A fire alarm can be the difference between life and death.
Alarms are necessary to alert building occupants of a fire, allowing them to evacuate the building. It is imperative when the occupants of the home are asleep.
Ensuring your Perth home has adequate, functioning smoke alarms is the most effective step to fire safety within your home or business.
Smoke alarm laws
Since 1 July 1997, installing mains powered smoke alarms has been mandatory for all new residential buildings (or residential building extensions) within Western Australia.
Today, smoke detectors are compulsory in every home and business in Australia by law.
To comply with the Australian regulations, owners must ensure:
- Smoke alarms follow the Building Code of Australia
- Smoke alarms are less than ten years old at the time selling a building
- Smoke alarms are less than ten years old while a building is being hired or rented
- Smoke alarms are in working order
- Smoke alarms must be connected to the main power
Maintaining smoke alarms
Having a smoke alarm is one thing; maintaining it is another.
A smoke alarm does not strengthen safety; you need to ensure it is maintained to protect the residents or employees in any Perth building. Remember, only working smoke alarms can detect smoke and provide the critical early warning needed to save lives.
Just like all electrical items, smoke alarms have a limited lifespan – up to ten years. According to WA’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, all smoke alarms require replacement every ten years. During the lifespan of a smoke alarm, it will become compromised with dust, insects, contaminants, and electrical corrosion, making its efficiency unreliable after ten years.
Smoke alarms will make a warning ‘beep’ or ‘chirp’ when there is a fault or if the battery needs to be replaced. Do note that mains powered smoke alarms may give a low battery warning after periods of power outages.
Rechargeable batteries may take a few hours to recharge after the main power is restored. This may be longer if the backup battery has wholly depleted during the periods of consumer mains power failure.
If the fire alarm undergoes multiple power outages over its lifespan, the rechargeable lithium cells may degrade and become inoperable.
Do you require a smoke alarm check?
Alarm maintenance routine
Both battery-powered smoke alarms and hard-wired smoke alarms should be tested and maintained regularly to ensure they haven’t stopped working. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services recommend the following maintenance routine:
- Test the smoke detector each month to ensure the battery and the alarm sounder are working
- Clean any build-up of dust and cobwebs at least every six months to ensure the effectiveness of detecting smoke
- Vacuum with a soft brush attachment around the smoke alarm vents
- Replace battery-powered smoke alarm batteries annually
- Smoke alarms should never be painted
Fire safety and property management
Property managers and landlords must meet their duty of care by ensuring that tenants have effective fire safety.
Property managers and landlords must ensure smoke detectors are compliant with regulations when:
- There is a sale or transfer of ownership of a building
- When a building is rented under a residential tenancy agreement
- When a building is made available for hire
Installing smoke alarms
Western Australia’s Building Regulations 2012 requires homeowners to install compliant smoke alarms by licensed electrical contractors.
The number of smoke alarms installed depends on the classification of the dwelling, its layout and size. They must be positioned throughout the building, following the BCA regulations at the time of installation.
What type of smoke detector should be installed?
There are two residential standard smoke alarms, photoelectric and ionisation. Both are acceptable for use, providing they comply with the relevant edition of AS 3786 as referenced in the BCA when installing the smoke alarms.
Ionisation smoke alarms
Ionisation fire alarms work best with flaming fires and are less reactive to smoke. So, if you are required to place a fire alarm near a bathroom or kitchen, these will be your best option as they will be less likely to sound false alarms.
Photoelectric smoke alarms
Photoelectric alarms are more sensitive to smoke as they contain a light chamber designed to detect smoke particles.