Safety in the Home – Smoke Alarms

Fitting a smoke alarm is the simplest step you can take to reduce the risk of a fatal fire in your home. If your home has more than one floor, you should fit at least one smoke alarm on each floor.

Choosing a smoke alarm
There are two types of smoke alarm:

Ionisation alarms are the commonest and least expensive and are widely available, they are very sensitive to flaming fires such as chip-pan fires and will detect this type of fire before smoke gets too thick.

Optical alarms also known as Photoelectric Smoke alarms, are more expensive but can be more effective at detecting slow-burning fires (such as smouldering foam-filled furniture or overheated wiring) earlier than ionisation alarms. They are also less prone to go off accidentally and so are best for ground-floor hallways and for single storey homes and apartments.When purchasing a smoke alarm ensure it complies with British Standard 5446, Part 1 (BS 5446-1) and preferably carries the British Standard Kitemark. The popular types operate from a battery, usually 9V and are provided with a test button to check the alarm is in working order. 10 year long life battery units and mains powered versions are also available, although the latter must be installed by a qualified electrician.

Installing and Maintaining your alarm
Fit smoke alarms on each level in your home, ideally on the ceiling in hallways and landings and where you are most likely to hear the alarm. Position centrally on the ceiling if possible and away from electrical lights, as these give off heat. If you have a TV or other large electrical appliance in any of the bedrooms, or use a bedroom as a computer study fit a smoke alarm in the bedroom. Don’t fit a smoke alarm near cooking appliances as the cooking fumes will activate the alarm.

Battery powered alarms are not difficult to install and can be fitted in minutes.

  • Follow the instructions in the pack and ensure the battery(ies) are fitted.
  • Press the test button to check the alarm is working.
  • Keep free from dust and test them once a week by pressing the test button until the alarm sounds. Often a warning bleep will also sound if the battery is running low.
  • Make a diary note to change the batteries in your alarms once a year – 10 year battery units provide an additional safeguard but you should still test the unit regularly.
  • Fortunately home fires occur relatively rarely but many people fit smoke alarms and forget simple maintenance with the result that the alarm fails to operate when a fire does occur.
  • Remember – test your alarm(s) once a week and fit a new battery every year.

Some local UK Fire and Rescue services install smoke alarms free of charge. You should contact yours to see if they run such a scheme.

If you have a solid fuel, oil or gas heating system you should also consider installing a Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector located in the boiler room or adjacent the boiler unit. Carbon Monoxide is invisible and odourless but is highly toxic if inhaled. Fire and Safety Centre supply a range of Smoke, CO and Cigarette Smoke alarms and detectors.