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  • Writer's picturePerceptive Things Team

Heat Detector vs. Smoke Detector: What’s the Difference?

Whether you are a building owner or building manager, the reality is that you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the systems that protect your properties and their occupants.

After all, we typically just trust that the systems in place will work well. However, protecting your buildings from the unexpected involves understanding some basics to ensure you have the best systems in place.

Let’s take a look at the two common types of fire detectors: heat and smoke detectors.

What is the difference between a Heat Detector and Smoke Detector?

As you may have guessed from the name, the major difference between a heat detector and a smoke detector is what each device is designed to sense.

The former is designed to respond to temperature increases. Meanwhile, the latter is designed to sense smoke. Both of these sensors will trigger an alarm during a specific circumstance, with the goal of quickly alerting people to a fire.

The building you are currently in likely has a smoke detector, not a heat detector. Smoke detectors are required by the National Fire Protection Association.

Combined Heat and Smoke Detectors

In addition to your existing certified fire safety systems, you may want to consider supplemental sensors.

Vapor™ by Perceptive Things® is a battery-powered connected smoke and heat sensor that augments your existing fire safety systems. It is able to instantly send alerts to your staff to alert them of the location of potential concern.

Placing these in hallways and stairwells means you will no longer have to solely rely on tenants to report audio alarms. This can allow you to take action faster by turning your building into a smart building that is able to communicate with you!

How Does a Smoke Detector Work?

Most people are very familiar with smoke detectors. However, you probably don’t have a good idea of how they actually work. There are two basic types of smoke detectors. One uses a process called ionization. The other uses a photoelectric process.

How Ionization Smoke Detectors Work

Ionization smoke detectors contain two electrically charged plates. These cause the creation of a flow of ions that pass through the air between the plates. In the event that smoke enters the detectors, this pathway is disrupted, which triggers the alarm.

These detectors are best for detecting flaming fires in homes. That being said, having multiple types of smoke detectors is best and you should also consider pairing them with a heat sensor.

How Photoelectric Smoke Detectors Work

Photoelectric smoke detectors use a light source instead of an ion pathway. This light source exists inside the smoke alarm and is projected away from a light sensor. If smoke enters the chamber, the light is reflected by the smoke, allowing it to be detected by the light sensor.

Photoelectric smoke detectors are best for detecting "smoldering fires". This kind of fire might make you think of a forest fire, however, it can happen in homes as well. That is why these smoke alarms should be paired with ionization smoke alarms, as well as with a heat sensor for more comprehensive protection.

How Does a Heat Detector Work?

Since smoke detectors are more common than heat detectors, many people are not as familiar with the latter. In fact, you may not have realized heat detectors are a thing prior to reading this article. There are two major types of heat detectors that you will find: a fixed heat detector and a rate-of-rise detector.

Fixed Heat Detector

The first primary type of heat detector is known as a fixed heat detector. This operates on a fairly straightforward concept. It is programmed to alarm if the temperature of a particular area reaches a certain level. This would be a level that would not normally be generated in the absence of a fire.

Unfortunately, some fires take longer to heat up than others like the smoldering fire mentioned above. In this case, a fire could potentially go undetected for much longer than expected. Each minute that a fire burns can lead to unnecessary danger for both tenants and the building.

Rate-of-Rise detector

The second major type of heat detector is a rate-of-rise detector. Instead of detecting a specific temperature, this system is designed to sound an alarm in the event that the temperature of an area increases at a rate higher than a pre-specified amount. For example, it may be programmed to alarm if a room’s temperature increases by more than five degrees in a minute.

These detectors are less useful if the fire happens to be growing at a slower rate than the detector is configured to alert you to. Additionally, for rooms that have temperature fluctuations, this type of sensor is less likely to be useful.

Which Type of Detector is Better to Use?

The reality is that the most effective method of fire prevention involves using heat and smoke detectors. Having both types of sensors is an effective way to enhance your level of protection, allowing the detection of multiple different signs of a fire.

Having these as part of a smart system is even better as it allows for instant communication in the event that an alarm is triggered on your property. In fact, property managers love our smart systems for their reliability and ability to send real-time notifications. Many people prefer placing these in stairwells or hallways to increase their level of protection.

Our smart device systems are able to send real-time alerts by text, call, or e-mail. This means that you don’t have to rely solely on tenants to notify you of any issues. You can ensure that staff quickly respond to any alarms, helping provide added protection. Smart systems such as these are great for supplementing the baseline protection provided by your existing smoke detectors.

If you are interested in learning more about Vapor™, please reach out to us at

Do you have a heat sensor in your house? What types of smart sensors are you considering for your building? We'd love to hear from you in the comments!

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