Smoke alarms: regulations, best practice and tips you need to know

We all know that smoke alarms save lives.

Early warning of a fire is crucial for alerting people to evacuate and summon help. That’s exactly what a well-fitted and maintained smoke alarms provide for millions of homes and businesses across the UK.

Despite this, 2017/18 government statistics tell us there was no working smoke alarm at 47% of the fires that resulted in someone being injured or worse. That breaks down as 34% with no smoke alarm fitted, and 13% where the alarm didn’t go off. In a further 9%, the alarm did activate but didn’t alert people, suggesting that at least some were fitted where people couldn’t hear them. Added together, that’s 56% of fires where a smoke alarm either wasn’t there or didn’t do its job.

All this shows that it’s not enough just to have a smoke alarm. It’s crucial that you pick the right type, fit it correctly, test and maintain it. If you’re a homeowner, it’s your choice to install, test or maintain your alarm (or not), but there are times when you’re legally required to take responsibility.

Let’s take a look at smoke alarm regulations in the commercial world.

There are several situations where the law says you must provide smoke alarms.

  • Landlords must provide at least one smoke alarm on each floor of their properties. If that property is a house of multiple occupancy, the alarms must be interconnected and powered by mains electricity. They must check the alarms are working at the start of each tenancy, and there are penalties of up to £5000 if they don’t comply.
  • Workplaces are required to provide ‘appropriate’ smoke alarm systems. Employers can work out what’s ‘appropriate’ by completing their fire risk assessment. In most cases, a smoke alarm will be needed as a minimum.
  • Mains-powered alarms have to be installed in all new buildings and after major refurbishments. These must be installed by a qualified electrician, and best practice is to choose a system which has battery backup in case of a mains power failure.

There are different types of smoke alarms to choose from.

The alarms all look similar and can be powered by batteries or mains power, but there are two main types.

  • Ionisation alarms are the cheaper option and are slightly less sensitive to slow burning or smouldering fires. They’re very sensitive to fast flaming fires fuelled by materials like paper and wood.
  • Optical alarms cost more but are better at detecting slow burning fires from materials like overheated PVC wiring or foam-filled upholstery. They’re slightly less sensitive to fast flaming fires, making them the better choice for installing near a kitchen.

You can also buy heat alarms (ideal for kitchens), and alarms which combine two different types of smoke detector, or combine a smoke detector with a carbon monoxide detector. Alarms with vibrating pads or flashing lights are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Smoke alarms should meet British Standard BS EN14604: 2005 and feature the Kitemark. If you’re looking at alarm kits for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, look for British Standard BS5446-3:2015.

 How to fit your smoke alarms.

You should fit at least one alarm on each level of your building, or more if you can. Ideally, they should be in every room except the bathroom, kitchen and garage.

The alarm should be as close as possible to the middle of the room, at least 30cm (12 inches) from walls or lights. Crucially, make sure it’s somewhere you can hear it throughout your home, especially when you’re asleep.

 Look after your alarm so it can look after you.

Never remove the battery to use in another device. Unless it’s a sealed unit with a 10-year battery, you’ll need to replace the battery each year. You should test your alarm weekly or monthly, but as a minimum, test it when the clocks change. You should also vacuum it occasionally to remove dust.

Smoke alarms have a life-span, so after ten years it’s time to get a new one and dispose of the old one responsibly.

Not sure? Talk to us!

If you’re not sure what kind of alarm is best for you or need help fitting it, we’re here to help. We can talk you through the options, pick out the right alarm system for you, install and maintain it so that it’s always there to keep you safe. Give us a call.