There are four primary types of detectors that are used to detect the presence of a fire. Understanding the difference between these heat and smoke detectors will help you to determine which detector is ideal for any application.

The four types of fire detecters are heat, ionization, photoelectric, and ionization/photoelectric. The differences in each of these how they detect fires, heat being from temperature, and the other three being from smoke. The best detector is the combination ionization/photoelectric.


Heat detectors are used to detect the presence of heat and an increase in air temperature. These detectors have few false alarms but, they take longer to identify a fire than a smoke alarm. They’re ideal in situations where smoke detectors may cause false alarms such as steamy, humid, or dusty environments. They’re also commonly installed in areas that aren’t regularly occupied like storage facilities, warehouses, or machine rooms.

The three most common smoke detectors are ionization, photoelectric, and combination ionization/photoelectric. All smoke detectors sound an alarm, when they identify smoke, in order to notify a building’s occupants. What differentiates these detectors from one another is the way that they detect smoke.


Ionization smoke detectors have a constant electrical current that occurs between two metal plates in the device. When smoke enters the chamber it disrupts the electrical current and causes the alarm to sound. These detectors are excellent at detecting fast burning fires.


Photoelectric smoke detectors have a beam of light in the device and when smoke scatters the light it causes the alarm to go off. This type of device is quicker to identify small smoldering fires than an ionization detector. They’re extremely reliable and produce few false alarms.


A combination smoke detector is the best way to protect your facility and its occupants from a fire. When both forms of smoke detection are together on one device it helps to ensure that regardless of the type of fire, it will be detected as soon as possible.

In some cases, a variety of heat and smoke detectors will be installed throughout a facility. An expert will provide you with a solution that best suits your facility’s needs.

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