Smoke alarms are inexpensive devices that are easy to install and it can mean the difference between life and death in a fire.

“People have this false idea that they’ll be woken up in a fire,” said Jonathan Gormick with the Vancouver Fire Department, “It is a critical difference in a fire.”

And if you don’t have a working smoke alarm and you own or rent in Vancouver, you can call 3-1-1 and arrange to have City of Vancouver fire crews come to your home. They’ll do a fire safety check and install a smoke alarm, for free.

But here's what you might not know: if your smoke alarm is more than 10 years old, it's time for a new one as the sensors inside can lose sensitivity.

You should also change your smoke alarm's battery twice a year.

“Usually we say when you change your clocks back, change the batteries in your smoke alarm,” said Gormick.

Consumer Reports put smoke alarms to the test by creating two types of common household fires, a smoldering fire and a fast fire.

Photoelectric alarms are best at detecting smoky, slow-building fires. While ionization alarms are best at detecting fast, flaming fires. So which is better for your home?

“The sensors aren't better than the other. They're complementary. That's why we always recommend that you get an alarm that has both types of sensors," said Bernie Deitrick of Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports says the best type of alarms have a dual sensor and can be interconnected. The top-rated detectors in Canada are:

  • Kidde dual sensor smoke alarm - model PI2010CA for $40
  • First alert dual sensor smoke alarm - model 31206FBA for $40

"When they're interconnected if one alarm goes off every alarm in your house is going to go off. That will protect you from a distant fire and give you more time to get out of the house," said Deitrick.

Some newer smoke alarms are made with lithium-ion batteries that are not replaceable, but will last for 10 years, or as long as the unit.

It’s also a good idea to note in marker on the back of the alarm when you bought it and when you should replace it.