When was the last time you replaced the smoke alarms in your home? Has it been more than 10 years? If so, then it’s definitely time to replace it. The reason for this is, hard-wired and battery operated smoke alarms are only made to a standard (AS 3786) that requires them to function for 10 years. If the smoke alarm in your home is older than 10 years, you’re putting your safety at risk. Regardless of the type of smoke alarm (for example ionization, photo-electric or photo-optical), anything older than 10 years can start to malfunction or may be compromised due to accumulated dust or internal corrosion.
Every state in Australia has it’s own smoke alarm legislation. For example, it has been over 10 years since the NSW Government introduced smoke alarm legislation, which is why it is a timely reminder for those living in NSW to replace their smoke alarm.
Types of smoke alarms
There are two types of smoke alarms available on the market – photoelectric and ionisation. However photoelectric smoke alarms are strongly recommended by fire safety experts. In fact, there is now a push to ban ionisation smoke alarms in Australia, with the Northern Territory leading the way with only photoelectric alarms allowed to be installed.
Why photoelectric and not ionisation?
Photoelectric alarms are more advanced and are widely regarded as being superior to ionisation alarms in most circumstances. In simple terms, photoelectric smoke alarms 'see' smoke while ionisation smoke alarms 'smell' smoke.
Tests have revealed photoelectric alarms provide faster warning and have activated within three to five minutes as opposed to ionisation alarms that have taken up to 20 minutes or more to activate. Photoelectric alarms are more effective at detecting the types of fires that are most likely to cause a home fire death, which are smouldering fires. Fire experts have warned that smouldering fires present a significant risk to sleeping occupants, because they produce toxic smoke, which inhibits a person's ability to wake up.
The Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board in Victoria affirm photoelectric alarms provide the best detection across a range of fires. They are also less likely than other alarms to go off when you are cooking or using the shower.
When purchasing a new alarm, look for the word ‘photoelectric’ on the packaging. Smoke alarms with a radioactive symbol indicates it is an ionisation smoke alarm. You can purchase photoelectric alarms from your local hardware store.
In addition to updating your own smoke alarms, take the time to check in on friends, family or neighbours who require assistance to ensure they update their smoke alarms as well.
So in a nutshell, fire services recommend smoke alarm systems that are:
• hardwired (connected to the 240 volt mains power by a licensed electrician)
• in passage ways leading to bedrooms
• in every bedroom
• in living areas
Fire services in Australia have confirmed most fatal residential fires happen at night and primarily between 8pm and 8am, peaking between midnight and 4am, hence the importance of installing a smoke alarm in the areas recommended above.