A far too often overlooked fixture in your home, the humble smoke alarm, when installed and maintained correctly is as effective and necessary as seat belts in your car. When asked "does your home have functioning smoke alarms with fresh batteries?" thankfully, most people I encounter will answer 'YES.' However, if I scratch a little deeper and ask if the alarms are within their service life, in the correct locations, or what type of alarms they are, very few people can answer these arguably much more important questions. So lets unwrap the mysteries on smoke alarms so that small disk you walk past every day on your ceiling is actually worth having there.
These are the main points to consider when assessing "am I covered?".
- What type of alarm do I have/need?? Previously there were two main types of alarms on the market, the first being ionisation alarms, the second photoelectric. In January 2017 QLD launched bold new laws, the safest and strictest in the country, which require ALL HOMES to have photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms by 2027. For many years the QLD Fire Service has been recommending photoelectric alarms as the only acceptable level of cover and now the QLD Government has listened. So, the answer is simple, photoelectric is the only type of alarm you should consider, anything less is not only illegal in most instances but also compromises your level of cover.
- Where should my alarms be located?? Currently alarms should be located on each storey; in hallways which connect bedrooms and the rest of the dwelling (within 3m of each bedroom door); if there is no hallway, between the bedroom and other parts of the storey; and if there are no bedrooms on a storey, at least one smoke alarm must be installed in the most likely path of travel to exit the dwelling. This requirement will also extend to having alarms inside each bedroom as the new laws roll out towards 2027. All alarms should also be interconnected by physical wiring or wireless interconnection.
- What is interconnection of smoke alarms?? Interconnection of smoke alarms is a means of communication between the alarms by either a communications cable or a wireless signal which, if one alarm is triggered, sends a signal to all other alarms in the dwelling to trigger them into alarm. Interconnection of alarms is extremely important and useful in increasing their effectiveness as a whole system rather than just a stand alone alarm. A prime example of this is in a two story dwelling where the ground floor alarm is interconnected to the upstairs alarm/s. If fire breaks out on the ground floor as soon as the alarm detects this and goes into alarm it will signal the upstairs alarm/s giving the occupants time to escape through the internal staircase. Without this it may be too late by the time the upstairs alarm reacts for safe egress from the dwelling via any internal staircases. As a result of the new laws rolling out in QLD there are some fantastic products being launched into the market such as 10 year lithium battery powered, wirelessly interconnected alarms.
- What does "service life" refer to with smoke alarms? All smoke alarms which comply with AS3786:2014 will have a service life of 10 years and this will be noted on the underside of the alarm body with either a date on manufacture or date of expiry. For an alarm to be compliant/worth having it has to fall within this 10 year service life. Like anything smoke alarms wear out, so just because you have an alarm doesn't mean you're covered. Would you drive your car for 10 years without changing the tyres, same goes for smoke alarms.
- When should I change the batteries? As a rule of thumb 9V stand alone alarms should have their batteries changed every 6 months and hard wired alarms with 9V backup batteries every 12 months. All alarms will give warning of a flat battery though by means of an intermittent chirp.
The above covers the most commonly asked/misunderstood points on smoke alarms and smoke alarm safety. For more information on the above including further information on positioning and the key rollout dates of the new laws visit the following links.
Evolve Electrical specialises in smoke alarm installation and testing, please get in touch via the contact page with any enquiries.