According to a 2019 Study by Macquarie University, Australia has more reported fatalities from residential fires than any other natural hazards combined. The report also mentions that many of these fatalities are preventable, which is why buildings and residences must have dedicated fire safety procedures and adequate smoke alarms sourced from reputable fire alarm suppliers.
Smoke alarms are an essential safety component for buildings in Australia. They are legally required to be installed in all places where people sleep, according to state legislatures across the country.
As such, the article below will detail a short guide on smoke alarms – ranging from the types of smoke alarms, what to look for in a smoke alarm, and how you can effectively use and place smoke alarms.
Table of Contents
What Are Smoke Alarms?
Smoke alarms are devices that, upon detecting the effects of a fire, such as smoke particles in the air or heat, emit a loud sound warning the occupants of the building that a fire is present.
Smoke alarms should not be confused with smoke detectors. Smoke detectors like a Wi-Fi smoke detector sense smoke in particular and must be connected to a more extensive system for them to work.
Smoke alarms are usually found in residential settings, while smoke detectors are more commonly present in commercial or industrial areas.
What Type OF Smoke Alarms Are There?
There are several smoke alarms available for household use:
1. Ionisation Smoke Alarm
Ionisation alarms are more reactive to flaming fires than their counterparts and are exceptionally well-suited to detecting fires that emit little or no smoke.
As for how they work, the alarms contain a small amount of radioactive material ionising the air between 2 electrodes (one positively charged and one negatively charged). When smoke enters the ionisation chamber, the smoke particles change the current balance inside, which completes the circuit and sounds the alarm.
While they’re practical, ionisation smoke alarms carry the risk of having radioactive material, making them dangerous if handled or disposed of improperly.
2. Photoelectric Smoke Alarm
Photoelectric alarms are better at detecting smouldering (smoke-heavy) fires, such as burning foam-filled furniture or overheating PVC wiring. These alarms use a light-sensitive sensor to detect smoke particles – when smoke enters the alarm, the sensor detects the change in light and triggers the alarm.
That being said, it’s not uncommon for bugs or dust to enter the light sensor and accidentally trip the alarm, which can be a nuisance.
3. Other Types Of Safety Alarms
Other types of smoke alarms include the dual-sensor alarm (a combination between ionisation and photoelectric smoke alarm) and the carbon monoxide alarm, which alerts you to dangerous levels of CO in your home.
For kitchens and garages where humidity and smoke can cause false alarms, heat alarms (which detect heat instead of smoke or particles) are the better choice, as they only register temperature changes associated with a fire.
Why Are Smoke Alarms Important?
Smoke alarms are critical for early detection of a fire in your home, giving you enough time to put out the fire if possible or escape with your life if the fire has gotten out of hand.
Statistically, smoke kills more people than actual fires. Moreover, most furniture today is manufactured from synthetic materials, which burn in minutes. This means that people have less time to escape an inferno, reinforcing the need for early fire prevention.
What Should I Look For In A Smoke Alarm?
Investing in a high-quality smoke alarm can be the difference between life and death. As such, here are several things you should look out for in a smoke alarm:
- Compliant with Standard Australian certification or ActivFire registration.
- A long-lasting replaceable battery (7 to 10 years).
- An insect screen to prevent false alarms.
- Interconnectivity, which allows alarms to back each other up.
- Escape lights to help guide people to safety.
- Test button to allow for tests to see if the alarm still works.
- Purchase from a reputable fire alarm supplier or security system supplier.
How To Effectively Use and Maintain Your Smoke Alarm
It’s recommended to install a smoke alarm in bedrooms, living spaces (hallways, stairways) and the garage. Avoid installing your smoke alarms too close to your kitchen or bathroom, as the increased humidity may lead to false alarm trips.
The ideal position to install a smoke alarm is on the ceiling between sleeping and living areas; this provides a decent amount of area coverage and is the best position to detect smoke rising to the top. Be sure to consult an electrician if you’re not sure how to install a smoke alarm.
It is also recommended that you test your alarm monthly by pressing the built-in test button, which simulates the detection of smoke. If your smoke alarms are interconnected, you can observe whether they work effectively together.
As a general maintenance guide over the lifetime of your smoke alarm:
- Try and test the alarm once a month.
- Vacuum dust off the smoke alarm every six months (to prevent false alarms and ensure smoke can reach the sensor.
- Replace lead/alkaline batteries once a year.
- Replace lithium batteries every ten years (or sooner, depending on the manufacturer).
We hope this guide has been helpful in explaining the necessity of installing a fire alarm system in your home. Also remember to source your products from a reputable fire safety and security manufacturer to keep you and your loved ones safe.