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Photoelectric vs. Ionization Smoke Alarms


Collection of Residential Smoke Alarm Research

This report was scanned from hardcopy. 

The Defect in Smoke Alarms, Richard H. Taylor

May 1996, on ABC 20/20, Gary Lederer a Senior Vice President for smoke alarm manufacturer BRK was questioned about a 15 minute delay in Ionization alarms sounding:

Gary Lederer:  "The photoelectric will sound an alarm sooner than an ionization, but both will provide an alarm in sufficient time to allow you to evacuate the building.
Arnold Diaz:  "How much sooner would the photoelectric sound in a slow, smoldering fire?"
Gary Lederer:  "Fifteen minutes prior to the ionization detector."
Arnold Diaz:  "Well, I want that extra 15 minutes to go wake up other members of my family, to go make sure everybody's safe, to herd them outside." 
Gary Lederer:  "Well, we have an answer for you.  We have a combination unit that has both detection principals in one unit."

"UL is a non-profit organization, but UL's funding comes from the manufacturers whose products UL tests.  The majority of the UL-217 committee consists of representatives from smoke alarm industry consultants paid for by the manufacturers and UL employees......  The UL Standards will not change unless or until the smoke alarm manufacturers are forced to change by jury verdict or legislation."

"The smoke alarm manufacturers often times rely on government studies to defend these cases.  One of their favorite studies is the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) report dated February 2008.  The abstract to this study and one of the conclusions provides:

Smoke alarms of either ionization type or the photoelectric type consistently provide time for the occupants to escape from most residential fires, although in some cases the escape time provided can be short.  Consistent with prior findings, ionization alarms provide somewhat better response to flaming fires than photoelectric alarms, and photoelectric alarms provide (often) significantly faster response to smoldering fires than ionization alarms.

See Page 95 of PDF






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