Consumer Reports finds safest smoke detectors

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- About 3,000 people are killed each year in residential fires. In the winter months the risk of house fires goes up with the use of fireplaces and space heaters.

Consumer Reports tested smoke alarms and finds some are better than others.

Cheryl Sydney's teenage nephew died in a fire last year. It's still not clear whether the home he was staying in had a fire alarm.

"I think they didn't wake up until the fire was engulfing the house," Sydney said.

In a home fire, the risk of dying is cut in half if you have a working smoke alarm, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Bernie Deitrick tests smoke alarms for Consumer Reports. He creates fires in a controlled chamber to see how quickly alarms respond.

"There are basically two types of fires - smoky, smoldering fires that are best detected by alarms with photo-electric sensors and fast fires with flames. Those are best detected by alarms with ionization sensors," Deitrick said.

Consumer Reports says you're safest with an alarm that quickly detects both types of fire like these dual-sensor models testers recommend, the Kidde PI2010 and the First Alert 3120B. They both cost around $30.

Consumer Reports also tested an updated version of the Nest Protect, a $99 combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. The tests found the new Nest is still slower to respond than other smoke alarms to flash-flame fires.

"The Nest is only equipped with a photoelectric smoke detector. For optimal safety we think it's best to skip the Nest and buy a dual-sensor smoke alarm and buy a separate carbon monoxide alarm," Deitrick said.

Consumer Reports recommends First Alert's CO615 Carbon Monoxide Alarm for $30.

Only about one-third of American homes have a carbon monoxide detector. But Consumer Reports says a CO detector is a must in any household with fuel-burning appliances such as a furnace, water heater, range, cooktop, or grill. Even an all-electric home can benefit from a couple of CO alarms if using a generator.