Fire Safety: Is your Perth home Smoke Alarm compliant?
Having a smoke alarm in your home could be the difference between life and death.
Fire Alarms are critical to alert any building occupants if a fire is happening, especially when asleep, allowing them time to evacuate the building. Ensuring your home has adequate, functioning smoke alarms is the most effective step to fire safety within your home or business.
Smoke Alarm Laws
It has been mandatory for all new residential buildings (or residential building extensions) within Western Australia to install mains powered smoke alarms since 1 July 1997.
Today, smoke detectors are compulsory in every home and business in Australia by law.
To comply with the Australian regulations, owners must ensure that the smoke alarm(s):
- are in accordance with the Building Code of Australia (BCA) applicable at the time of installation of the alarms. (The BCA specifies the relevant edition of the Australian Standard for residential smoke alarms (AS 3786) and location the smoke alarms must comply with);
- are not more than 10 years old at the time of the transfer of ownership, or making the dwelling available for rent or hire;
- are in working order; and
- are permanently connected to consumer mains power (hard-wired)
The Building Code of Australia (BCA) requires smoke alarms to be interconnected where there is more than one alarm. However, this is not applicable to dwellings that were approved for construction prior to 1 May 2015.
Battery powered smoke alarms may be installed without local government approval where:
- mains power is not connected to the dwelling; or
- where there is no hidden space in the existing dwelling in which to run the necessary wiring for hard wired smoke alarms and there is no appropriate alternative location, for example where there is a concrete ceiling
The use of battery powered smoke alarms in any other circumstance must be approved by the local government. Battery powered smoke alarms must have a non-removable 10-year life battery.
Installing Smoke Alarms
Western Australia’s Building Regulations 2012 requires homeowners to install compliant smoke alarms by licensed electrical contractors.
The number of smoke alarms installed depends on the classification of the dwelling, its layout and size. They must be positioned throughout the building, following the BCA regulations at the time of installation.
Photoelectric or Ionisation Smoke Alarms?
There are two standard residential smoke alarms, photoelectric and ionisation. Both are acceptable for use and can both be installed within the home, providing they comply with the relevant edition of AS 3786 as referenced in the BCA when installing the smoke alarms.
Photoelectric smoke alarms are more sensitive to smoke as they contain a light chamber designed to detect smoke particles whereas Ionisation smoke alarms work best with flaming fires and are less reactive to smoke. So, if you are required to place a fire alarm near a bathroom or kitchen, Ionisation smoke alarms will be your best option as they will be less likely to sound false alarms.
Maintaining Smoke Alarms
Only a working smoke alarm can provide you with safety and you need to ensure it is maintained to protect the occupants of your home. Just like all electrical items, smoke alarms do have a limited lifespan. According to WA’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, all smoke alarms should be replaced every ten years. During the lifespan of a smoke alarm, it can become compromised with dust, insects, contaminants or electrical corrosion, making its efficiency less reliable.
Smoke alarms will make a warning ‘beep’ or ‘chirp’ when there is a fault or if the battery needs to be replaced. Do note that mains powered smoke alarms may give a low battery warning after periods of power outages. Rechargeable batteries may take a few hours to recharge after the main power is restored. This may be longer if the backup battery has wholly depleted during the periods of consumer mains power failure.
Alarm Maintenance Routine
Both battery-powered smoke alarms and hard-wired smoke alarms should be tested and maintained regularly to ensure they haven’t stopped working. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services recommend the following maintenance routine:
- Testing once per month to ensure the battery and the alarm sounder are operating
- Check the smoke alarm for any build-up of dust and cobwebs and clean with a vacuum cleaner at least every six months
- Vacuum with a soft brush attachment around the smoke alarm vents
- Use a surface insect spray around the smoke alarm to prevent insects nesting inside
- Replacing batteries annually (mains powered smoke alarms generally have back-up batteries)
- Smoke alarms should never be painted
Are there penalties for noncompliance?
Yes, local governments in Perth have the power under the Building Act 2011 and the Regulations to either issue an infringement notice or prosecute an owner who fails to have compliant smoke alarms installed prior to selling, transferring ownership, renting or hiring the dwelling.
Whether you’re buying, selling or building a home in Perth, Total Home Inspections will include a visual smoke alarm check as part of our Building Inspection Report.