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A Simple Guide to Domestic Smoke Alarms

In the home, fires spread quickly. Fast fire detection can be the difference between escaping and being stuck in a burning building. Here are the key things you should know about smoke alarms to ensure that you, your home, and your family are protected.

What type of detector should you opt for?

There are now several types of detector available, all of which respond to different types of fire. It’s best to use a combination of these detectors. domestic smoke detector 1. Ionisation detectors These domestic detectors respond to small particles of smoke produced by flaming fires, such as those produced by a chip pan. Fast flaming fires spread incredibly quickly, so detecting them early is a distinct advantage of the ionisation detector. They’re generally affordable to buy, and don’t use much power. However, ionisation smoke alarms also respond to steam and airflow, so they shouldn’t be placed near bathrooms, fans or heaters. They also react to dust, so shouldn’t be placed in a home workshop. 2. Photoelectric detectors Photoelectric alarms, also known as optical smoke detectors, are better at responding to smouldering fires, the type of fire you’ll get if your upholstery begins to burn. On average, they’re generally more expensive to buy than ionising detectors and are slightly less sensitive to smouldering fires than ionisation alarms are. However, it’s still definitely worth investing in them as your house is covered in fabric, which is a massive singular cause of slow, smouldering fires. 3. Heat detectors Heat detectors are rarely found in the home. This is because smoke spreads faster than heat, so a smoke alarm will detect a fire sooner. Heat detectors are more suitable in dirty, dusty environments, or areas with polluted air. In these situations, where a smoke detector may be accidentally set off by other environmental factors, a heat detector is more suitable and will lead to fewer false alarms. So a heat detector should only ever be in attics, garages, sheds and other areas where the air may be contaminated. 4. Combined detectors As the name suggests, these respond well to both slow smouldering and fast-burning fires by using both ionising, optical and sometimes heat sensors in one unit. They’re also often referred to as dual sensor smoke alarms.

How many alarms should you have?

Naturally, the more alarms you have, the more protected you will be. The exact number of alarms will differ, depending on the size and layout of your home. It’s more important to make sure they’re positioned in the right places.

Where should smoke alarms be placed?

As a bare minimum, you should have at least one smoke alarm:
  • In every bedroom
  • Outside every sleeping area
  • On every level of your home
  • In high-risk areas
You should avoid placing alarms where they could be damaged or are at risk of falsely detecting a fire. They should never be placed:
  • Near cooking appliances
  • In bathrooms
  • Near cooking or heating devices
  • Near windows
  • Next to ceiling fans.
For maximum protection, a combination of ionisation, heat and photoelectric (optical) smoke alarms should be fitted in different areas, depending on the types of fire likely to be encountered. Generally, smoke alarms are fitted in the centre of a ceiling. However, if yours is fitted onto the wall, it needs to be 6 – 12 inches below the ceiling to work properly.

Link alarms for better protection

In large homes, it’s a good idea to interlink your alarms. This is because you may not be able to hear one alarm if you are in a different area of your home. Interlinking alarms ensures that when one alarm sounds, they all sound, regardless of where the fire is. Interlinking alarms is easier than you’d think. Many domestic fire alarms come with an interlink base, otherwise, they can be purchased for a relatively low cost. It is incredibly easy to disconnect alarms from the network, which is great if you are relocating an alarm or decorating an area, which could otherwise result in a false alarm. Make sure you ask a specialist field engineer to do this for you, though.

Carbon monoxide alarms

Carbon monoxide is known as a silent killer, because it’s colourless, odourless and tasteless. If inhaled, it prevents your blood from transporting oxygen around your body. Unless you have a carbon monoxide alarm fitted, you have no way of knowing carbon monoxide is present. Carbon monoxide can be emitted from poorly maintained or inadequately fitted heating devices. Ideally, a carbon monoxide alarm should be fitted in any room that contains a fuel-burning appliance. However, if this isn’t possible, place the alarm in a central location.

Whose responsibility is it?

It is the homeowner’s responsibility to ensure that their houses have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms. If you are the homeowner, it is your responsibility. Remember, if your house burns down and you don’t have a working smoke alarm, it may affect your insurance claims. If you are a tenant, it is your landlord’s legal responsibility. If an alarm becomes damaged, it is also your landlord’s responsibility to repair or replace it. Never feel that you are putting anybody out if your smoke alarm needs repairing or replacing.

How often should your domestic smoke alarms be checked?

Weekly: Every week, you should press the button on your smoke alarm. If it beeps, you know that it is in working order. Every 6 months: Clean your alarm by vacuuming it, then wiping over it with a damp cloth to remove any dust. Yearly: Replace your batteries yearly. Try doing it when the clocks go back, on New Year’s Day or any other memorable date. This will help to make the task habitual. Every decade: Your alarm should be replaced every 10 years – they don’t last forever. photo credit: topquark22 via photopin cc
  • Written by: Colin

    Great summary – people take smoke alarms for granted. They often don’t consider the type of alarm they need, think that 1 will suffice and rarely check them. The more awareness there is of these issues the better. Testing your smoke alarm is a 5 second job that could seriously save lives.


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