You are more than twice as likely to die in a fire at home if you haven’t got a working smoke alarm. Smoke alarms are the easiest way to alert you to the danger of fire, giving you precious time to escape. They are cheap, easy to get hold of, and simple to install.
How many alarms do you need?
The more alarms you have, the safer you will be. At minimum, you should have one on each floor of your home. You should always have one where you will hear it when you’re asleep.
What sort of alarm should I get?
Ionisation alarms are the cheapest and most readily available, and are very sensitive to fires that burn fiercely. As such, they will detect such fires before the smoke gets too thick.
Optical alarms are more expensive, but are also more effective at detecting slow-burning fires (such as smouldering foam filled furniture or overheated wiring). These are less likely to go off accidentally and are therefore best for ground floor hallways and homes on one level.
Whatever model you choose, make sure it meets the British Standard 5446 Part 1 (BS 5446-1) and ideally also carries the British Standard Kitemark.
Basic smoke alarms run off nine volt batteries, and these should be replaced on a regular basis. You can buy alarms with ten-year batteries, which provide peace of mind, but have to be replaced in their entirety when the battery eventually dies.
You can have mains powered alarms, which need to be installed by a qualified electrician. These do have battery back-up in case of a power cut.
Some alarms come with an emergency light, which comes on when the alarm is triggered. They are particularly suitable for people with hearing difficulties.
Interconnecting or linking alarms are useful in larger properties and for people with hearing difficulties. When one alarm senses smoke, every alarm goes off.
People who are deaf or have hearing difficulties can get mains powered alarms with strobe lights and a vibrating pad, which can go underneath your pillow at night.
Maintaining your alarm
To keep your smoke alarms in good working order, you should:
- Test them regularly (ideally once a week but at least monthly), by pressing the test button until the alarm sounds.
- Change the batteries once a year (unless mains powered or fitted with a ten year battery).
- Replace the whole unit every ten years.
- Clean your smoke alarms every three months by using the soft brush of your vacuum cleaner to remove any excess dust.