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The In-Depth Guide to Safety Alarms

Mar 25, 2021|

For most of us, there's nothing more important than keeping ourselves, loved ones, and homes safe and secure. But when it comes down to it, there are a lot of things that can put your home and family at risk.

Some of these, like fire and carbon monoxide, are environmental. Others, like a fall or medical emergency, are related to personal safety. Whatever the emergency is, it's vital that you stay informed and can get help right away.

Luckily, there are plenty of things that can help alert you to danger. Safety alarms are designed to both warn people in an emergency and get you the help you need. Working safety alarms can mean the difference between life and death, a serious disaster or a minor inconvenience.

This guide will walk you through the various safety alarms on the market today and help you choose the best ones for your home and family.

Smoke detectors

When it comes to home fires, smoke detectors can literally be the difference between life and death. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 3 out of 5 home fire deaths, smoke detectors were either not present or not working.

With so many different types of smoke detectors, it’s important to know the differences between them so you can find the best one for your home.

smoke detector on ceiling
Have multiple smoke detectors in your home for protection.

Types of smoke detectors

Before we get into the various types of smoke detectors, it’s important to know that not all fires burn the same way. Fires are categorized as either fast-flaming or smoldering:

  • Fast-flaming fires are the most common type of house fire. They create large flames that burn fast and produce little smoke. They happen when open flames and flammable liquids or materials ignite and spread to other items.
  • Smoldering fires are slow starting and are usually the result of things like an unattended cigarette, electrical spark, or embers from a fireplace. Smoldering fires produce large amounts of smoke and toxic fumes, such as carbon monoxide and cyanide). Smoldering fires can also turn into fast-flaming fires.

With that in mind, there are three main types of smoke detectors, and each one works to detect fires differently.

  • Ionization smoke detectors respond best to fast-flaming fires. They also tend to
  • Photoelectric smoke detectors tend to respond better to smoldering fires.
  • Combination smoke detectors are equipped with both types of sensors and/or carbon monoxide detectors.

So which type of smoke detector is best? It’s impossible to predict what type of fire is going to start in a home, so both types are important and recommended for homes in order to get the best, fastest response.

Not only that, but according to the NFPA, the location of the smoke alarms in the home may be just as (if not more) important than the type –but more on that in a minute.

Choosing a smoke detector

Smoke detectors also have a wide range of features. Depending on your budget and the overall technology in your home, you may want to consider the following features:

In addition to the type of sensors, there are other specifications and features to think about when selecting smoke detectors for your home, including:

Power source

Smoke detectors are either hardwired or battery-powered. Hard-wired detectors are wired into the home’s electrical system and typically require professional installation. They also have battery-backup, which is crucial in the event of a fire if/when the electricity goes out.

Battery-powered smoke detectors are easier to place and work even when the electricity goes out. The batteries will need to be changed regularly, and often chirp or sound a warning tone to let you know when they’re low.

Integrated detectors

With integrated or interconnected smoke detectors, all the smoke detectors in the home are connected to each other. This is a must. In the event of a fire, everyone in the house will be notified. Every second counts when a fire breaks out, so if it starts in the basement, you’ll know immediately.

Voice alerts

Most of us have heard a smoke alarm in action, whether for a fire drill or burning dinner, so it’s pretty hard to imagine sleeping through a screeching alarm. However, in one study, 80% of children between the ages of 2 and 13 didn’t respond when a smoke alarm sounded. However, in the same study, when the alarm was combined with a voice (particularly a female), 94% of the kids woke up.

With that in mind, consider getting smoke detectors that also come equipped with voice alerts.

installing a smoke detector
When possible, have your smoke detector professionally installed.

Professional monitoring

Smoke detectors that come with professional monitoring are ideal. Although they come with an additional monthly cost, they provide the best protection. If your smoke alarm goes off when you’re not home, it will alert the monitoring company, who will then contact first responders on your behalf. And if you are home, you can focus on getting your family to safety while they contact the authorities.

Smart home integration

Smoke detectors that integrate with smart homes offer many benefits over traditional smoke detectors. In addition to being interconnected, they also work with other smart home features.

For example, when a fire alarm goes off in a Vivint Smart Home, your smart devices work together to get you out of the house as quickly and safely as possible: the smoke alarm triggers the smart thermostat to cut off air flow in the home to help slow the spread of the fire and contacts the 24/7 monitoring company. It also automatically unlocks your front doors, so you can get out as quickly as possible.

Smoke detector placement, installation, and maintenance

In order to operate effectively, smoke detectors need to positioned in the appropriate locations, installed correctly, and maintained regularly.


Smoke detectors are required by law in each state, and many states go even further by requiring them to be placed in certain locations.

While you should always check your state's requirements, the NFPA also makes the following recommendations for the number of smoke alarms needed and where to place them:

  • Inside each bedroom, outside sleeping areas (such as a hallway), and on each floor of the home (including the basement)
  • On floors without bedrooms, place one in the family or living room and/or near the stairway
  • In the basement, install smoke alarms on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs
  • In cooking areas, install smoke alarms 10 feet away from cooking appliances to minimize false alarms

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If you have hard-wired, interconnected, or smart smoke detectors, professional installation is the best option.

If you are installing battery-operated smoke alarms yourself, make sure you install your alarms on ceilings or no more than 12 inches from the ceiling, if installed on the wall. (Remember, smoke rises!)


You should test your smoke detectors monthly to ensure they're in working order. But the most important thing you should do to maintain your smoke detectors is ensure your batteries are always working.

Smoke detectors beep or chirp when the batteries need to be checked or replaced. Although this tends to happen at inconvenient times, you should always replace them immediately rather than removing them. When smoke alarms failed to work properly in a fire, power source issues (i.e, non-working batteries or batteries removed to stop beeping) were the main cause.

Smoke detectors should also be replaced every 10 years.

Carbon monoxide detectors

Fire isn’t the only deadly environmental threat people face in their homes. Each year, carbon monoxide is responsible for over 430 deaths and over 50,000 hospitalizations. What makes this gas so deadly is the fact that it’s odorless, tasteless, and colorless, so without an alarm made specifically to detect carbon monoxide, there’s no way of knowing if there is a deadly leak in your home.

man pressing carbon monoxide alarm
It's important to have a carbon monoxide alarm in your home.

Carbon monoxide causes

Carbon monoxide commonly forms in the home by fuel-burning appliances. Some of the most common sources of exposure include gas and wood-burning fireplace chimneys, grills, generators, dryer vents, wood stoves, vehicles, and lawn mowers, to name a few.

Because most carbon monoxide poisoning cases result from fuel-burning appliances for heating, most poisoning cases occur in the winter, when people are heating their homes. However, carbon monoxide poisoning can occur at any time of the year.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

When carbon monoxide accumulates in the home at dangerous levels, it starves the blood of oxygen and can lead to headaches, dizziness, loss of consciousness and even death, if not treated.

A carbon monoxide detector can alert you of dangerous levels of carbon monoxide so you can quickly get yourself and family members to safety.

If your carbon monoxide detector goes off, you should take the following steps:

  • If anyone is experiencing symptoms, immediately leave the house and into fresh air. (Don't forget your pets!) Call 911.
  • Open windows and doors and allow fresh air to circulate.
  • Turn off all potential sources.

Even if no one is experiencing symptoms, you should still contact your local fire department or qualified technician. They will come and inspect the issue.

Choosing a carbon monoxide detector

Unlike smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors aren't required by law in every single state; just 27 states and the District of Columbia have laws in place that specify the number and placement.

Even if it may not be the law in your state, you should always have a carbon monoxide detector in your home. A few things to keep in mind when choosing a carbon monoxide detector include:

Combination or stand-alone

Some people automatically assume their smoke detector does both, but unless your smoke detector specifically states that it is a combination, you will need a separate carbon monoxide detector.

Like smoke detectors, you should put carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of your home, outside bedrooms, and in bedrooms. However, there are specific placement guidelines you should follow (see below) in order to provide accurate readings. For that reason, many people prefer battery powered detectors that can be easily moved.

Smart home integration

Like smoke alarms, smart home integration can be beneficial to carbon monoxide detectors as well. When a carbon monoxide detector goes off, the most important thing to do is get to clean air as quickly as possible. When carbon monoxide is detected in a Vivint Smart Home, an alarm will immediately sound on both the device and your home’s Smart Hub, and you’ll receive a notification on your phone, so you can be alerted of dangerous levels even when you’re not home. At the same time, Vivint’s professional monitoring team will alert first responders on your behalf.

Where to put carbon monoxide detectors

In order to get the most accurate readings, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends following these guidelines for the most accurate readings:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors on the ceiling or on the wall, 5 feet above the floor
  • Don't place detectors near a window or in a drafty area
  • Don't install within 5-10 feet of fireplaces or flame-producing appliances
  • Make sure to keep a carbon monoxide detector in the garage

Maintaining your carbon monoxide detectors is pretty simple. Test them once a month, and change the batteries at least once a year or as indicated by the manufacturer. As a general rule of thumb, carbon monoxide detectors should also be replaced entirely every 5 years.

Water damage

You don't need to live in a flood plain or in hurricane-prone areas to fall victim to water damage. Your home's own appliances can cause leaks that lead to major damage, and it's not uncommon – around 24% of all home insurance claims are water damage claims. And it doesn't take a massive flood to cause serious damage – just one inch of water can cause $25,000 in damage.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can prevent water damage in your home, or at least mitigate it before it turns into a major problem.

water damage in kitchen
Be prepared in case of water damage.

Causes of water damage

Some of the most common causes of water damage around the house include:

  • Frozen pipes. Houses in colder climates are at risk for damage from freezing pipes. Water expands as it freezes, and weak or uninsulated pipes can burst as water freezes, leading to flooding or water damage.
  • Plumbing issues. Leaking or clogged toilets, dripping faucets and pipes, and leaks around the tub and shower can build up and cause damage to flooring, walls, and baseboards if left unchecked.
  • HVAC systems. Clogged drains, improperly or loosely connected pipes, and frozen evaporator coils are common causes of HVAC leaks. Regular service of your HVAC system can help prevent this.
  • Appliances. Washing machines, hot water heaters, and dishwashers are the most common forms of water damage from appliances.

Prevent damage with water sensors

Regularly servicing your heating and cooling system, checking for leaks, and maintaining your plumbing are all great ways to prevent water damage. But let's face it, people now are busier than ever, and inspecting pipes around the house isn't always easy to do.

That's where water sensors can be handy. Water sensors are small devices you can place near appliances or pipes that detect leaks or standing water, and then sound an alarm or alert you so you can take action.

The Vivint Water Sensor notifies you on your phone if water is detected, and it also monitors temperature and notifies you so you can act before burst pipes. These small devices can be placed anywhere around your home that is more prone to water leaks or flooding.

Emergency pendants

The safety alarms we've discussed until now are all triggered by environmental conditions in the home (smoke, carbon monoxide, and water.) But there are also personal safety alarms that allow people to sound an alarm in an emergency and get help.

woman pressing emergency pendant
Wear an emergency pendant and be protected throughout your home.

How emergency pendants work

Emergency pendants are small devices that are typically worn around the neck or on the wrist as a watch. When the button is pushed, it automatically alerts an emergency monitoring service.

The Vivint Emergency Pendant works as a shortcut to the one-touch emergency buttons on your panel. When pressed and held for 2-3 seconds, it triggers an alarm on your system, putting you in contact with the 24/7 monitoring team. From there, they will contact the proper authorities on your behalf.

When to use emergency pendants

Emergency pendants are ideal for the elderly or people with disabilities or mobility issues that make it difficult to call for help on their own. This is especially true in the event of a fall, which can be a serious medical emergency for some.

Emergency pendants can also be used in the event of a break-in or other emergency when you need to get help right away but don't have access to your phone or control panel.

Safety alarms – a must for all homes

Safety alarms aren't just nice things to have – they're absolutely vital when it comes to keeping your home and family safe.

Each safety alarm discussed has different but necessary roles in your home, whether it's keeping you safe or saving you money on repairs. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are required by law and can mean the difference between life and death. For those with elderly relatives or anyone who wants added peace of mind, emergency pendants can put you at ease knowing help is just the touch of a button away. And with water sensors, you can stop water damage before it turns into a serious issue.

Let Vivint help keep your home safe

Vivint has the safety alarms needed to help you keep your home and family safe. Contact our Smart Home Pros today at 855.822.1220 for a free consultation.

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