Vaping is a trend that has changed the lives of a lot of smokers who now have a better substitute for nicotine and tar. However, there is still some dispute about the use of vape pens, particularly in public and indoors. A big concern is that the vapor will trigger false alarms via smoke detectors. Is this possible and, if so, what can you do to reduce the risk.
Although vaping doesn’t create smoke, it can still set off a smoke detector. It all depends on the circumstances, such as the intensity of the vapor, the proximity to the smoke detector, and the type of smoke detector used. This means that you could set off an alarm at home, work, or another establishment if you aren’t careful.
To better understand what we can and can’t do regarding the use of vape pens around smoke detectors, we need to consider the following points.
- What it is about vapor from an e-cigarette that triggers smoke detectors
- The different types of smoke detectors that you can get
- The risk of setting off alarms in hotels and other public places
- How best to use vape pens at home to avoid problems
- The other potential fire risks associated with vape pens
Table of Contents
Why does vapor set off a detector if it isn’t smoke?
Vaping and the use of e-cigarettes is a trend that still causes a lot of debate and confusion. For many, this is a great substitute for smoking tobacco products because there aren’t the same health risks.
You produce a tar-free cloud of vapor instead of smoke, which may have a pleasant aroma. Others are less keen on vaping because those clouds can get so intrusive in public spaces.
It is hard to be discrete with a vape pen, which is where we get so many questions about vaping and smoke detectors. It is possible for these large clouds of vapor to trigger a smoke detector – something that catches a lot of users off-guard, so why is this the case when this isn’t smoke?
It all comes down to the density of the molecules and the way that these particles trigger sensors in the smoke detector.
The device can’t distinguish between smoke and vapor, it merely registers anomalies and triggers the alarm if there is a potential risk of fire. The risk of this happening is far greater if there is a massive cloud directly underneath the detector or if you have a lot of people using vape pens in the same room.
Still, you can get some false alarms, especially if your smoke alarm is a little more sensitive. It is always better to have a device that triggers for any substance that could be smoke, rather than having one that doesn’t go off in an emergency.
The different types of smoke detectors.
The impact of vapor from vape pens on smoke detectors will depend on the type of device you have. There are different types with varying methods of detection. Some will react to the vapor clouds a lot more than others. So, the risk of false alarms can vary from location to location.
Photoelectric smoke detectors
The first type of smoke detector is the photoelectric model. These work by detecting disruptions in optical light beams. Simply put, if something breaks the beam, the device may assume it is smoke and sound the alarm.
You may have been in situations where there are photoelectric-based detectors in a kitchen that have gone off because of steam. Large steam clouds are dense enough to break the light beam, and so are dense clouds of vapor from e-cigarettes.
So, if you vape directly underneath one of these devices, you could easily set it off.
Ionization smoke detectors
Then there are the ionization-based devices. These work in a similar way in that they rely on disruption to a signal.
These devices create a current that can be broken by certain particles. The idea is that it should respond to smoke particles to sound the alarm for a fire. But, there is the possibility that a large enough concentration of vapor from e-cigarettes will have the same effect.
This is unlikely to happen if you aren’t close to the device, which is why many people can still smoke regular cigarettes at home without too many problems. But, the possibility is there so you still need to be mindful of the location of the device and ventilation.
Some places of work will use heat detection devices instead as a way of avoiding false alarms from other particles. For example, commercial kitchens may choose the use heat-only devices to detect fire rather than smoke.
This means that these devices are unlikely to be triggered by vaping. But, it also means that you are unlikely to be in a position where you get to vape anywhere near one.
Finally, there are the devices that have a combination of ways of detecting problems.
These alarms may have ionization or photoelectric-based capabilities for detecting smoke, but also a heat detector. If there is a break in the light or current, the device may then rely on the heat sensor to determine the threat.
This can help reduce false alarms due to triggers that aren’t smoke, making them less likely to go off if someone is vaping.
Will vaping set off a hotel smoke detector?
This is where we see some of the bigger concerns regarding the use of vape pens indoors. Vaping at home and accidentally setting off a smoke detector isn’t too bad. You can shut it off quite quickly and only deal with a minor inconvenience.
When it comes to hotel rooms, a triggered smoke detector could end up setting off the fire alarm, leading to a mass evacuation of all guests. You will not be popular with anyone else staying there if they found out why it happened and you could get a fine from the hotel.
A lot of hotels have no-vaping policies in their rooms for this reason and it is best to stick to outdoor areas. There is also the chance that even if you try and be discrete, there may be more sensitive sensors in the devices to make sure no one uses a vape pen.
How to vape at home without setting off a smoke detector.
The issue isn’t quite so bad at home, but you still don’t want to have to deal with the detectors going off when you’re relaxing in your living room. There is no reason why you can’t vape at home, unless it goes against part of a tenancy agreement. Y
ou can be careful about where you vape to make sure that a large cloud doesn’t end up right underneath the sensors. Consider sitting by an open window to provide better ventilation.
Can vaping cause a fire?
This is where we have a bigger issue to contend with. We can’t just consider the impact of e-cigarette vapor when there are other dangers in the devices themselves.
A report from back in 2014 by the U.S. Fire Administration highlights the potential risks. They state that between 2009 and 2014, there were 25 fires and/or explosions related to these pens.
This may not sound like much, but there were 15 incidents in 2015, 13 of which were explosions.
As e-cigarette use rises, so does the risk. The main culprit here is the use of lithium batteries. They can become too hot, especially when charging, and ignite.
Five of these 2015 cases led to fires, presumably due to the presence of flammable material near the exploding pen.
Is vaping less of a fire danger than smoking?
These statistics are pretty shocking and should act as a wake-up call to any e-cigarette users that aren’t careful about when and where they charge their device.
However, vapers will be pleased to know that the risk is much lower than regular smoking. If we go back to the data for 2014, we see approximately 17,200 house fires caused by smoking-related materials.
This could be lit cigarettes, lighters, or matches. 570 people died and 1,140 were injured. It is also claimed that while this related to 5% of reported home fires, it also accounted for 21% of home fire deaths.
So, you are definitely a lot safer using e-cigarettes at home than real ones. However, the risks above mean that it is better to go outside when possible.
Will vape pens trigger smoke alarms?
To summarize, while the fire risks related to vaping are lower than smoking, they do exist. You need to be considerate when charging and using devices, and this includes vaping in public buildings. The vapor is unlikely to trigger smoke alarms but it isn’t impossible.
So, unless you are at home, stick to vaping outside to avoid the risks and stay on everyone else’s good side.