a distance of at least 50 cm. Please also follow the instructions in the user manual.

Image source: Popov/ 123rf.com

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