Replace your 10 year old smoke alarms
Smoke alarm legislation in South Australia first made smoke alarms compulsory in new homes in 1995, and then progressively (in 1998 and 2000) they became compulsory in all homes. As a result there are a large number of smoke alarms in the community which are now around 10 - 13 years old and with every year which passes that number increases.
Both hard-wired (mains powered, 240 volt) and battery operated smoke alarms are only manufactured to a standard that requires them to perform for 10 years.
South Australia's fire services (the SA Metropolitan Fire Service and the SA Country Fire Service) advise that all smoke alarms need to be replaced after 10 years - smoke alarms don't last forever even if they are 240 volt mains powered!
What happens to smoke alarms as they age
Smoke alarms are manufactured to a standard (AS 3786) which specifies an effective life of 10 years. After that time smoke alarms may malfunction and their efficiency may be compromised with accumulated dust, insects, airborne contaminants and corrosion of electrical circuitry. They should be replaced every 10 years.
Many homes in South Australia have smoke alarms which have reached the end of their recommended life.
The limited lifespan of smoke alarms applies to ALL smoke alarms regardless of power source (battery or 240 volt) or the type of smoke alarm (ionisation or photo-electric/photo-optical).
Upgrade your smoke alarm system
Regulations for smoke alarms in Class 1 and 2 buildings (Building Code of Australia) provide a minimum level of cover. They stipulate that one or more smoke alarms complying with Australian Standard 3786 must be installed in each dwelling in locations where they provide reasonable warning to occupants of bedrooms so that they may safely evacuate in the event of fire.
"Class 1 and 2 buildings" means:
- Any single dwelling including detached houses or attached houses such as row houses, terrace houses, town houses, villa units, etc.
- A boarding house, guest house, hostel or the like with a total floor area not exceeding 300m2 and in which no more than 12 persons would ordinarily reside.
Note: Larger buildings of these types will require a commercial type fire alarm system.
- Any building containing 2 or more sole-occupancy units each being a separate dwelling (ie. flats, motel units, apartments and the like) where the building is not required to be fitted with a commercial type fire alarm system.
However, as a result of their experience fighting house fires and supported by fire research, the fire services recommend more than what the Regulations require.
The fire services recommend that when homeowners replace their old smoke alarms they upgrade to better technology and better warning systems.
Many people have installed ionisation smoke alarms powered by replaceable batteries. They have been the most commonly available and affordable product, and they don't require an electrician to install them.
However smoke alarm technology has improved significantly since legislation was introduced. The need to replace old smoke alarms is an ideal opportunity to upgrade smoke alarm systems.
The fire services recommend smoke alarm systems that are:
- hardwired (ie connected to the 240 volt mains power by a licensed electrician)
- in passage ways leading to bedrooms
- in every bedroom
- in living areas
|The SA Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) pamphlet "Smoke Alarms, What you need to know" provides detailed information about smoke alarms, including location diagrams for installation. For more information about smoke alarms, or to obtain multiple copies of the smoke alarm pamphlet, phone 1300 737 637.|
The Reasons behind the Fire Services' recommendations
The best protection is provided by photo-electric smoke alarms that are connected to the mains power supply (by a licensed electrician).
- Research by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council in 2006 indicates that photo-electric smoke alarms (also known as photo-optical smoke alarms) provide the best detection across a range of fires.
- Photo-electric smoke alarms are less prone to nuisance alarms therefore it's less likely that occupants will disable them to stop annoying and unwanted alarms.
- Photo-electric smoke alarms do not contain a radio-active element and are more easily disposed of than ionisation smoke alarms.
- Smoke alarms that are connected to the 240 volt mains power supply have a back-up battery, so there is a power redundancy. Smoke alarms that are powered by battery only will fail when the battery fails.
Homes should have smoke alarms in all bedrooms, in passage ways leading to bedrooms and in living areas.
Smoke alarms should be interconnected.
- Experiments undertaken by the NSW Fire Brigades in collaboration with the CSIRO compared the growth rates of fires involving older style room contents and furnishings with that of fires involving modern room contents and furnishings. The experiments indicated that fires in modern style rooms reached flashover in 2-4 minutes whereas fires in older style rooms reached flashover after 20 minutes or not at all. (Flashover is the point at which temperatures within the room are so high that the flammable gases being produced by the fire ignite simultaneously and often without warning.) Modern house fires have the potential to flashover in minutes with a far greater heat release rate than was previously the case. ("Modern house fires are changing: What does this mean for fire services", C Lewis, V Dowling. Presentation to AFAC conference 2008)
Occupants need the earliest possible warning to escape a house fire safely.
- Modern house designs often have the main bedroom isolated from living areas and children's bedrooms. A smoke alarm sounding outside children's rooms or in living areas may not wake parents at the other end of the house.
With interconnected smoke alarms all the alarms in the house will sound when one alarm is triggered.
- In an era where children often live with parents well into adulthood, bedrooms are often used as self contained living spaces, full of electronic equipment and carrying a high fuel load. Also adult children often sleep with doors closed. There is a clear need for photo electric smoke alarms to be installed in all bedrooms and for them to be interconnected with those in the rest of the house.
Disposal of smoke alarms
In the past, disposal of ionisation smoke alarms has presented a problem because they contain a minute particle of radioactive material. (Ionisation type smoke alarms can be identified by the black and yellow radiation symbol which appears on the smoke alarm casing.)
The Radiation Protection Division of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has reviewed the legislation in the light of best practice in Australia and internationally. In early 2009 it was made legal in South Australia to dispose of small quantities of domestic smoke alarms that contain radioactive material in domestic waste.
An exemption under the Act permits up to two domestic ionisation smoke alarms to be disposed into domestic waste during any period of seven days.
For more information go to the EPA website.
Old photo-electric smoke alarms (no radiation symbol) can be discarded with normal domestic rubbish.
Working smoke alarms save lives
All smoke alarms need to be tested and maintained to ensure that they work properly - even new smoke alarms. Test them every month and clean them every 6 months.
Mains powered (240 volt) smoke alarms will have a back-up battery. Check the manufacturer's instructions regarding the back-up power for your smoke alarm model and remember that if it has a replaceable back-up battery it will need to be changed every year at the end of daylight saving, or when the low warning beep sounds.
If you have any stand alone, replaceable battery powered smoke alarms in your home you should change the battery every year at the end of daylight saving, or when the low warning beep sounds. If the battery fails in this smoke alarm you will have no warning in the event of a house fire.
|Refer to the MFS brochure 'Smoke Alarms, What you need to Know' for detailed information|
Home Fire Escape Plan
Working smoke alarms are the first step in having a good Home Fire Escape Plan.
|Refer to the MFS pamphlet "Home Fire Escape Plan" for the information which could save your life.|