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How to Choose the Right Smoke Alarm For Your Home

A house fire is something that no one should ever have to experience, but they can and do occur for a variety of reasons. A smoke alarm won’t prevent a fire from starting but can be the best way to alert the occupants of your home of its presence.

From there you can either prevent the fire from spreading further, and/or simply protect yourself and the lives of your family by evacuating the home as soon as possible.

When it comes to choosing the best smoke detector for your home, though, there are some points to consider. Let’s take a look at them.

Australia’s Smoke Alarm Laws and Regulations

In every state and territory of Australia it is required by law that every home is fitted with at least one smoke alarm. For any homes built or renovated from 1997 to now, that alarm must be hard-wired. Any homes built prior to 1997 can choose either a hard-wired or battery powered model.

Beyond that, each state and territory have subtle differences regarding smoke alarm installation in the home. Refer to your state or territory’s fire service for specific information about the requirements in your area.

Essential Features Your Alarm Should Have

Whether you opt for a battery powered or a hard-wired smoke alarm, the best options will include the following features.

  • 10-year lithium battery– a long lasting battery will mean you don’t need to worry about changing it for quite some time.
  • Hush button – a hush button enables you to stop the piercing sound of a false alarm caused by some burnt toast, or by something cooking on the stove.
  • Escape light – when the alarm activates in the middle of the night, or during a power outage, the escape light can provide you with the best clear path outdoors towards safety.
  • Test button – regular testing is important to ensure your smoke alarm will work when you need it to. A test button is the safest and easiest way to test its performance once a month.
  • Interconnectability – if you have more than one hard-wired alarm installed in your home, they can become interconnectable with each other. This means that if a smoke detector at one end of the house is activated, it will ‘communicate’ and activate all other alarms installed in the home. Some battery powered models also incorporate this feature.

Your alarm should also be compliant with AS 3786, the Australian Standard for smoke alarms. All models sold in Australia from reputable retailers should already comply with this standard, so be sure to purchase from a trusted name.

Hard-wired or Battery Operated?

For those of us in homes built prior to 1997, you have the option of choosing between a battery powered smoke alarm, or one that is hard-wired to your home. So, which one is right for you?

Hard-wired smoke alarms are powered by the electricity in your home. As the name suggests, they need to be hard-wired to your mains power supply, so must be installed by a licensed electrician. They need to be replaced, again by a licensed electrical contractor, every 10 years. If you’re leaning towards a hard-wired model, look for one that comes with backup batteries so it can continue to operate in the event of a power failure.

Battery powered smoke alarms come in two options – one powered by a 9V battery and the other with a 10-year lithium-ion battery. The 9V-powered model must have its battery changed on a yearly basis and be regularly tested as well. The 10-year lithium-ion battery should last the duration of the unit’s entire lifespan, so should not need to undergo a battery replacement.

Ionisation or Photoelectric Smoke Detectors?

In addition to the way in which your smoke alarm is powered, you may also want to consider exactly what type of detector you want. There are two main types for the home – ionisation alarms and photoelectric alarms.

An ionisation smoke alarm is most effective at detecting significantly-flaming fires. They feature a small volume of radioactive material. The flaming fire emits particles that react with the radioactive material and in doing so activate the alarm.

These fires burn fast and don’t produce much in the way of visible smoke. As household fires are typically more smoke-heavy than flame-heavy, an ionisation smoke detector may not be the most effective solution for your home. They are also prone to picking up on the heat and flame found in cooking, so perhaps shouldn’t be installed in the kitchen where it can set off unnecessarily.

A photoelectric unit is more effective at detecting fires that are smokier and smouldering in nature – the more common type of household fire. These types of alarms are therefore generally more recommended for home use. They function by using a light beam that identifies visible smoke when it enters a chamber. As that smoke hits a particular volume, the alarm is activated.

Unlike ionisation smoke alarms, these can be installed in kitchens with little concern about false alarms occurring as a result of cooking. The presence of dust build up or insects entering the smoke detector can trigger a false alarm, though, so it is best to keep them regularly cleaned. It is possible to buy models that come with insect screens, so that too may be worth considering.

To Summarise

Finding the right smoke alarm for your home is the best way to prevent unnecessary damage to your home, potential injury to you or your family, or worse, in the event of a house fire. But finding the right solution for your home requires considering a few factors.

  • Will your alarm purchase meet the law requirements in your state or territory?
  • Are you required to have a hard-wired smoke detector or will a battery powered model suffice?
  • Will you benefit most from an ionisation or photoelectric model?
  • Does the alarm contain the features that you need?

A Metropolitan Electrical contractor can install, replace, test or service your smoke detector to ensure you and your home remain safe and protected. We’re available 24/7, every day of the year, so don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Please note: This information is provided for advice purposes only. Regulations differ from state to state, so please consult your local authorities or an industry professional before proceeding with any work. See our Terms & Conditions here.

Published: 2022-10-14

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