The smoke alarm is credited with being one of the greatest success stories in the history of fire safety. While well maintained conventional smoke detectors are extremely effective in saving the lives of occupants, they are all but worthless if no one is at home to hear them. Every time I see smoke or a speeding fire engine heading in the general direction of my house when I’m away, my thoughts and concerns immediately turn to my home, my possessions, and most importantly, my family and pets.
Fortunately, there are an increasing number of smart smoke and fire detectors on the market that are capable of alerting you of a potential fire in your home via a phone notification, email, or text message – regardless of where in the world you happen to be at the time.
Things are heating up quickly in the world of connected fire alarm products (sorry, pun intended) and in a few years when the smoke clears (again, sorry), I would expect the following review table of popular smart smoke and fire alarms to look quite different from it how it appears today.
What are the laws?
Smoke alarm requirements in the U.S. vary from state to state. New construction generally requires that smoke detectors be hard-wired for power with a battery or other back-up power option, and are interconnected so that if one alarms, it will activate the siren of other units. For most home systems, it will generally be a much simpler process to keep the existing conventional smoke alarm system in place, and add these smart smoke detectors as standalone devices.
A comparison of Smart Smoke Detectors
The information on the products in this feature review table is based on my research and/or testing, as well as any reader feedback. There may be discrepancies; please let me know of any errors or omissions. This table will continue to receive updates as data becomes available and new products are released. Suggestions on additional products or comparison features are always appreciated.
touch/hold to scroll right side of table on mobile display
|Make / Model|
|First Alert Onelink HomeKit AC10-500||Birdi||Halo|
|$40||$99||$47.84||$54.99||$118||$119 (coming spring 2016)||$100 (coming spring 2016)|
|Z-Wave1||Wifi||Z-Wave1||Z-Wave1||WiFi, Bluetooth||WiFi, Bluetooth||Wifi, Zigbee|
|Photoelectric||Photoelectric||Photoelectric||Photoelectric||Photoelectric||Photoelectric||Ionization & Photoelectric|
|2 AA batteries||6 AA batteries + hardwired option (2 AA)||9V battery||9V battery||1 Lithium (not replaceable)||AA batteries + hardwired option||4 AA batteries + hardwired option|
|4.8 x 4.8 x 2||5.3 x 5.3 x 1.7||4.8 x 4.8 x 1.7||5.4 x 5.3 x 2.1||5.5 x 5.5 x 1.25||5.1 x 5.1 x 1.5||?|
|–||Occupancy sensor||–||–||–||Air quality||Optional weather radio|
|Instruction Manual||Instruction Manual||–||–||Instruction Manual||–||–|
1. Requires a Home Automation Hub for remote notification
Although a little more conventional looking than many of the other smart home smoke detectors, the First Alert ZCombo Z-Wave combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm packs a wallop for the price, and is our top pick, not only for Z-Wave smoke detectors, but also in the overall smart fire alarm category. When it comes to protecting your family, pets and possessions from fire, reliability and a reputable name stand out as critical features. For a capability this important, we favored devices that were trouble-free and inexpensive enough to allow purchasing several for your home.
The First Alert ZCombo is affordable and is manufactured by a trusted name in home safety. Relax with peace of mind that you will be alerted if smoke or carbon monoxide is detected while you’re away. An absolute necessity if you have pets. The ZCombo provides status on remaining battery levels; Now you can tell when to preemptively change backup batteries instead of being awakened in the middle of the night with those annoying low battery reminder beeps. We’ve configured our system to send our phones both SMS text messages as well as push notifications if the ZCombo detects smoke or carbon monoxide.
The biggest drawbacks to the ZCombo are that it doesn’t provide a hard-wired power option and doesn’t integrate with the other First Alert/BRK installed smoke detectors. In practice, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the battery life of our ZCombo, which shows as 93% after a year and a half of operation. Battery life prediction on these devices though can be a bit inaccurate, particularly when using Lithium and NiMh batteries. Regardless of battery type, for safety critical devices, it’s best to proactively replace batteries on a regularly scheduled cycle. You may still get additional service life from these batteries in less critical home devices.
Visit the following reference pages for a review of which hubs may be best for your home needs:
Although, the ZCombo requires a smart Z-Wave capable hub controller, if you plan to purchase just two smart smoke alarms for your home, it is still cheaper to go with the ZCombos and an inexpensive controller, such as the $99 Samsung SmartThings Hub (see the full Darwin’s Den SmartThings review) than with the much more expensive Nest Protects. As a huge bonus, once you have the smart hub, you can further enhance your home’s safety, security, and efficiency by adding additional less intelligent (and therefore less expensive) peripheral devices such as water leak/flood detectors, door and window sensors, switches, smart locks, and energy monitoring devices.
WiFi Capable Detectors
If you currently don’t have a home automation hub and don’t plan on adding one, both the Nest Protect 2nd Gen Alarm and the First Alert Onelink HomeKit Enabled Alarm support remote carbon monoxide and smoke alarm monitoring via your home WiFi Network. Both alarms provide voice alerts and can support hardwired power installations.
The decision on which of the two detectors to get may ultimately come down to whether you prefer the Google Nest or Apple HomeKit ecosystem.
The Nest Protect integrates with the Nest thermostat to automatically shut off fossil-fuel based heating systems when high levels of CO are detected as well as shut off fans when high levels of smoke are detected. The Protect also includes an occupancy sensor to enhance the thermostat’s home/away features, and can display details on alert conditions on the thermostat display.
The First Alert Onelink HomeKit alarm is surprisingly thin and sports a 10-year battery life, which is now required by law by many US local ordinances. The battery on the First Alert Onelink is not replaceable though, so the entire unit will need to be disposed of after 10 years, as recommended anyway by the National Fire Protection Association.
New devices are arriving in early 2016
The Birdi Smart Detector and Halo Smart Smoke Alarm are planned to hit the market in the spring of 2016, and provide additional connected fire safety options. Both provide hard-wired power connections and an advertised 10-year battery life.
The Birdi Smart Detector includes WiFi and Bluetooth interfaces – and promised future HomeKit compatibility. Birdi is equipped with a limited air quality sensing capability, and pairs this information with downloaded outdoor air quality and pollen information to let you know if opening a window will help vs. harm your indoor air quality situation.
The Halo Smart Smoke Alarm includes both ionization and photo-electric smoke detection and promises reduced false alarms by intelligently monitoring 5 different sensors. For an additional $30 over the standard unit, the Halo+ includes a weather radio and delivers localized weather warnings via a pulsing blue light ring. I do like the idea of subtle yet noticeable severe weather alert indication in my home, but this feature is not as provocative as it would have been before most smartphones came equipped with weather alert capability. The Halo requires a Zigbee capable Home Automation Controller for remote notifications.
Alternatives to Smart Smoke Detectors
As an alternative to the intelligent networked detectors in the above smart smoke alarms review table, you may also want to consider devices that do not directly detect smoke or fire, but still provide a mechanism to alert you remotely if your existing smoke alarms have been triggered.
Roost is an ingenious little $35 Wifi device that replaces your standard 9V smoke alarm battery, and will notify your smartphone via the Roost app if it hears your fire or carbon monoxide alarm siren.
For $50, you can also pick up the Leeo Smart Alert which plugs into a wall socket and notifies your smartphone via its WiFi connection if it hears a smoke or CO alarm.
For the more handy do-it-yourselfers, you can add a simple relay and Z-Wave switch to an existing smoke detector connection and receive emails, SMS text messages and push notifications via your home automation hub. For Kidde alarms, the $9 SM120X relay module can be used to connect and control auxiliary warning alarms, and for First Alert and BRK systems, the $18 BRK RM4 Smoke Alarm Accessory Relay provides similar functionality. When coupled with a Z-Wave switch that supports external connection triggers, such as the Schlage or equivalent $26 Ecolink Window and Door sensor, you can fully integrate your current fire alarm system into your existing home automation environment.