Check your smoke alarm

Since 1999, smoke alarms have been mandatory in all dwellings in Victoria, ACT and South Australia. From 1 May 2006, all New South Wales residents are required to have at least one working smoke alarm installed on each level of their home and in Queensland from July 2007.

Ceiling mounted Smoke Alarm
Ceiling mounted smoke alarm

Smoke alarms detect smoke and emit a loud and distinctive sound to alert occupants to the potential danger of a fire.

The two main types of smoke alarms for homes are:

1. Ionisation smoke alarms – these alarms use a very small amount of radioactive material (Americium-241) to detect smoke and sound an alarm. The amount of radioactive material is too minute to be a health hazard.

2. Photoelectric smoke alarms – contains a light beam to detect smoke and trigger an alarm.

Ionisation alarms are best suited to detecting fast-flaming fires that give off visible smoke, commonly triggered by kitchen smoke.

Photoelectric smoke alarms detect smoky and smouldering fires. This is important as today’s homes consist of wood, wool, nylon, plastic which release toxic fumes when burning. These materials can smoulder for some time before bursting into actual flames. This alarm is crucial when occupants are sleeping and can prevent smoke inhalation before occupants wake up.

The key is to ensure:

  • At least one alarm is a photoelectric alarm
  • Install alarms away from corners, in the main living areas
  • Install an alarm in each sleeping area eg bedroom

For more hints and tips, contact your State fire service: