Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Up on a Ladder...

Laura and I went to a free dinner last night sponsored by a fire-safety vendor. It was a nice example of someone using FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt) in a sales pitch. We didn’t buy anything, but enjoyed a nice free meal and a fairly entertaining speaker. I did some fact checking afterward, and found that he was dead on concerning the most common type of smoke detector installed in homes:

“In the early 1990s Texas A&M University did a full scale scientific investigation into the effectiveness of optical and ionization smoke detectors in different types of fires. The study determined that in a smoldering fire, with its relatively low number of large smoke particles, optical detectors fail 4.06 percent of the time, while ionization detectors have a 55.8 percent failure rate. For flame ignition fires, which have a large number of small, energetic smoke particles, ionization smoke detectors had a 3.99 percent probability of failure while optical smoke detectors have a 19.8 percent failure rate.” (

Your ionization detector only works 44% of the time in smoldering, smoky fires, and the studies I read show that it takes quite a bit of smoke (upwards of 15 minutes) before they actually go off. Bottom line, if you have plain ionization smoke detectors in your home, head to your favorite home improvement store on your way home and pick up some combination optical/thermal detectors or optical/ionization detectors (for about 96% reliability), one for each level of your house. While you’re at it, pick up a combination Carbon Monoxide/Explosive Gas detector for each area where you have Natural Gas or Propane, and Carbon Monoxide detectors where you have a fireplace or wood stove.

Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish. Do some research of your own and you’ll find yourself on a ladder installing your new smoke detectors…

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