The What, Why, and How-To Guide for Smoke Alarms


Being trapped and caught in a house fire is a horrifying tragedy. Sadly, a study from 2019 confirmed that more Australians die in residential fires on average than by other natural hazards combined. It also highlighted that many of these deaths could have been prevented, which is why every household should have smoke alarms.

What Are Smoke Alarms?

A smoke alarm is a self-contained device that, upon sensing the effects of combustion, emits a sound. These should not be confused with smoke detectors – these only sense smoke and must be connected to a fire alarm system to be audible. Smoke alarms are usually found in residential settings, while smoke detectors are commonly used in commercial or industrial areas.

There are many different types of smoke alarms available for household use:

Ionisation Alarms

These alarms contain tiny amounts of radioactive material, which are good at reacting to particles created by fire. They work exceptionally well at detecting fires that emit little or no smoke. The disadvantage of these alarms is that they are radioactive, and they aren’t as quick at recognising large amounts of smoke. You can place these alarms in foyers or stairways.

Photoelectric Smoke Alarms

These alarms utilise a light source present in a light-sensitive sensor. When smoke enters the alarm, the sensor detects this and triggers an alarm. They are best at detecting smouldering and smoky fires (from foam-filled furniture and overheated PVC wiring). However, it is not uncommon for bugs and dust to enter the light sensor, creating a false alert. It is best to place these alarms in hallways, bedrooms, and living rooms.

Other Alarm Types

These include the dual-sensor alarm, a hybrid between ionisation and photoelectric smoke alarms, and carbon monoxide alarms that alert you when carbon monoxide reaches dangerous levels. Heat alarms can also be good options for kitchens and garages as they recognise heat instead of fumes or steam.

Most states in Australia also require you to have a smoke alarm installed in your home, so check your state’s current laws regarding smoke alarms.

Why Should I Get A Smoke Alarm?  

Statistically, smoke kills more people than actual fires. Moreover, most furniture today is manufactured from synthetic materials, which burn fast – in a matter of minutes. This means that people have less time to escape an inferno, which highlights the importance of fire prevention.

What To Look For In A Smoke Alarm?

Always invest in a good quality alarm. As it can be a matter of life and death, this is not something you should skimp on. Here is a list of features to look for in a smoke alarm:

  • Comes with Standard Australian certification or ActivFire registration – this is to ensure that the model complies with Australian safety standard laws.
  • A 7-10 year battery – it’s also important to replace the batteries once they expire.
  • An insect screen – to prevent insects from setting off false alarms.
  • Interconnection – to allow alarms to respond to each other and alert everyone within the house.
  • Escape lights – useful for when the power fails, to help guide people to safety.
  • Test button – allows you to test to see if the alarm works.

How To Effectively Use Your Smoke Alarm

Once you have decided on a smoke alarm, it is crucial to know where to place them to maximise their effectiveness. It is important to note that smoke rises and spreads out when it comes into contact with a barrier such as a ceiling. Hence the ceiling would be the best location for your smoke alarm.

To install a smoke alarm on the ceiling, always consult an electrician if you aren’t sure how to do it. Smoke alarms will also require batteries either as the main source of power or as a back up in case the mains power fails in the event of a fire. Alkaline batteries are a good choice as they can last between 12-18 months, whereas lithium batteries typically function for about 5 years.

It is also recommended that you test your alarm weekly by pressing the built-in test button. This is designed to simulate the detection of smoke. If your smoke alarms are interconnected, you can observe whether they work effectively together. If you encounter problems, refer to your respective manual or contact an electrician.

If you are looking for a reputable fire alarm supplier, PSA Products, Australia’s premier fire detection and security system supplier, offers an array of high-quality smoke alarms, including wifi smoke detectors specially designed to keep you and your family safe. Please get in touch with our friendly team for more details.