First things first – we believe EVERY single home should be fitted with reliable and regularly maintained fire alarms. There is simply no excuse for not having some form of fire protection in your home. This guide will walk you through understanding the types of fire detection alarms available, and how to specify and install them in your home. Rules for landlords are different and we deal with those at the end of the guide. This guide should not be relied on for building regulations or local authority guidance which may differ.
What is a smoke alarm?
A “Smoke” alarm is a slightly misleading phrase really, as this guide deals with 3 main types of alarm; optical alarm, heat alarm and carbon monoxide alarm. And yes, you absolutely should as a minimum have one of each in your home. Let’s firstly cover off those types of alarm:
The optical alarm is the one we’re now most familiar with, when installing smoke alarms in the home. Optical alarms work by pulsing a beam of infrared LED light into the sensor to check for smoke particles. When smoke is detected a signal is sent for the alarm to sound. These types of smoke alarm have now largely replaced the Ionising type of alarm we would have all been familiar with, due to these type of alarms requiring a tiny amount of radioactive material to operate. Aside from that, Optical alarms are also less prone to false alarms.
The heat alarm then, probably obvious by now, detects heat rather than smoke. For this reason heat alarms are best suited to the kitchen and garage, where smoke, cooking smells or fumes are present. They are designed to sound at 58 degrees.
It is also possible to purchase alarms with a combined heat and smoke sensors, giving the fastest response times for fire protection. These types of alarm combine data from the two sensors to avoid giving false alarms. You would still avoid placing these in the kitchen or garage however, due to false alarms.
Carbon monoxide (CO2) is a highly toxic gas, often referred to as a silent killer. CO2 is produced from faulty or poorly maintained or installed appliances, such as boilers, gas hobs or log burners. A carbon monoxide detector is of course designed to detect gas if the CO2 reaches dangerous levels.
Should I install mains or battery smoke alarms?
Before answering this, it is essential that every fire alarm, heat alarm and Co2 alarm is replaced at least every 10 years regardless of how it is powered. You should also regularly walk through and test all alarms. So, this shouldn’t be a determining factor of what alarm to choose. Clearly battery alarms are easiest to install, as they don’t require an electrician. Manufacturers are now phasing out the cheap replaceable 9v alkaline battery types, in favour or sealed lithium batteries. These are great for 2 reasons – they are designed to last 10 years, and being sealed means that you can’t remove the batteries – yes, we know, but people do! Even better, the latest version of sealed lithium battery alarms are complete with interlinked RF technology, so if one alarm sounds, they all sound. Mains smoke alarms can run off their own dedicated circuit, or preferably will be installed on a lighting circuit, which makes it unlikely that the circuit will be powered down. The majority of mains alarms we sell can be interlinked, either hardwired or via RF signal. Clearly mains alarms will require an electrician to install and also a certain amount of making good, unless you are working on a renovation project or new build. All mains alarms are complete with rechargeable lithium or alkaline battery backup should the power fail.
Where should I position my fire alarms?
When thinking about your property consider how you can achieve total coverage in the event of a fire. So, depending on the size of the property you may, at the very least consider the kitchen, living room, downstairs hallway and upstairs landing. 1 x heat, 3 x optical smoke alarms and 1 x CO2 alarm. A good rule is that there should be an alarm within 3 meters of every bedroom door. These could be simple standalone battery or mains alarms, if you are likely to hear any alarm from anywhere in the house. This would be the EI140 series for mains alarms and the 600 non-RF series for battery alarms, combined with a Ei208 CO2 alarm. Placement of any fire alarm should ideally be 300mm from the walls and in the centre of the ceiling. You may consider this solution sufficient for a small 2 bed house. However, to take the fire detection a stage further, consider using a multi-alarm such as the 660i which combines both heat and optical sensors. If you are concerned about not being able to hear the alarm furthest away from you, then upgrade to the RF versions of interlinked alarms, to satisfy all alarm types. Both the 600 series and 3000 series can be interlinked for full fire protection. Set up is simple with the “house mode” function on install.
The above solution may also be just about “satisfactory” for a slightly larger home, however where you have multiple living spaces, or outbuildings such as utility rooms and garages, then more rooms and zones should be protected. Alarms should not be installed in bathrooms, where steam or moisture is present. With larger properties it is essential to install alarms with interlinking facilities, so all alarms will sound together in the event of a fire.
Alarms should be placed on flat ceilings, so above a stairwell for example. Where you have sloped ceiling such as habitable loft space for example, optical alarms should be cited within 600mm of the apex. For heat alarms this guidance reduces to 150mm of the apex.
For CO2 alarms the guidance differs slightly. If the CO2 alarm is to be cited in a room with the appliance, place on the ceiling between 1 and 3 meters horizontally from the appliance, and again 300mm from the walls or other ceiling furniture such as light fittings. If rooms without an appliance CO2 alarms should be placed at breathing height, or for bedrooms and bed head height.
Guidance for landlords
It is the landlords responsibility to ensure there are working fire and CO2 alarms in a property. Landlords must ensure a working fire alarm on each storey of the property, classed as living accommodation. Where there is a combustible appliance in any room, a CO2 alarm should be fitted. Alarms can be battery operated, however, it is worth investing in lithium sealed units for peace of mind. Furthermore, of note, every property built on or after 1st June 1992 must have a hard wired mains alarm installed on every floor as a minimum.