Smoke alarms buying guide

A smoke alarm could save your life - but does it matter what type you install?
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04.What to look for

  • Standards Australia or SSL certification ensures the alarm complies with AS 3786.
  • 10-year lithium battery: Some models come with a pre-installed 10-year lithium battery. This eliminates the need to replace the battery every year, since the lithium one will last for the life of the smoke alarm.
  • Test button: This allows you to check the alarm is working. Some models allow you to test by simply shining a torch on the alarm, eliminating the need to climb a ladder or reach up with a broom handle.
  • Hush button: Pressing this button silences false alarms for a few minutes — handy if you’ve burnt the toast and set off the alarm.
  • Battery test: Battery-powered models should monitor their own battery level and warn you when the battery needs changing by beeping every few seconds.
  • Escape light: Some models have a light built in, which turns on when the alarm is activated. This is helpful if there’s a power failure during a fire, as it can guide you out of the house.
  • Interconnection: Most mains-powered and some battery-powered alarms can be connected to each other, so that if one goes off, so do the rest.
  • For people with a hearing problem there are special products available, such ultraloud alarms, strobe lights and vibrating pads for your bed. For details, contact your state’s Deaf Society, Independent Living Centre or fire brigade.

Where to install your smoke alarm

The following is a guide, but check the installation instructions supplied with the alarm.

  • If you have just one alarm, install it between the kitchen/living area and the bedrooms. It should be fairly close to the bedrooms so that you can hear it go off when you're sleeping. If you have a hallway that connects all the bedrooms, that’s a good place to put the alarm.
  • Interconnected alarms in each bedroom, as well as in the living area, can give a higher level of protection. Children and elderly people in particular often aren't reliably woken by an alarm located outside their bedroom.
  • For houses with more than one storey, make sure each storey has at least one alarm. Interconnection is strongly recommended in this case.
  • Avoid putting smoke alarms in the kitchen or bathroom; you'll probably get a lot of nuisance alarms from cooking fumes and steam.
  • If you do install an alarm in the kitchen, a photoelectric or a heat alarm is likely to give fewer false alarms in this location. Make sure it has a hush button.
  • Smoke rises and spreads across the ceiling, filling rooms from top to bottom. Alarms should be on or near the ceiling for earliest warning.
  • Avoid dead-air spaces, such as corners between walls or where the wall and ceiling meet. Put the alarm at least 30 cm away from these areas.
  • If you have to install the alarm on a wall, make sure it’s between 30 and 50 cm below the ceiling. This avoids the dead air space but keeps the alarm high enough to give early warning.

Maintenance tips

  • Don’t paint smoke alarms — the paint could block the air inlets.
  • Test each alarm once a month by pressing its test button (or shining a torch on it, if the model has that feature).
  • Clean and vacuum alarms every six months. This prevents dust build-up, which can block the air inlets or cause nuisance alarms.
  • Change the battery once a year (except for alarms with 10-year lithium batteries). Even if your alarms are mains-powered, they still have a battery for back-up, so they still need to be changed. Do this on a fixed day each year, such as the end of daylight saving, so it’s easier to remember.
  • Replace your smoke alarms every 10 years. Most alarms indicate their expiry date on their base.

More fire safety tips

Fire safety doesn’t end with installing smoke alarms. An alarm can’t put out a fire and it can’t get you out of the house.

  • Escape plan: Have an escape plan and practise it. Make sure everyone in the house knows the drill. Waking up in the middle of the night to a shrieking alarm with the smell of smoke in the air is frightening and disorienting. If you’ve practised your escape plan you’ve got a much better chance of getting out safely. Plan two different ways out of the house, pick a meeting place outside the house (such as at the letterbox), and make sure you’ve planned for helping any children, aged or infirm residents. Don’t deadlock your doors at night — you might be unable to find your keys in the confusion of a fire. Once outside, account for all people in the house and call the fire brigade. Don’t go back inside the burning building.
  • Fire extinguisher and fire blanket: These are useful to have in the kitchen, where fires often start. Read the instructions and know how to use them. However, if you don’t feel confident to fight a fire, don’t risk it. Switch off the burning appliance if possible, get out and call the fire brigade.

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