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Smoke alarms

How to choose the right smoke alarm for your home and where to install it.

Last updated:
16 July 2018

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1 Choosing a smoke alarm

You are four times more likely to die in a fire in the home if there is no working smoke alarm. A lot of people forget to check their smoke alarms, so the best choice is usually the one that lasts the longest.

Below is a list of the different types of alarm available.

  • Standard-battery alarms - These are the cheapest and most basic.
  • Battery alarms with an emergency light - Fitted with a light which comes on when the alarm is triggered, these are particularly suitable if someone in your house has hearing difficulties.
  • Alarms with 10-year batteries - Although slightly more expensive, you do save on the cost of replacing batteries.
  • Models with a ‘hush’ or ‘silence’ button - These buttons will silence the alarm for a short time, which can be useful when cooking. If there is a real fire giving off lots of smoke the hush system is overridden and the alarm sounds. These models will continue to remind you they have been silenced by 'chirping' or by displaying a red light.
  • Mains-powered alarms - Powered by your home’s electricity supply these alarms need to be installed by a qualified electrician. There’s no battery to check, although they are available with battery back-up in case of a power cut.
  • Interconnecting or linked alarms - Some alarms can be connected to each other so that when one senses smoke all the alarms in the property sound. Useful for people with hearing difficulties or in larger homes.
  • Mains-powered alarm with strobe light and vibrating pad - Designed for people with hearing difficulties, the alarm alerts you with a flashing light and vibrating pad placed beneath your pillow.
  • Mains-powered alarm which plugs into a light socket - This type of alarm uses a rechargeable battery that charges up when the light is switched on. It lasts 10 years and can be silenced or tested by the light switch.

2 Where to install smoke alarms

The more smoke alarms you have, the safer you will be. The best place to fit an alarm is on the ceiling, near or in the middle of the room or hall. The alarm should be at least 30cm (one foot) away from a wall or light.

  • As a minimum, install one on each floor - preferably on the hall and landing ceilings.
  • If you have only one smoke alarm and two floors, put it where you can hear it when you're asleep - in the ceiling at the top of the stairs leading to the bedrooms.
  • If you have a TV or other large electrical appliance in your bedroom, fit a smoke alarm there.

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service offer a free home safety visit (Safe and Well Visit) to advise how to make your home safer and, where appropriate, fit smoke alarms. 

3 Maintaining your smoke alarms

  • Test each alarm once a week by pressing the test button until the alarm sounds.
  • Once a year change the battery (unless it's a 10-year alarm).
  • Twice a year open the case and gently vacuum the inside using a soft-brush vacuum attachment to remove dust from the sensors. If it doesn't open, vacuum through the holes.
  • Replace alarms every 10 years.
  • If your smoke alarm keeps going off don't take out the battery. If it is positioned too near the kitchen move it further down the hall. If it's not the cooking setting it off, try vacuuming the alarm as there may be a build-up of dust or dirt inside.

4 Fire and carbon monoxide alarms in privately rented accommodation

Landlords have particular responsibilities for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Further information is available on:

5 Smoke alarms for vulnerable residents

Known as Fire Link, the alarms link to existing 'Careline' or 'Lifeline' monitoring centres and effectively give an occupier the domestic equivalent of an automatic fire detection system.

If a fire breaks out, the radio-linked smoke alarm transmits a signal to a remote monitoring centre via a control box mounted in the occupier's home. To reduce false alarms the operator will contact the occupier before passing the call to the emergency services.

This system can shorten the time between a fire occurring and the initial call to the fire service, which means help can be on the way more quickly, improving the chances of survival. 

For more information contact us.

6 Get more advice and guidance

 More information is also available on our Fire safety booklets page. 

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