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Smoke Alarm Buying Guide

You may have taken great care to purchase or maintain the perfect house. But you need to take care of a few other tasks, such as keeping your home safe by installing smoke alarms. There are a variety of smoke alarms on the market to choose from. So, what are the best smoke alarms to go for?

Read on for some answers. This article will tell you about types of smoke alarms, features to look for, and how to choose the proper smoke detectors for your home. In addition, it will talk about State laws, provide a smoke alarm buying guide, installation tips, and why you should use the services of fire protection companies.

Types Of Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms in Australia fall into two categories: ionisation alarms and photoelectric alarms.

Ionisation alarms

Ionisation alarms have small amounts of radioactive material. When there is a fire, this radioactive material reacts with particles from the fire setting off the alarm. When the number of small particles that enters the ionisation chamber reaches a threshold, the alarm goes off. Ionisation alarms are great for when there is not much visible smoke from fast-flaming fires.

However, many house fires emit lots of smoke and smoulder for long before flaring into a flame. As such, ionisation alarms may not be effective. Basically, it is best not to install them near the bathroom or the kitchen. This is to avoid nuisance alarms from smoke or steam particles. This is because they also pick up the heat of flames.

Photoelectric alarms

As the name implies, photoelectric alarms have a photo cell and a light beam directed away from the cell. Smoke particles from smoke scatter light in the test chamber. Upon hitting the cell and reaching a certain threshold, the alarm is triggered.

Photoelectric alarms are pretty helpful in detecting smouldering and smoky fires. However, you have to clean them occasionally, as dust or insects can cause false alarms when they enter the unit.

Dual sensor smoke alarms

You can combine the best and worst features of the ionisation sensor and photoelectric sensor. The result is a dual-sensor smoke alarm. They have both a photoelectric and ionisation sensor.

Other Types Of Alarms

Other types of home alarms are heat and carbon monoxide alarms. They have their specific uses.

Carbon monoxide alarms

Install a carbon monoxide alarm if you use gas heating, either a ducted or an unflued gas heater. Such alarms help central heating systems operate safely and keep your home safe.

For instance, a faulty heater can cause the release of carbon monoxide (which is a waste product of gas heating) into your home. This can cause health problems at dangerous levels.

Heat alarms

Heat alarms detect heat rather than smoke. This makes them appropriate for kitchen use. Also, they are not easily triggered by cooking fumes. That said, you should still equip your home with standard smoke alarms even if you install specialised alarms.

What Are The Best Types Of Smoke Alarms?

Photoelectric smoke alarms can trigger quickly

A photoelectric smoke alarm is one of the best smoke alarms on the market. Most fire authorities recommend it for the home. Photoelectric alarms quickly detect smoke from smouldering synthetic material compared to ionisation alarms.

Typical house fires have burning material that smoulder and smoke for quite some time before flaring into flames. Early fire detection in the smouldering phase is essential. You have more time to deal with the fire or escape the house. Moreover, you can reduce inhalation and visibility hazards of smoke.

Photoelectric alarms typically trigger within three to five minutes. Ionisation alarms take up to 20 minutes or more. Go beyond installing ionisation alarms as your only level of fire protection. Although they are quick to detect flaming fires, ionisation alarms are also susceptible to simple triggers like cooking fumes or burnt toast.

Dual sensor smoke alarms

You can also opt for dual-sensor smoke alarms as they are also quite effective. Just avoid installing them in locations such as close to your kitchen. This photoelectric sensor can be triggered easily by smoke from your cooking.

It is essential to also get the correct sensitivity setting. This can help the smoke alarm distinguish between a real fire and nuisance smoke.

Choosing between hardwired and battery-powered alarms

Hardwired models of smoke alarms need a direct connection to the household power line. Hence, they are referred to as hardwired or mains powered. The 240-volt smoke alarm is connected to the electrical system of your home. However, in case of power loss, the units have backup batteries.

Many state fire authorities advise, where possible, the installation of hardwired and interconnected smoke alarms. On the other hand, smoke alarms are simply powered by a battery. Battery-powered smoke alarms are installed when no main power is connected to the house.

There may be no hidden space for the wiring needed for hardwired alarms. Battery-powered smoke alarms need to have a ten-year lithium battery. Some living locations may require you to install a hardwired smoke alarm with a backup battery.

Replace your alarm batteries regularly. This is the case no matter which type of alarm you install. To help you remember, battery-powered models give alert signals when the batteries are running low. Subsequently, you can then replace them.

Types Of Smoke Detectors

The best type of smoke detector in Australia for your use depends on the mode of operation, as shown below:

Isolation smoke detector

These detectors ionise the air between two electrodes. In turn, they produce a small current. Any smoke that reaches the detector triggers the current to give a signal, activating the alarm.

Optical smoke detector

These feature an infrared LED that gives off a beam pulse periodically – every few seconds. This beam pulse is directed into a sensor chamber. When the infrared light detects any smoke in the chamber, the alarm is triggered.

Traits To Look For In A Smoke Alarm

Standards Australia certification or Active Fire registration

Your smoke alarm should comply with the Australian Standard for smoke alarms, AS 3786. This is as required by law. However, different versions of the standard are applicable in various jurisdictions. Some states accept the older standard AS 3786:1993. Others, like Queensland, insist on compliance with the current AS 3786:2014 for newly installed smoke alarms.

Ten-year battery

Some smoke alarm models have a pre-installed non-removable ten-year battery. Often, it is a ten-year lithium battery that lasts as long as the life of the smoke alarm. This does away with the requirement to change batteries each year.

Test button

You can use the test button to check if your alarm is working. Some models allow you to test by shining a torch on the smoke alarm.

Hush button

You simply press a button to silence false alarms. The ‘hush’ lasts for a few minutes. As such, you can get some quiet as the smoke dissipates.

Battery test

Some alarms check their own battery level to alert you of the need to change the battery if you use a battery-powered model. It will beep every few seconds once the level declines below a certain threshold.

Escape lights

Escape lights can come in useful in the event of a power failure. The light feature in these smoke alarm models can guide you out of your home during a fire. In other words, they offer a visible point of reference for escape.

Interconnection

You can get most mains-powered alarms connected to battery-powered alarms for more effectiveness. Everyone in the house gets quickly alerted when one of the alarms and other interconnected smoke alarms go off.

It is also possible to connect some units to smartphones, security systems, and smart speakers.

Features for those with hearing difficulties

Those having hearing problems can easily choose special alarm products for their indoor spaces. For example, ultra-loud alarms, vibrating pads, and strobe lights can also serve as alarms. The devices are connected with existing smoke and fire alarms.

The strobe light flashes when the smoke detector is triggered and sounds the alarm. Today, there are new smoke alarm smart switches that protect disabled communities. They can even work with three-phase power lines.

Insect screen

There are screens in modern smoke alarms that keep off insects so that they do not set off a false alarm. However, it is advisable to occasionally clean the smoke alarms with a vacuum cleaner. This will reduce the likelihood of dust buildup in the air inlets. In turn, this helps reduce the set-off of false alarms.

Pointers For Choosing The Right Smoke Detector

Below are a couple useful pointers to help you in deciding on the best smoke alarm:

Consider the power sources

You have a choice between battery-operated or hardwired smoke detectors. Generally, battery smoke detectors are cheaper and easier to install. However, you need to change the batteries every six months. For this reason, they typically come with a test button.

In contrast, hardwired detectors work with line voltages. You won’t have to keep changing batteries every six months. Also, many of them have a battery backup.

Check the features

Useful features you may check for include voice control detectors and remote-control devices. The more features there are, the costlier the smoke detector will be.

The best smoke alarms are multifunctional. They can detect smoke particles, carbon monoxide, and flames. This may make you prefer combination smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detectors.

You could also go for dual sensor smoke alarms since they have both photoelectric and ionisation sensors. These double-duty sensors can easily detect flaming and smouldering fires.

Smart smoke detectors

Smart smoke detectors have certain features that make them superior to those of ionisation and photoelectric smoke detectors. These include alerts delivered to mobile devices and communication with other smart alarms. Ultimately, you can easily pinpoint the location of a fire.

Connected systems are excellent for large homes

You can install interconnected smoke detectors throughout the home. If you have a large home, this can help the alarm reach all the rooms. However, to get it right, you may need professional installation services.

The Best Smoke And Fire Alarms In Australia

Google Nest Protect

Google nest protect is quite expensive. However, the extra features it has make it worth the price. Some of its features include remote notifications, voice notifications, and a light. More importantly, it has a split-spectrum sensor. As such, it can detect smoke and smouldering fires and fires with active flames.

Furthermore, the electrochemical sensor makes it able to detect carbon monoxide. Triggering the carbon monoxide detector causes the Nest protect to sound an alarm, flash its in-built light, and activate voice alerts. This way, you know the type of emergency. Moreover, it uses an app to send phone alerts. In addition, you are able to turn off false alarms using its integrated app.

Family First

This Australian-owned brand offers several fire protection products—these range from the photoelectric type to twin packs. Also, Family First smoke alarms sound off an 85-decibel siren.

First Alert Brk 312OB

First Alert Brk 3120b can detect multiple kinds of fires with its dual-sensor smoke alarm that is hardwired with a battery backup. This way, you do not have a problem with power failure.

The photoelectric smoke detector sensor can differentiate between real threats and typical activities. However, despite having two smoke sensors, it does not detect carbon monoxide.

First Alert

First Alert brands are slim and easy to install. This sensor has a range of carbon monoxide, photoelectric, and combination alarms. A photoelectric smoke and carbon monoxide alarm combination comes with dual sensor smoke alarms with a built-in ten-year battery.

With these features, the First Alert quickly detects smoke and unsafe levels of carbon monoxide (CO).

Fire Pro

Useful features you can find in this brand of smoke alarm include a test button, a low battery indicator, and an 85-decibel alarm. There is also a hush button for false alarms and a photoelectric ten-year lithium battery.

Quell

You can go for the Quell range of smoke alarms if you want different models by room type. You can install single or twin packs in the bedroom, kitchen, hallway, and garage. Moreover, the brand has interconnected smoke alarms.

Fire Sentry

The Fire Sentry is a photoelectric smoke alarm model. It is equipped with a test button, LED low battery warning indicator, and an auto-reset function. Also, there is an insect-resistant case. The alarm runs on a 9V battery.

X-Sense

The X-Sense differentiates its brand with its digital display. You can see the battery level and current CO levels from the display. Besides, it gives up-to-date readings every ten seconds.

Law On Smoke Alarms

Most residences in Australia are legally required to have a minimum of one smoke alarm. In addition, the layout of the home may necessitate a need for more alarms. The Building Code of Australia requires all homes built or substantially renovated since 1997 to have mains-powered smoke alarms with backup batteries.

Moreover, multiple alarms may need to be interconnected. Furthermore, there are state requirements for working with smoke alarms.

State Requirements For Smoke Alarms

Check the specific standards and version of Australian Standard 3786 your state uses. Visit the official government websites for your state to get this information.

NSW

Each level or apartment should have at least one alarm installed. Specifically, you should install smoke alarms in bedrooms and living spaces (hallways, stairways, and the garage). The same applies to every corridor or hall linking a bedroom (or the most likely path of travel when evacuating the building). Photoelectric alarms are recommended.

QLD

The specification is for interconnected photoelectric alarms that are either mains-powered or have a ten-year battery.

VIC

A minimum of one smoke alarm per home is required. Preferably, it should be a photoelectric type.

SA

You need to install at least one alarm per home. The alarms should also be interconnected. Generally, homes need to have a mains-powered or ten-year battery model.

TAS

If your home or rental property was built or renovated in 1997, this applies to you. Your property needs to have a minimum of one mains-powered or ten-year lithium battery alarm installed.

WA

Your home has to have a mains-powered smoke alarm for each level. However, if it does not have a connected mains power, you can install a battery-powered smoke alarm.

NT

Every residential property should have a functioning smoke alarm. The law also requires transitioning to mains-powered or ten-year battery photoelectric alarms.

ACT

The ACT Emergency Services Agency has specifications for homes built or renovated since 1997. Such homes need to have a minimum of one mains-powered alarm. Opt for photoelectric smoke alarms and check the expiry date of your ionisation smoke alarms. If the date is close, replace it.

Smoke Alarms Buying Guide

  • Ionisation alarm has prices ranging from around $10 to $50.
  • Photoelectric alarm costs around $20 for a basic model. Models with additional features can cost up to $100 or more.
  • Carbon monoxide alarms can go for around $50.
  • Heat alarms can be less costly and can be approximately $25.

Remember, you may incur installation charges. The charges depend on the size and layout of your home.

Tips On Installing Smoke Detectors

Install at every level

The (NFPA) National Fire Protection Association guidelines recommend installing one smoke detector at each level of your home. This includes bedrooms, basement, living areas, and near stairways.

Clean them regularly

False alarms can quickly arise from dust build-up. In addition, dirt and debris can make the sensors on your smoke alarm less effective. So, regular cleaning of your photoelectric, ionisation, or other alarm is necessary. Also, vacuum around your smoke alarm vents every year.

Get interconnected

Everyone in your home can be alerted to a fire with wired and wireless interconnected smoke alarms installed. Each of your fire alarms contributes to sounding the siren throughout the house.

Test them monthly

Press the test button every month to run your smoke alarms.

Replace promptly

A primary preventive measure is to replace batteries on time. You may even replace the entire smoke alarm unit if it uses in-built batteries every ten years. You can get Australian Standard compliant models from security and fire protection companies.

Work With Fire Protection Companies

Without question, you need to have a working smoke alarm installed in your home. For instance, faulty power sources may cause house fires that can damage your home and property and even endanger lives. Therefore, any smoke alarm installation has to be done by qualified fire protection companies.

Besides, most states require smoke alarm installations to be done by licensed electricians. Also, hardwired alarms need to be installed professionally. In addition, you may have to pay fines or even face criminal charges if you install a smoke alarm illegally, improperly, or simply default in installation.

With your knowledge about the best smoke alarms, the types, features, state requirements, brands, and smoke alarm buying guide, you may want to try a DIY smoke alarm installation. However, you may not be too sure of current state regulations. Also, you may not know if the smoke alarms are legally compliant with Australian Standard 3786. Thus, you have all the more reason to leave it to professional electricians.

Electrical Licence NSW 252436C / QLD 78559
Air Cond & Refrigeration 15200655 / AU52000
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