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The 5 best smoke detectors we tested in 2021

Our testing methodology



Alex Rennie/Insider


For this guide, I personally tested six smoke detectors after consulting with fire and building experts and doing extensive online research. 

I interviewed Patrick Andler, a fire investigator with 38 years of experience and a board member of the Arizona Burn Foundation. This organization — among many other functions — supplies free smoke detectors to low-income housing across Arizona. I also interviewed Nick Yahoodain, a home remodeler with more than 11 years of experience at Advanced Builders & Contractors

I also used my own experience installing hardwired and battery-powered smoke detectors in my own apartments and my parents’ home, as well as my experience as a residential carpenter, which frequently required the relocation of hardwired units.

I installed each of the smoke detectors and tested it three times a day for three days. I performed a basic maintenance test according to the manufacturer’s instructions (usually just by pressing the “test” button) and then sprayed the units twice with an aerosol spray that mimics real smoke. Most smoke detectors will not activate after a single spray, so you will need two three-second sprays to set them off. I found this to be the case with every unit I tested except for the First Alert SA320, which activated its alarm after only a single spray.  

I broke these tests up throughout the day to allow time for the spray to dissipate and the detectors to return to their working levels.  

I used several criteria to compare the units during testing. 

Installation: I installed each

smoke detector
on my ceiling according to the manufacturer’s included instructions, timing how long it took and noting how helpful or detailed those instructions were. Aside from the hardwired First Alert, all the units used essentially the exact same mounting procedure, but I made sure to note any differences. 

Appearance: I took note of the size, weight, finish, and overall look of each smoke detector after installing units on a white ceiling.

Special safety features: I tested and evaluated each smoke detectors’ extra safety features, such as voice or light notifications, removal prevention, and more. For example, even though all the models I tested featured some kind of visual alarm component, the ultra-bright LED of the X-Sense SD01 was much more effective compared to the rest and could be beneficial to those with hearing loss. The straightforward voice commands of the Nest Protect might suit those who might get confused or disoriented by the single-alarm siren of the other models.  

Operation: Throughout my testing, I made sure to use and observe each mode the smoke detectors offered. This included their testing and silence buttons, how they utilized any LED lights, and whether or not they included carbon monoxide detection.

Maintenance: I took note of the approximate lifespan of each unit and the specifics of its battery replacement procedures. 

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