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Smoke alarm questions and answers

On 1 May 2006, the NSW Government introduced legislation to ensure all homes have at least one working smoke alarm per floor. As smoke alarms can be affected by dust, insects, humidity and age, they need to be replaced at least every 10 years. Importantly, technology has also evolved and improved over this time.

Fire and Rescue NSW is encouraging NSW residents to ReAlarm their homes by replacing old, outdated smoke alarms a with new interconnected alarms in every bedroom, living space (including hallways and stairways) and even the garage in their home.

When and why was the smoke alarm legislation introduced?

On 1 May 2006, the NSW Government introduced new legislation following a series of fatal house fires.

This legislation mandated that all residential dwellings in NSW must have at least one working smoke alarm installed on each level of the home. This includes; owner occupied and rental properties, relocatable homes, caravans and campervans or any other residential building where people sleep. Smoke alarms must comply with Australian Standard 3786 (AS3786), which should be clearly marked on the packaging.

How do people know how old it is?

To assist in identifying the age of smoke alarms, the AS3786 standard requires a serial number or batch number to be placed on the device. For example, 2406 may mean that the product was manufactured in the 24th week of 2006. Some manufacturers place the date of manufacture on the smoke alarm and some now place the expiry date on the smoke alarm. The batch numbers or dates are usually on the base of the smoke alarm near the battery compartment.

Where should smoke alarms be positioned?

There are minimum requirements needed to meet the Building Legislation Amendment (Smoke Alarms) Act 2005; however, Fire and Rescue NSW recommends a higher level of protection with the installation of interconnected alarms in every bedroom, living space (including hallways and stairways) and even the garage in your home.

Under the Act, different types of premises require smoke alarms to be installed in various locations. For residential dwellings, a smoke alarm must be installed on each level of the home. The alarm should be installed between the kitchen and sleeping areas, close enough to be heard from the bedrooms.

A common mistake is that smoke alarms are installed too close to the kitchen or bathroom. Fire and Rescue NSW recommends installing interconnected alarms in every bedroom, living space (including hallways and stairways) and even the garage.

How should residents maintain their smoke alarms (testing / batteries etc)?

Fire and Rescue NSW recommends the following maintenance:

Every month: Smoke alarms should be tested (by pressing the test button) to ensure the battery and the alarm work.

Every six months: Smoke alarms should be cleaned with a vacuum cleaner. This will remove any dust or particles that could prevent the smoke alarm from working properly.

Once a year: If your smoke alarm has a battery, you should replace it annually. A good way to remember is to change it when you change your clocks at the end of Daylight Saving. If your smoke alarm uses a lithium battery, it is inbuilt into the alarm and cannot be replaced. The entire unit needs to be replaced every 10 years.

Every 10 years: Replace your smoke alarm. Smoke alarms do not last forever and the sensitivity in all smoke alarms will reduce over time. All types of smoke alarms should be removed, replaced and disposed of at least every 10 years.

Why do people need to replace their alarms?

According to Fire and Rescue NSW data, 56% of fatal home fires between 2000 and 2014 occurred in homes where no smoke alarms were present. A working smoke alarm provides a critical early warning, giving you and your family time to escape. It can take as little as three minutes for a fire to take hold and takes only two quick breaths of thick, black smoke to render someone unconscious.

Fire and Rescue NSW is encouraging NSW residents to ReAlarm their homes by replacing old, outdated smoke alarms with new interconnected alarms in every bedroom, living space (including hallways and stairways) and even the garage in their home.

It’s also important to recognise that technology has evolved and improved over the past 10 years, with new smoke alarms having multiple sensor technologies in the one device.

What if I’m hard of hearing or I can’t change my smoke alarm myself?

There are a number of different types of smoke alarms available: photoelectric, ionisation, multi-criteria and dual-sensor. Carbon monoxide alarms are not smoke alarms and do not satisfy the legislation and may only be used in addition to smoke alarms for increased warning. Specialist alarms for the deaf and hearing impaired, alarms with emergency lights, and special models for kitchens and relocatable homes are also available. All of these smoke alarms differ in how they detect smoke and/or alert people.

Strobe light and vibrating pad smoke alarms are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. For more information contact the Deaf Society of NSW on 02 8833 3600 or visit: https://deafsocietynsw.org.au/equipment/page/smoke_alarms

Fire and Rescue NSW can also assist the elderly or those physically unable to change a smoke detector battery. Contact your local fire station here.

How often do I need to change my smoke alarm?

Each smoke alarm unit should be replaced at least once every 10 years.

How do I dispose of old ionisation smoke alarms?

You can safely throw out up to 10 ionisation smoke alarms in your household waste garbage bin. If you need to dispose of more than 10 smoke alarms, see the statement below.

FRNSW Statement to Local Government Councils on the Safe Disposal of Ionisation Smoke Alarms, as per NSW EPA Guidance

FRNSW has been informed the following by the NSW EPA Radiation Team Manager, Mr. Len Potapof:

Up to 10 ionisation smoke alarms can be disposed of in household waste

If there are more than 10 ionisation smoke alarms to be disposed of at one time they should be taken to a local Community Recycling Centre

Consideration must be given to cumulative effect such that if 10 smoke alarms are to be disposed of daily in the same household waste, it would be preferable to dispose of them at a local Community Recycling Centre

Community Recycling Centres (CRCs) have been established in partnership between local governments and the EPA to dispose of bulk waste materials, including ionisation smoke alarms.

The EPA website offers advice on smoke alarms and their appropriate disposal, with reference that small numbers can be taken to CRCs, and to contact the EPA with questions about large numbers. The manager of the Radiation Team advised FRNSW by phone that larger numbers can be taken to CRCs. Public advice is available here

Information surrounding CRCs is available here

A list of CRCs is available here