Secure Your Home this Winter: A Comprehensive Guide to Smoke Alarms

smoke detector activated

As the colder months approach, it’s important to review some essential safety precautions you should take to protect your home and family. Most homeowners understand the importance of smoke alarms, and qualified building inspectors will always survey a building for smoke alarms when drafting their report. Despite this, a 2018 investigation by the Metropolitan Fire Service found up to 45 per cent of South Australian homes that experienced a blaze had smoke alarms that did not function properly.

Such statistics are especially alarming, as faulty smoke alarms increase the risk of severe injury in a house fire by 80 per cent.This article will discuss the essentials of smoke alarm legislation, installation, and maintenance. If you’re unsure whether your home is up to scratch, follow this comprehensive guide to ensure a safe and comfortable winter.

Smoke alarms save lives

Smoke alarms are an essential component of any home security system, but their upkeep and maintenance becomes crucial in winter, when the use of appliances such as clothes dryers, electric blankets, and heaters increases. Most fire-related deaths result from inhaling toxic fire gases rather than direct contact with flame or exposure to heat. When you are asleep, you lose your sense of smell, which means that you may not be able to detect a fire until it’s too late. A working smoke alarm will alert you to the presence of smoke and give you time to evacuate safely. In some cases, they can even help extinguish a wayward flame before it truly takes hold.

Smoke alarms are required by law in all South Australian Class 1, 2, 3 and 4 buildings and must comply with the Australian Standard – AS 3786-2014. Buildings under Class 1 and 2 include ‘…any single dwelling including detached houses or attached houses such as row houses, terrace houses, townhouses, villa units’. In contrast, Class 3 denotes ‘…residential buildings of long term or transient living for several unrelated persons’. This class includes boarding houses, hostels, hotels and schools. Finally, Class 4 describes a dwelling that is ‘…not built for the purpose of accommodation’. Property owners that fail to install smoke alarms can face penalties of up to $750.

How to select a smoke alarm

The ideal smoke alarm will depend on when you purchased your property, or its overall age. General rules for the installation of smoke alarms are as follows:

When selecting smoke alarms, there are two main criteria to consider:

To find a list of certified alarms, we recommend referring to the list of compliant smoke alarms compiled by The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). For further information detailing the specifications of smoke alarms, we encourage all homeowners to familiarise themselves with the information provided by SA GOV.

Where do I install a smoke alarm?

When installing a smoke alarm, it’s essential to carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The Metropolitan Fire Service recommends installing a smoke alarm in the passageway leading to a residence’s bedrooms closest to the living room. In homes where bedroom doors remain regularly closed, The MFS endorses installing an additional alarm in each bedroom. In cases where there is no passageway, homeowners should install multiple alarms to ensure optimal coverage.

Figure 1. Diagram by the Metropolitan Fire Service illustrating the recommended placement of smoke alarms in a single-storey home.

Interconnected smoke alarms

From 1 May 2014, smoke alarms in all new class 1 dwellings, sole-occupancy units of class 2 and 3 buildings, dwellings within class 4 buildings, and extensions or additions to such dwellings must be interconnected. This means that if one alarm is triggered, they will all sound, ensuring that anyone within the premises is alerted to smoke, regardless of their specific location.

The importance of avoiding dead air space

Dead air space is an unventilated area in a room where smoke cannot circulate. It’s vital to avoid installing smoke alarms in a dead air space, as they will be unable to detect smoke from a fire. Dead air space includes areas such as:

Please refer to the Metropolitan Fire Service fact sheet for more information on finding suitable locations for smoke alarm installation.

Maintaining your smoke alarm

Maintaining your smoke alarm is just as important as installing it properly. The maintenance of smoke alarms is outlined by Australian Standard 1851-2012, which permits a home’s occupants to perform maintenance following a manufacturer’s specifications. Generally, the following procedures are advised for all types of alarms:

Wrapping Up

We hope this quick guide has helped you understand the importance of smoke alarms and how to install and maintain them properly. Remember, a working smoke alarm could be the difference between life and death in the event of a fire, so it’s essential to take the time to make sure your home is protected. If you have any questions about smoke alarms or other fire safety topics, we encourage you to investigate the residential fire safety resources provided by the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service.

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