Smoke alarms buying guide

A smoke alarm could save your life - but does it matter what type you install?
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01.Smoke alarms

Smoke alarm

In brief

  • Smoke alarms are mandatory in all new homes, and also in all existing homes in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.
  • There are two types of smoke alarms - photoelectric and ionisation. If you're unsure which type you have, look on the base. A radiation symbol means it's an ionisation model.
  • Photoelectric smoke alarms are the best for detecting smouldering fires - install at least one of this type.

There can be few more frightening moments than being caught inside a burning house. It’s a situation no-one wants to have to face, but fire brigades fight thousands of fires in buildings every year. Sadly, not everyone gets out safely. To escape a house fire, early warning is vital; that’s why you need a smoke alarm. See our 2010 review of smoke alarms.

Please note: this information was current as of June 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

Fire facts

  • Across Australia between July 1996 and June 2004, 412 people were killed in 366 fatal residential fires. In the cases where it was known whether smoke alarms were installed, 14% had a non-working alarm and 55% had no alarm at all.
  • NSW Fire Brigade research indicates that a third to a half of house fire deaths could be avoided by having a working smoke alarm and a practised escape plan.
  • Most fatal fires happen at night, when people are usually asleep, and they’re most common in winter.
  • The majority of fatal fires are caused by electrical faults, smoking materials such as cigarette ash, or heaters and open fires.
  • Smoke alarms help limit the damage and cost caused by fires, by detecting them earlier.

When you have to install a smoke alarm

Smoke alarms are mandatory in all newly constructed or substantially renovated homes. For new homes, the smoke alarms must be mains-powered (with battery back-ups in case of power failure), so they need to be installed by an electrician. Generally you should have more than one and they should be interconnected so that if one goes off, so do the rest, maximising the chances of alerting everyone in the house. The alarms must comply with the requirements of the Australian Standard AS 3786.

In addition to new homes, smoke alarms are also required in all existing homes in the following states:

For existing homes, the alarms don’t need to be mains-powered; battery-powered models are acceptable, as long as they meet the Australian standard. Check with your local fire brigade; it can give advice about the laws that apply in your state.

Looking for additional security for your home? Check out our security doors buying guide.



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