Smoke alarm
buyers guide

Photoelectric vs ionisation?

Fire & Rescue NSW recommends the installation of photoelectric smoke alarms.

Photoelectric alarms are more advanced and are widely regarded as being superior to ionisation alarms in most circumstances. They can respond faster than other alarms to most fire types and are less likely to cause annoying false alarms. Photoelectric alarms are particularly effective at detecting smouldering fires, which provides the earliest possible warning of a small developing fire.

If a smoke alarm has a radioactive warning symbol on it, it's an ionisation smoke alarm.

How many do I need to buy?

In addition to the minimum requirement of one smoke alarm per level, Fire & Rescue NSW recommends installing smoke alarms in all rooms where people sleep and the hallways leading to sleeping areas.

Legislation requires all NSW residents must have at least one working smoke alarm installed on each level of their home. This includes owner occupied, rental properties, relocatable homes, caravans and campervans or any other residential building where people sleep. Learn more about the law.

View the smoke alarm installation guide for further information.

Video: Shopping to replace your smoke alarm

Michelle and Charlie ask Station Officer Brett Johnson some questions about smoke alarms.

Are there approved smoke alarms?

The Australian Standard symbol on the packaging shows if the alarm is approved and safe.

All smoke alarms installed in residential accommodation in NSW must meet the requirements of Australian Standard AS 3786.

Hard-wired or battery operated?

Fire & Rescue NSW recommends wherever possible, hard-wired and interconnected smoke alarms are installed.

If your alarms cannot be hard-wired, FRNSW recommends photoelectric alarms that rely on 10-year lithium batteries. Inbuilt 10-year lithium batteries last as long as the smoke alarm so you don’t need to worry about replacing them every year – you simply replace the entire smoke alarm unit once every 10 years.

Hard-wired smoke alarm

A hard-wired smoke alarm consists of a 240-volt smoke alarm connected to a home's electrical system with a battery back-up power supply.

Battery operated smoke alarm

Most smoke alarms come with a battery but not all batteries are the same:

  • 10 year lithium batteries: These batteries are recommended and last as long as the smoke alarm.
  • Lead or alkaline batteries: Need to be replaced yearly.

Where can I buy them?

Available at most major supermarkets and hardware stores across New South Wales.

Smoke alarms for the deaf and hearing impaired

There are specialised smoke alarms available for people who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment. These have a flashing strobe light and/or a vibrating pad that can be placed under the pillow which activate when the smoke alarm sounds and are designed to interconnect with conventional audible alarms in different locations within the home. If one of the alarms senses smoke, all alarms will sound, the strobe will flash and the vibrating pad will operate.

At present there is no Australian Standard (AS) that applies to smoke alarms for hearing impaired people. If the code number AS3786 appears on a smoke alarm for hearing impaired people, it refers only to the smoke alarm sensing unit and does not include the flashing strobe light or the vibrating pad.

People who wish to purchase smoke alarms for the hearing impaired should contact the relevant associations in their state for information on where they can be sourced or visit www.betterhearingsydney.org.au [external link]

For more information contact the Deaf Society of NSW on 02 8833 3600.