Eco-Tip: Smoke Detectors and Radiation

You wouldn’t want all your fancy green furniture to go up in flames, so of course you’ve got a smoke detector. But not all detectors are created equal: there’s a choice between photoelectric and ionization detectors, and the latter contains a tiny bit of radiation. Radioactive Americium-241 releases ions that react with smoke in the detector to change an electrical current. It’s not enough radiation to harm you, but it’ll have to go into a landfill eventually—a definite eco no-no. The alternative photoelectric detectors instead works using an internal light source, which reflects light to a photocell when smoke enters the chamber.In terms of performance, the two types are a bit different. If your house is burning down at the hand of a drapery fire or other flames, ionization would detect and report it slightly quicker. The photoelectric detector would jump in first if you left a cigarette to burn or had a similar smoldering fire. Either way, the detectors will have been UL-certified, which ensures that they’ll detect pretty much anything in a timely fashion.

Smoke detectors that contain radioactive material are labeled, normally indicating Americium-241 or AM-241. Photoelectric detectors are readily available—a battery-powered version from Seattle’s Environmental Home Center costs $26.99, and a wired version is $49.99. Home Depot has tons of choices, too. ::Environmental Home Center ::Newport News Fire Department [by KK]

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