White Paper 3—lbirch141


For my research essay, I will examine how battery-powered smoke detectors are as reliable as wired smoke detectors, eliminating the hazards wired detectors may bring.

Smoke detectors are commonly known to alert someone if smoke is in their household or room. But there can be some hazards of these round plastic pieces that beep every time there is smoke. Wired detectors are what their name infers; they are hardwired into the ceiling and requires little attention until they start to go bad. These are often used because of how little you need to check them compared to battery-powered detectors. With the detectors directly wired into the ceiling, there could possibly be a risk of electrical hazards, which could be catastrophic.


1. “Smoke Detectors To Blame For Two Fires”

The Essential Content of the Article: This article published by Daily Mail provides two cases in the United Kingdom where the smoke detectors caught fire. Fire investigators on the case say they are on the side of caution because of these incidents and are taking the situation very seriously. These detectors were installed by fire services for a fire prevention safety campaign.

What it Proves: This article proves to me that there are cases of faulty detectors that do have the potential to start a fire and can cause harm. This also provides an example of an incident where smoke detectors do the complete opposite of what they are made to do.


2. Pros and Cons of Hard-Wired Detectors” 

The Essential Content of the Article: This article contains both the positives and negatives behind hard-wired smoke detectors. Some advantages are that when one alarm is activated, all are activated. Also a hard-wired detector is powered through the houses main electrical system, meaning you will have power to the at all times. The negatives of hard-wired detectors are that when the power goes out, they run solely on a battery. Also another negative is how much wiring is needed, which does have the possibility to short out.

What it Proves: With the information in this article, hard-wired detectors do have negatives that may outweigh their positives at times. Sure, there are positives, such as the little attention they do need, but in an emergency situation, they still need to run off a battery. Battery-powered smoke detectors are the cheaper option, and a battery in one has the lifespan of up to 10 years, which is the same as a hard-wired detector.


3. “Smoke Alarms Related To Fatal Fires”

The Essential Content of the Article: This report focuses on the statistics of fatalities in fires and their relation to smoke detectors. This report by the National Fire Protection Association states “smoke alarms were present in slightly less than three-quarters (73%) of reported home fires and operated in roughly half (53%)” (Ahrens, 2). It also states that about three out of five respondents of a survey still use battery operated smoke detectors. Lastly, a main piece of evidence that can be used is that a power-failure, shut-off or disconnect was the leading failure reason for failures of hardwired only smoke alarms (46%) (Ahrens, 5).

What it Proves: This report provides useful information that can relate fire alarms and their connection to fatalities in fires. This report makes it easy to understand the statistics of fatal household fires and proves that any alarm will make the difference between life and death.

4. “Smoke Alarms In Houses Today”

The Essential Content of the Article: This report covers the facts of smoke detector in houses today. There may be a problem reflected in battery-only alarms because if one alarm detects smoke, only that one will sound. If there is a fire in a remote section of the house, the alarm may not be heard if you are far away from the alarm. One statement in this report shows that some fires start due to overheated wires in detectors from an overload on its current.

What it Proves: This report proves that there can be some hazardous things in detectors we may not even think of. This can be the fact that with battery-operated detectors, only one detector will go off in an event of fire while hard-wired fires all will activate. But one hazard a hard-wired detector may possess is the problem of overheated wires with can lead to electrical fires.

With the information I gained about electrical fires due to overheated wires, I researched more about this topic and will add below.

5. “Short Circuits”

The Essential Content of the Article: Short circuits can be caused by faulty installation of wires. When one wire carrying a current touches another wire, heat and fire can be made. This is from an overload of current which the wire may not be able to handle.

What it Proves: There can be many reasons why a short circuit may happen due to a detector. Wires may be faulty and can produce extreme heat, which can result in a fire. This proves that detectors do have the potential threat of a fire and can be harmful in some cases.

6. “Electrical Fires In Homes”

The Essential Content of the Article: This report by the National Fire Protection Agency gives us a vast amount of information gives us facts about electrical fires in houses across the country. Electrical fires may be the route of detector failures and fires because of the wiring involved. Fire departments responded to over 45,000 reported structure fires which involved electrical failure or malfunction from 2010-2014.  Wiring and related equipment accounted for the great majority of home fires and losses involving electrical distribution and lighting equipment, which was 69% of fires. 56% of civilian deaths were due to electrical distribution, such as how hardwired detectors are powered.

What it Proves: This report proves that electrical fires are very common to be the cause of structure fires. With this said, the chance of a detector starting a fire may increase because of the wiring involved. If there is a short in the wiring of the detector, there will be heat, just like in other electrical fires.

7. “9-Volt Battery Fire”

The Essential Content of the Article: This article written by Fire Protection Team gives is information about 9-volt batteries and how they can cause a fire. 9-volt batteries are used in some detectors, but also as backups in hard-wired detectors. If a metal object, which can be as simple as a pen or paper clip touches a post of the battery, it may short the battery causing heat or fire. There have been fires due to batteries reported across the country and cause a concern to many.

What it Proves: The information gained from this article proves that even batteries can play a role in causing fires in detectors. If one small piece of metal touches the posts of the battery, extreme heat will be created, which can cause a fire. Not only do hardwired detectors have the risk of faulty wiring, but also the risk of the back-up battery causing a fire.

8. “Safety Concerns with Li-ion Batteries”

The Essential Content of the Article: The article by Battery University gives the reader information about the hazards of Lithium Ion batteries and why they start fires. The author of this article describes battery failure and how they start the fires. These batteries catch fire because of either deign flaws or by random, which is said to be comparable to being hit by a meteor. A few examples of Lithium Ion failures was the hoverboard fire inncidents and the Samsung phone battery fires. These were caused by manufacturing defects. A battery can experience overheating or may become unstable if used in the wrong ways.

What it Proves: This article proves that there are some previous safety malfunctions that have to do with Lithium Ion batteries. The same types of batteries that caught fire in Samsung phones and hoverboards are used in smoke detectors. This information also proves that sometimes a fire may start for no apparent reason, which may be why some of these batteries catch fire. The most common problems are manufactural errors, which leads to possible fires.

9. “Wrong Batteries Leads To Explosive Results”

The Essential Content of the Article: This article focuses on one cause where a battery started to “buldge” and “overheat.” This was caused by the wrong battery being used in the detector and the electricity from the house can charge the battery to an amount the battery cannot handle. The detectors were made before October of 2000, but have never been recalled.

What it Proves: This article proves another example of a battery in a smoke detector overheating, and this time battery acid leaking. This is just another example of a detector malfunctioning and injuring a man. Because of the use of a battery not designed for a certain detector, overheating occured, and luckly no fire.


What I’m Still Looking For:

The facts I am still looking for that supports my hypothesis are sources that could give me more information about detectors and how they cause fire. I do have articles about them causing fires, but not actual statistics. I can say it would be far too hard to conclude a detector causes a structure fire, especially if it is a major fire. But, there may be some facts and some more information about detectors being the main cause of a fire.

Current State of my Research:

With the research so far, I can conclude I am on a very good path and I am gaining much more knowledge on this subject. The research is coming very well, but with some information that cannot be found (stated above). If I can find more information about detectors, I may be able to successfully prove my hypothesis. This information will make me more confident and will help my research even further.

2 thoughts on “White Paper 3—lbirch141”

  1. This is fascinating stuff, LBirch. I would guess from the evidence you’ve collected so far that you wouldn’t argue against wired detectors categorically. They do seem to be preferable to battery-only detectors in most cases, wouldn’t you say? It’s interesting that wired detectors use battery backup for cases when power is interrupted. It does raise the question of how reliable the backup would be since the odds strongly argue that most people who choose wired detectors have no interest in periodically checking the backup batteries. I’m thinking of cases when, for example, a lightning strike cuts power to a building and simultaneously starts a fire. Nobody has checked the freshness of the batteries for ten years because they never thought they had to. Just a thought.

    I’m having a hard time teasing out the advantage/disadvantage ratio in your third source. I can’t tell from what you report whether fatalities would have been prevented by detectors other than those present. Obviously, in homes absent detectors, either type would have been more beneficial than no alarms at all. To draw meaningful conclusions, you’ll need to move back to the original source and examine the data yourself.

    You cite this source: https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/Fire-statistics/Fire-safety-equipment/Smoke-Alarms-in-US-Home-Fires

    You’ll learn A LOT MORE by following the link to the actual report: https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics/Fire-Protection-Systems/ossmokealarms.ashx?la=en&hash=FC2991866BD9C487CE7F48320CB81311A6DB46BB

    There’s data breakdown analysis much more sophisticated here than in any second-hand source you’re likely to encounter. For example:

    46% of the smoke alarms in reported home fires were powered by batteries only. Table 4 and Figure 5 show that overall, when smoke alarms were present, they were battery-powered in almost half (46%) of the reported home fires and two-thirds (67%) of the home fire deaths. The death rate per 100 reported fires was 2.5 times as high in fires with smoke alarms powered by batteries as it was in fires with hardwired (with and without battery backup) smoke alarms

    That’s just one example of the amazing depth of data in this one document. Your reaction?


    1. Would it be better to include some information in the whiteboard that argues against my hypothesis, such as the statistic you stated above? In a personal experience, power was out at a home and we were called because the alarm was going off due to a dead battery, which was a backup. Hardwired detectors still require some attention but sometimes do not get this, which can be just as deadly as a battery-operated detector with a dead battery.


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