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Planning Retirement Online

Smoke alarms                                             October 2009 


smoke alarmsSmoke alarms

I confess! In our old house, the smoke alarm was in the hall just outside the kitchen door. In the end, I got so fed up with it going off every time I made a piece of toast or fried an egg that I took the battery out.

Statistics show I am not the only person who has done this, but statistics also show that this was a stupid thing to do. We are more than twice as likely to die in a fire at home if we haven’t a smoke alarm, and house fires are still one of the most common reasons for fire service callouts. However, the good news is that alarm manufacturers have invested a lot of time and money to improve alarms so that they don’t go off the moment you boil a pan of water and today they are also cheap and easy to fit.

The ideal is to have an alarm on each floor of your house, but also in a place where you will hear it. You should also have alarms in rooms where you have a tv, computer or other large electrical equipment.

The main alarm most people have is an ionization or smoke alarm. These are sensitive to fires with flame (such as chip pan fires) and they can detect these types of fires before smoke becomes too thick.

There are also optical alarms which are more expensive but very effective at detecting slow-burning fires such as overheated wiring or foam-filled furniture before they have turned into raging infernos; they are also less likely to go off accidentally.

Ideally of course it is best to have one of each, but realistically most people invest in just normal smoke alarms which are available from supermarkets and a wide range of other shops.

It is important that whatever you buy, the model meets British Standard 5446, Part 1 and also carries the British Standard Kitemark.

There are lots of different models available and again the most popular are the basic smoke alarms that run on a 9-volt battery. These work and are fine but you do need to check them regularly. You can buy some alarms that come with 10 year batteries – a long-life lithium battery or sealed power pack that lasts a decade. This can be worth the investment (they are slightly more expensive) as many people forget to check their alarms and the battery might be dead just at the moment when it is needed!

You can also buy alarms that can be fitted to your home’s main electricity supply. They need to be installed by a qualified electrician, but save any problem over checking the battery.

If you are looking for something a little more sophisticated, more recent designs include an emergency light which automatically comes on when the alarm is triggered (useful if anyone has hearing difficulties) and also a ‘hush’ or ‘silence’ button which will silence the alarm for a short time, during heavy cooking periods for instance. In the case of a serious fire with lots of smoke, the silence system is overridden and the alarm sounds.

There are also some specialist alarms available, for instance a strobe light and vibrating pod alarm which is designed for people who have hearing difficulties. If there is a fire, the alarm flashes a light and also vibrates a pad which is meant to be placed beneath your pillow.

Most basic models of fire alarms can be installed easily by oneself; the manufacturer’s instructions are usually quite clear. Alarms need to be at least 30 cm (one foot) away from a wall or light, and the best place for them is on the ceiling. Recent designs mean they look unobtrusive and fit in well with most decors - having a small white box on the ceiling is infinitely preferable to black scorched walls!!

Your local fire and rescue service can probably offer you good advice on the best alarms for your house and situation. You can find your local service through:



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