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The Homeowner’s Guide To Smoke Alarms

Steve Hutchings

By Steve Hutchings

July 9th 2016

 

The trusty smoke alarm is arguably the most important appliance in your home. Yet, without regular testing to make sure it’s functioning properly, these essential life-saving devices are useless.

With more than 50 Australians dying in home fires each year, we all know how important smoke alarms are – but how many of us take the time to ensure they’re maintained, tested and cleaned properly to protect the home and family? Our handy guide of FAQs will help you select, position, clean, and check smoke alarms in your home.

 

A quick guide to smoke alarms

While we may think of fires as a summer hazard, more than 60% of home fires actually occur during winter. In cooler months, the excessive use of heaters comes into play, raising the risk of home fires as well as carbon monoxide poisoning.

 

Do I need to have a smoke alarm?

Yes – whether you’re a homeowner, renter, or even bunking in a caravan, the law says that every home must have at least one working smoke alarm installed on every level.

 

When should I replace my smoke alarm?

Smoke alarms should be replaced at least every ten years, or earlier if specified by the manufacturer.

If you’re unsure whether your smoke alarm is still working properly, you should arrange to have a licensed electrician test the alarm for you. An electrical safety inspection may also be in order.

 

What type of smoke alarm should I buy?

Ionisation and photoelectric alarms are the two main types of smoke alarms for homes.

Ionisation alarms are ideal for detecting fast-flaming fires, while photoelectric alarms are much faster at detecting the kind of smoky, smouldering fires that are more common in the home environment.

As such, photoelectric smoke alarms are regarded as much better for homes. Fire NSW recommends choosing a photoelectric smoke alarm that is hard wired (rather than battery-powered) and interconnected (so that when one alarm goes off, they all do).

If hard-wired smoke alarms are not an option, inbuilt ten-year lithium batteries are regarded as the next best thing as their batteries won’t need periodical replacement.

 

What to look for in a smoke alarm

Important things to look for when choosing a smoke alarm include:

  • The Australian Standard symbol to make sure it meets the safety criteria
  • A test button so you can easily check whether the alarm is working
  • A hush button to restore the quiet during any false alarms
  • If you do opt for a battery-powered alarm, make sure it has a battery test and mechanism to warn you when the battery is low
  • Those who are hard of hearing should look into strobe light and vibrating pad alarms

 

Do I need a carbon monoxide alarm?

Carbon monoxide is another potentially fatal danger in the home. This colourless, odourless gas caused 365 hospitalisations in 2006-07 in Australia alone due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you have gas appliances in the house, carbon monoxide (CO) alarms or detectors are another alarm you should look into. They should be placed in or near every room with a gas heating appliance, though not near the appliance itself, and clearly audible from all bedrooms.

Even if you have a CO alarm, make sure your gas appliances are serviced regularly, as CO alarms are generally not considered 100% fool-proof.

 

Where should I install my smoke alarms?

It’s best to install a smoke alarm in every bedroom and living area, and even any garages or sheds. Make sure that the alarm sound is audible from all bedrooms.

Avoid placing smoke alarms in any bathroom or kitchens, and within metres of appliances (particularly stovetops and ovens).

Hard-wired smoke alarms must be installed by a licensed electrician. Here at Electric Express we’re experienced in installing and testing smoke alarms of all types for both residential and commercial properties.

 

How often should I check my smoke alarm?

You should test your smoke alarm every month using the test button. Any battery-operated models should also have their batteries tested every month and replaced every 12 months (unless it’s lithium batteries). It’s also a good idea to have your fire safety appliances inspected by a professional every few years.

Also remember to clean your fire alarms, particularly photoelectric ones. Vacuum the dust off it at least every six months in order to prevent dust particles from potentially interfering.

 

Other safety measures

Fire alarms are the first line of defence, but don’t neglect other fire safety devices like fire blankets and extinguishers, and make sure your entire family has memorised a home escape plan in the event of an emergency.

If you’d like the peace of mind that comes with having your smoke alarm professionally installed or tested, contact our team today. Remember, testing your alarm systems in advance can save lives during emergencies.

Was that helpful? If you want professional, timely electrical help then give Steve a call on 9159 6877, or (for the introverts) shoot us an email.

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