A smoke alarm is one of the first lines of defence when it comes to protecting the family from residential fires. These invaluable early warning systems not only protect you but also the community around by giving out the first signs of fire detection.
A number of fatalities occur when occupants are asleep and unable to smell smoke and then breathe it in. Ensuring that you have the correct alarm fitted to your property is crucial. Smoke alarm devices come in a range of products which can seem a little confusing to know which is going to be the right one for your home. Getting it right is not difficult if you follow our comprehensive guide to buying the right smoke alarm for you.
Different categories of smoke alarms
There are different types of smoke alarms available, however, depending on which state you live in, you may have a choice or you have to follow the state recommendation. The ones that most states recommend are the photoelectric alarms such as the HomeGuard smoke alarm. Do note that there are also ionisation smoke alarms.
- Photoelectric alarms work by the use of a beam of light that, once a certain amount of visible smoke enters the chamber of the device, triggers the alarm. This means that the photoelectric alarm is more sensitive to smouldering and smoky fires than the ionisation alarm. Hence, this is why several Australian states recommend this type of model. They can also be triggered by insects or dust so keeping them clean is recommended.
- Ionisation smoke alarms work by detecting minute particles that enter the ionisation chamber of the alarm. When the number of particles reach a certain threshold then the alarm sounds. The particles produced come from very hot or flaming fires so heat and flames are detected quickly by this type of alarm, although the dangerous smoke produced by fires might not be as easily detected. You need to avoid placing these where there is heat and steam from cooking or washing so keep away from bathrooms and kitchens.
- Dual sensor alarms combine a photoelectric sensor and ionisation sensor but avoid hot spots such as kitchens and bathrooms.
It is important to note that the standard smoke detection type that is recommended by all the relevant Australian authorities is photoelectric alarms. With ionisation alarms, they contain a small amount of radioactive material – which is how they detect smoke, by the disruption of their low-level frequent electrical current. Across the country, ionisation alarms have been, or are gradually phasing out and old ones need to be disposed of safely. The smoke alarm legislation in states and territories however, do vary, as discussed in the next section.
Legislation in states and territories
The Australian Standard 3786 has brought in new requirements for homeowners and landlords although smoke alarms have been mandatory in all states for over 20 years. Homeowners have to comply with the new regulations by 1st January 2027.
If you are fitting new alarms, they have to meet the new technology standards. Also, if you are carrying out any renovations to your property that need substantial improvements then the new Smoke Alarm regulations must be met.
Depending on where you live, you must follow the requirements for your state or territory because some states have chosen to use different versions of the Standard 3786. If you are unsure, speak to your smoke alarm suppliers who can advise further or check on the relevant information page. For example, in Western Australia, the guidance can be found under the Department for Fire and Emergency Services, or under Fire and Rescue for New South Wales.
Features and functions
The important things to look out for when choosing the right alarm for your home is that it must comply with the above regulations and the packaging and information must clearly state this fact. You should also consider which is the right option for powering the unit, unless you are prepared to check and change a battery every year, then a hard wired device with battery backup such as the HomeGuard smoke alarm may be a better choice for you.
Smart technology around the home means that today’s smoke alarms can be connected to other home security features. Products such as the Lifesaver smoke alarm, has both wireless and wired capability and can be a stand-alone device or interconnected to other units such as carbon monoxide alarms. In some states and depending on the size of your home and when it was built, you may have to have interconnected alarms fitted in the home. Make sure the product you choose has a test button so that you can check the alarm is working on a regular basis as part of your in-house safety routine.
Installation and number of alarms
If the unit is hardwired, these should always be installed by a licensed electrician and most state legislation will require this. Otherwise, you can be subject to prosecution if the alarm is installed illegally. It is important to check out the specific requirements for installation for the state in which you reside and the same goes for guidance about the number of alarms required.
Generally, in single level homes they should be installed in all hallways leading to bedrooms on or near ceiling level (if no hallway then in an area near the bedrooms). For multi-level homes, they should be installed at each level where there are bedrooms usually in the path of travel people take to exit a building during a fire such as a ceiling or wall on the stairs. They should also be on every other level even if there are no bedrooms. For maximum protection, they should be installed in every living area, hall and bedroom in the home.