Smoke Alarms – Are they all the same?
Hard-wired smoke alarms (installed by a licensed electrical contractor to mains power) are compulsory in all new homes and new leases for rental properties since October 2009. They are required to be installed on the sale of an existing home if not already provided. They are a valuable life-safety item in your home.
Like all electrical items, smoke alarms have a limited lifespan – up to 10 years. Alarms need to be checked regularly to ensure they haven’t stopped working. Since mandatory installation in all new homes began back in 1997, many of the first installations are well overdue for replacement.
Why are alarms so important?
Alarms are necessary to alert building occupants of a fire so they may investigate or evacute the building. It is particularly important when the occupants of the home are asleep. Although we are aware of smoke or fire when we are awake, our sense of smell shuts down when we sleep so we are not woken by the smell of smoke, hence the number of fatalities in house fires, and the frustration of fire and emergency services of how simply loss of life could be prevented with the installation of smoke alarms.
What types of hard-wired smoke alarms are available?
Smoke alarms may be photoelectric and ionisation. Ionisation alarms work best with flaming fires however, have higher incidences of false alarms.
Photoelectic smoke alarms contain a light chamber to detect large quantities of small particles i.e smoke. They are very quick to detect smoldering fires which are generally the types of fires that start during the night when occupants are asleep and need to be alerted as early as possible of a fire. This is the preferred type for residential installations.
How many do I need?
The Building Code of Australia requires smoke alarms to be installed on every level of a home and between living and sleeping areas. So depending on the design of your home you may require two or more alarms. You may also choose to install alarms in each bedroom, and have them interconnected, so that if one alarm is triggered, all the alarms sound – great for large homes, or for homes with separate sleeping areas for adults and children.
Am I ready for an emergency at home?
If you were to have an emergency or fire in your home, would all family members know what to do? Think about various evacuation strategies for a number of emergency or fire scenarios i.e fire in the kitchen or laundry, or in a bedroom and how you might need to behave differently. If you have a window and door secruity, what escape options do you have? Think of worst-case and how you would get out quickly.
Teach children about staying low, closing doors behind them as they go to keep the fire and smoke from spreading more quickly, and how to test closed doors for fire by using the back of your hand before opening.
Maintaining your smoke alarms.
This is relatively simple.
- Test them regularly (monthly)
- Replace batteries (where required) annually.
- Clean with a vacuum cleaner to remove dust (at least annually).
Note: From 1 October 2011 all rental properties, holiday homes, bed and breakfast accommodation and similar short stay accomodation must have compliant smoke alarms installed. This is the responsibility of the building owner.
Visit www.buildingcommission.wa.gov.au for more information.
Acknowledgement: Building Commission