Author: Christian

Whilst battery powered smoke detectors* are easy for homeowners to DIY install, there are certain situations where they are not permitted by law and a hard wired smoke detector must be used. Prior to installing any type of smoke detector, it is important to understand their differences and when each can be used.

What is a hard wired smoke smoke detector?

A hard wired smoke detector is a fire alarm which is hard wired to a domestic dwelling’s 240 volt electricity supply. As electrical wiring is required, hard wired smoke detectors cannot be DIY installed and should always be installed by a certified Electrician. Hard wired smoke detectors have an internal battery back-up which allows for continuous power coverage should there be a temporary outage to the household’s mains electricity supply (i.e. power black-out during a weather storm). When there is more than one, hard wired smoke detectors must be interconnected to each other – this can be achieved in two ways – either by running physical cabling in the ceiling space in-between each alarm, or wirelessly using a radio frequency (RF) transmitter.

When must I install a hard wired smoke detector?

There are 3 situations in Queensland when it is a statutory requirement for 240 volt hard wired smoke alarms to be installed.

1) If you are constructing a new home

If you are constructing a new home then hard wired smoke detectors are required as part of the building approval process – Queensland’s Building Regulations 2021 (part 4) and the National Construction Code (NCC 2019 volume 2 part 3.7.5) detail minimum necessary building standards, including those for fire safety and smoke alarms.

Queensland’s Building Regulations 2021 state that when constructing a new home, the smoke detectors must be hardwired to the domestic dwelling’s electricity supply; and must be interconnected to every other smoke detector installed in the dwelling.

2) If you are performing a substantial renovation

Division 5A (section 104RBA) of the QLD Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 states that hard wired smoke detectors must be installed when a substantial renovation is being performed to an existing dwelling.

A ‘substantial renovation’ is defined as building work carried out under a building development approval, or the total building works equaling 50 per cent of the dwelling over three years.

3) If you are replacing an existing hard wired smoke detector

Division 5A (section 104RC) of the QLD Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 states that if the smoke alarm being replaced was hardwired to the domestic dwelling’s electricity supply, the replacement smoke alarm must also be hardwired to the dwelling’s electricity supply. A smoke alarm must be replaced if it fails to operate or is older than 10 years from manufacture date (manufacture date is on the back of the alarm).

What if I don’t need to replace my existing hard wired smoke detectors? Can I leave them in place and install additional battery powered detectors in all the required locations and be compliant?

This is a common question. Provided the existing hard wired smoke detectors work and their manufacture date is less than 10 years they do not need to be replaced.

Battery powered interconnected photoelectric smoke detectors can then be installed in all prescribed locations as required by QLD law and compliance is achieved. The position of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) is that the existing hard wired smoke detectors are then considered to be extra additional alarms, and do not need to be interconnected to the newly installed battery powered smoke detectors.

Installing new hard wired smoke alarms

Red smoke alarms are a 100% Australian owned company that manufacture quality 240 volt hard wired smoke alarms for those people that do need to replace or install hard wired smoke alarms. Aside from the 10 year product warranty, what makes the Red hard wired smoke detector so good is that it comes in two versions depending on the preferred type of battery back-up. The Red hard wired smoke alarm (model R240RC) comes with an in-built rechargeable 10 year lithium battery (never needs replacing) whereas the Red hard wired smoke alarm (model R240) has a user replaceable 9 volt back-up battery. The choice is yours.

Another great feature of Red hard wired smoke detectors is how they can be interconnected with one another. There are two options. First, each Red hard wired smoke detector can be physically interconnected by having an electrician run cabling from alarm to alarm in your ceiling space. If this is too cost prohibitive and/or difficult to do, the second option is to interconnect the hard wired smoke detectors using wireless radio frequency (RF) technology. This is achieved by installing a small Red hard wired base beneath each hard wired smoke alarm. The base acts as an RF transmitter and allows the hard wired smoke detectors to become interconnected and communicate to one another without the need to run cabling from alarm to alarm. An added benefit of the Red hard wired base is that it also allows the Red hard wired smoke alarm to talk to not only other Red hard wired smoke alarms, but also to the Red remote control and other Red battery powered smoke alarms and Red heat alarms – extremely versatile.

Summary

This article has demonstrated the 3 criteria where hard wired smoke detectors must be installed as per QLD legislation. In all other scenarios it is acceptable to use battery powered smoke detectors to achieve compliance.

Before purchasing new replacement smoke detectors for your home be sure to check if your existing smoke detectors are hard wired, or not. Doing this may save complications later, if for example you purchased battery powered smoke detectors, only to discover that what you really needed are hard wired smoke detectors.

* A ‘battery powered’ smoke detector is a smoke detector powered by a non-removable 10-year battery compliant with Australian Standard 3786:2014.

Referenced legislation:

QLD Building Regulations 2021 (part 4)

National Construction Code (NCC) 2019 volume 2 part 3.7.5

QLD Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Division 5A)

QFES Smoke Alarms for New Dwellings and Renovations

Interconnected Photoelectric Smoke Alarms are one of the most important safety features in any home. They can save lives by detecting smoke early, giving residents time to evacuate before a fire becomes uncontrollable. However, simply installing smoke alarms is not enough – many people fail to maintain their smoke alarms properly, and as a result, they may not function in a real life fire situation. Cleaning and testing your smoke alarm regularly can help ensure that it will work when you need it most, and also maximize the life expectancy of the alarm itself.

Why Clean Your Smoke Alarm?

Photoelectric smoke alarms are designed to detect smoke particles in the air. Over time, dust and other debris can accumulate on the sensors, which can interfere with their ability to detect smoke. Regular cleaning helps to ensure that the sensors are functioning properly and that the smoke alarm will work when you need it.

Cleaning your smoke alarm is a relatively simple process – please watch our short video below! You can use a soft brush or a vacuum cleaner attachment to remove dust and debris from the sensors by gently vacuuming over and around the external perimeter of the smoke alarm, particularly near the air intake grill. You may be surprised by the dirt, dust and cobwebs that have accumulated over time. Do not apply any liquids or chemical cleaning agents onto your smoke alarm as this could damage it. We suggest to clean and test our Premier Range and Red smoke alarms monthly, in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

When to Test Your Smoke Alarm

Testing your smoke alarm is also an important part of maintaining it. All of the interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms that we sell have a test button that you can press to check the alarm’s functionality (or you may use the optional remote control device). It’s a good idea to test your smoke alarm at least once a month to make sure it is working properly. When the test button is pressed all the smoke alarms should activate with 10-15 seconds of the first one, they should make a beeping noise and flash their red light. All the alarms will then silence automatically.

If you have a hardwired smoke alarm, you should also test the backup battery periodically to ensure that it is functioning correctly.

It’s also a good idea to test your smoke alarm after any significant home renovations or changes, such as painting or installing new carpet. These changes can generate dust and debris that can interfere with the smoke alarm’s sensors. Hot tip – never paint over your smoke alarm if painting the ceiling.

Why Testing Your Smoke Alarm is Important

Testing your smoke alarm regularly is essential for ensuring that it’s working correctly. A smoke alarm that doesn’t work properly won’t be able to alert you to a fire in your home. In a worst-case scenario, this can have tragic consequences including loss of life and/or property.

Smoke alarms are especially critical during the night when you’re asleep. Many fires occur during the night, and if you’re not alerted to a fire early enough, you may not be able to evacuate in time. A properly functioning smoke alarm can give you the time you need to get out of your home safely.

Cleaning and testing your smoke alarm is a simple but essential task that can save lives. Regular basic maintenance of your interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms will ensure they remain working as intended, and will last their full 10-year lifespan without any complications. With a properly functioning smoke alarm that is regularly tested and maintained, you can sleep soundly knowing that you and your family are protected from the dangers of fire. Be sure to take good care of your smoke alarms – and then they will take good care of you!

The principal smoke alarm laws in Western Australia consist of;

– the W.A Building Regulations 2012 (division 3) and;

– the Building Code of Australia.

In 1997 hard wired 240v smoke alarms became compulsory in Western Australia for all newly constructed residential buildings (or residential building extensions). From 2009 onwards this was extended to also include all existing residential buildings, prior to their transfer of ownership, rent or hire.

In W.A smoke alarms must;

  • be positioned according to the requirements of the Building Code of Australia
  • comply with Australian Standard 3786:2014
  • be permanently connected to consumer mains power
  • be interconnected, if your home was newly built after the 1 May 2015.
  • be less than 10 years from the date of manufacture

The W.A Building Regulations 2012 does allow the use of non-replaceable lithium battery powered smoke alarms in certain situations however. This may include where mains power is not connected to the building, there is no hidden space to run the necessary wiring for mains powered alarms, and there is no appropriate alternative location – for example, where there is a concrete ceiling. Formal approval must be obtained by the local council to use lithium battery powered alarms in these situations.

Landlords who rent or hire out their property to tenants are required by law to maintain the smoke alarms. This includes ensuring the smoke alarm is;

  • in good working order;
  • permanently connected to mains power (i.e. 240 volt hard wired);
  • less than 10 years old from manufacture date;
  • if the use of a battery powered smoke alarm has been approved by the local council, the alarm has a non-removeable 10-year life lithium battery (i.e. not a 9 volt replaceable battery).

According to W.A legislation both ionisation and photoelectric smoke alarms are permissible, however the W.A Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) recommend interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms as the preferred type.

The governing piece of smoke alarm legislation in the Northern Territory is called the Northern Territory Fire and Emergency Regulations 1996 (as in force 1 October 2019).

Part 2A of this regulation details requirements relating to smoke alarms, notably to do with the type of alarm, installation, maintenance and testing. A summary is provided below;

All owners of residential property must have working smoke alarms installed and tested annually.
Any existing ionization alarms must be replaced with the photoelectric type when they no longer work, the property is sold, or premises are rented out or a lease is renewed.
The responsibility for testing the alarm in a tenanted property lies with the tenant. The tenant must advise the owner or agent if the alarm does not work.
Section 13A (3) of the regulation states that an approved smoke alarm means a photoelectric type that:

(a) complies with Australian Standard 3786 and;

(b) is hard wired or is a sealed 10 year lithium battery unit.

A copy of the Northern Territory Fire and Emergency Regulations 1996 is available for download at the link below if you would like to read it.

https://legislation.nt.gov.au/en/Legislation/FIRE-AND-EMERGENCY-REGULATIONS-1996

Just like most other Australian states and Territories, South Australia also requires working smoke alarms to be fitted into every property. Fines up to $750 can be imposed if smoke alarms are not installed, and for rental properties the onus is on landlords to ensure the smoke alarms are working.

The two main pieces of legislation for smoke alarms in South Australia are;

Regulation 76B of the Development Regulations 2008 and Regulation 95 of the Planning and Development Infrastructure (General) Regulations 2017 specify requirements for smoke alarms in dwellings.

In summary, they mention that;

Existing homes or residential properties built prior to 1 January 1995

A replaceable battery powered smoke alarm may be installed in these premises subject to any future change of ownership conditions.

When an existing house built prior to 1995 is sold, then the owner has 6 months from the date of title transfer to install smoke alarms which are either 240 volt mains powered or have a 10 year life non-removeable lithium battery.

Regulation 76B of the Development Regulations 2008 does not require multiple smoke alarms to be interconnected, unless required by the Building Code of Australia for new additions or extensions to existing dwellings – see also here for guidance.

New houses or residential properties built after 1 January 1995

The Building Code of Australia requires a 240 volt, mains powered smoke alarm that is interconnected.

Further advise on the interconnection of smoke alarms in South Australia is available here.

Legislation in South Australia does not specifically stipulate between ionisation or photoelectric smoke alarms, although the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service state that interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms provide the best protection across a range of fires.

Before buying a smoke alarm you should do your due diligence to ensure it is compliant to Australian Standard 3786:2014. The first of this two part series will review Australian Standard 3786:2014 to help your purchasing decision.

The full name of the standard which encompasses smoke alarms in Australia is ‘Australian Standard 3786:2014 Smoke alarms using scattered light, transmitted light or ionization’. Standards are documents that set out specifications, procedures and guidelines that aim to ensure products are safe, consistent, and reliable. When a standard is referenced by state or national legislation, then it becomes compulsory in the eyes of the law.

Australian Standard 3786:2014 is divided into several key components – the two of interest that will be reviewed in this article are ‘tests’ and ‘general requirements’.

Section 4.17 of the Australian Standard states that; ‘The smoke alarm shall be so designed that a sphere of diameter larger than 1.3 ±0.05 mm cannot pass into the sensor chamber(s)’. This requirement is intended to restrict the access of foreign bodies such as insects into the sensitive parts of the smoke alarm (to prevent nuisance alarms). It is known that this requirement is not sufficient to prevent the access of all insects; however, it is considered that extreme restrictions on the size of the access holes may introduce the danger of clogging by dust, etc.

How does this requirement translate into the design and manufacture of your smoke alarm? The image below shows the compliant internal component from our Premier Range wireless interconnected photoelectric smoke alarm. The stainless-steel mesh surrounds the sensitive photoelectric chamber within the alarm and contains thousands of tiny holes, each perfectly engineered, no larger than 1.3mm in diameter. The tiny holes prevent most insects from accessing the internal chamber whilst still allowing air (and smoke) to pass through.

Mesh screen surrounding the photoelectric smoke alarm internal sensor chamber
As per Australian Standard 3786:2014 – holes must be no larger than 1.3mm diameter

In addition to this internal mesh screen around the perimeter of the photoelectric chamber, the Premier Range wireless interconnected photoelectric smoke alarm also has an outer grill which forms part of the external housing of the smoke alarm. As you can see in the images below, the external grill also prevents larger foreign bodies from entering the alarm itself. Foreign bodies (i.e., insects) are a common cause of false / nuisance alarms because they can enter the sensitive internal components and disrupt the photoelectric light beam.

Design feature of this smoke alarm incorporates a grill into the external housing
This exterior grill prevents larger foreign bodies from entering the smoke alarm

We hope you have enjoyed this review of Australian Standard 3786:2014 and how it translates to the design of your smoke alarm. Whilst many smoke alarm retailers might profess to be aware of the standard, very few can claim to have read it from cover to cover or have a genuine understanding of what it means.

Smoke alarm rules and regulations in Victoria are derived primarily from the Victorian Building Regulations 2018 (which requires smoke alarms to be installed in accordance with the Building Code of Australia). Amendments are also being made to the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act which will place extra duties on the landlord.

240v mains powered hard-wired smoke alarms with a battery back-up must be installed in all Victorian buildings constructed after 1 August 1997, like these Red brand 240 volt lithium battery back-up smoke alarms.

Buildings constructed before 1st August 1997 can have a battery-powered smoke alarm, like these wireless interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms with a 10 year long life lithium battery.

As a legal minimum the state requires at least one smoke alarm on each floor of a dwelling, positioned to detect to smoke before it reaches the sleeping occupants of a building.

Direct links to the Victorian Government website are posted below if you would like to read the legislative document for yourself.

https://content.legislation.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-10/18-38sra013%20authorised.pdf

The Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA) recommend smoke alarm best practice above and beyond minimum legal Victorian requirements – refer to the direct link below.

https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/installation-and-replacement

On 1 May 2006, the NSW Government introduced new legislation following a series of fatal house fires. Division 7A of the ‘Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000’ calls out the minimum requirements for smoke alarm installation in existing buildings and says that;

– Smoke alarms must comply to Australian Standard 3786:2014 and can be either battery operated or hard wired to mains power.

– A minimum of one working smoke alarm should be installed on each level of a dwelling (even if there are no bedrooms on that level).

Note that whilst this is the minimum required by NSW law, Fire and Rescue NSW recommends installing smoke alarms in all bedrooms and living spaces (including hallways and stairways).

A new section (64A) relating to smoke alarms has also been added to the NSW Residential Tenancies Act 2010. This new section came into effect on March 2020 and placed extra obligations for smoke alarms on landlords in accordance with the Rental Tenancies Regulation 2019. It states that landlords must replace a smoke alarm within 10 years of manufacture and ensure the smoke alarm is tested at least annually.

Direct links to the NSW Government website are posted below if you would like to read the legislative documents for yourself.

https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/whole/html/inforce/current/sl-2000-0557

https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/pdf/asmade/sl-2019-629

Fire and Rescue NSW recommend smoke alarm best practice above and beyond minimum legal NSW requirements – refer to the direct link below.

https://www.fire.nsw.gov.au/page.php?id=80

There is no point waiting until a fire occurs before figuring out what to do and where to go – especially when family members are involved. Having a well developed and rehearsed home fire safety plan will provide loved ones with crucial time to escape, and could certainly mean the difference between life and death. This blog post shows how to develop a home fire safety plan and demonstrates that it needn’t be a difficult task.

Develop a floor plan and identify the emergency exit paths

The main purpose of a home fire safety plan is to provide the occupants of a dwelling sufficient knowledge and skill to escape a burning building. This is achieved by a) documenting the required information b) communicating the information and then c) practicing the home fire safety plan.

The first step in developing a home fire safety plan is to draw a basic floor plan / map of your house, including key locations such as each person’s bedroom. Review the floor plan collectively with all occupants of the dwelling – identify both the primary and secondary path of exit so there are two means of escape for each person in the event of a fire. Some things to consider – are there obstacles to negotiate such as large furniture? Are there ‘landmarks’ along the way which could assist if smoke has reduced visibility to zero? Are there people in the home of differing ages, mental acuity or reduced physical mobility? If so it may be worth allocating a ‘buddy’ to help these people. Agree on a muster point where everyone is to gather at a safe distance having evacuated the building.

Practice the home fire safety plan

It’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another thing to actually do it. Rehearse the home fire safety plan and physically practice an escape with EVERY member of the household, twice yearly. During the rehearsal, a mobile phone timer could be used to create a sense of urgency, reduced visibility due to thick smoke can be simulated by placing a blindfold on the occupant and have them attempt to navigate the exit path in a controlled manner. Once outside the building, everyone should assemble at the fire safety plan’s designated muster point and perform an after action review to identify any opportunities for improvement. Time taken to escape the building can be logged and used as a performance benchmark for future rehearsals.

Interconnected smoke alarms and the home fire safety plan

Interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms provide greater early warning and response time to a fire, they should be installed within your home and form part of the overall home fire safety plan. Ensure they are installed in every bedroom, communal hallway outside the bedrooms and if in a multi-story dwelling then at least one on every floor. During the rehearsal of the home fire safety plan, test the interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms so all actually activate, and everyone becomes acquainted with their sound and meaning. Doing so may help lessen the sense of surprise or shock in a real-life fire event, and it is especially important for children who may not associate the smoke alarm sound with danger.

Fire safety essentials

Rehearsing your home fire safety plan is a great opportunity to impart some basic fire safety essentials. You may wish to document the following information in your home fire safety plan and ensure it is understood by all;

  • Immediately phone triple zero 000 for Australian emergency services, including the fire department.
  • Stay low to the ground to minimize inhaling toxic smoke and fumes which generally rise.
  • Prior to opening a door, test it using the back of the hand to ascertain if there is heat on the other side.
  • Close doors (but don’t lock) as you pass through them to limit air supply and possible expansion of the fire.
  • Once outside at the designated muster point perform a head count. Do not head back inside the burning building for any reason.

Summary

A home fire safety plan should be unique to each residence, and the occupants should be familiar with it. Review the home fire safety plan bi-annually and practice escaping from the building so that theoretical knowledge becomes reality. Ensure interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms are installed and test these during the practice-run. Basic fire safety essentials should also be added to the home fire safety plan and practiced – doing so will increase the opportunity for your loved ones to escape a burning home in a real-life emergency situation.

There are three important differences between our wireless interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms and conventional smoke alarms.

1) Our smoke alarms are photoelectric (not ionisation). Older conventional smoke alarms use radioactive ionisation as the process by which they detect smoke particles in the air. Ionisation smoke alarms are good at detecting smoke from flaming fires, but are less adept at detecting smoke from smouldering flames which is common of most house fires. Ionisation alarms have also been known to cause frustrating nuisance alarms, which might condition people to switch them off, putting themselves at risk. For these reasons the older style ionisation smoke alarms are being phased out both in Australia and internationally.

2) Older smoke alarms typically operated as stand-alone units. If a smoke alarm sensed smoke on the ground floor of a building – yes it may activate, but any other smoke alarms on the upper floors would not activate until smoke had entered the same air space – by this time it could be too late to initiate an effective response (or escape).
Our smoke alarms are wirelessly ‘interconnected’ together – so if one alarm detects smoke anywhere within a building, then all smoke alarms paired within the same network will simultaneously initiate their alarm. This can provide increased early warning and response time for residents.

3) Our smoke alarms have a sealed 10 year life lithium battery. Conventional smoke alarms are usually powered by a 9v replaceable battery. When the battery life becomes drained over time the smoke alarm begins to emit a loud intermittent ‘chirp’ noise. The chirp serves as a noisy (and annoying) reminder to replace the battery, and continues until the battery is replaced. As seen in the past, residents can remove the battery, disabling the chirping noise and the alarm itself, often with tragic consequences.
Because our smoke alarms are powered by a long life 10-year lithium  battery which is sealed inside the unit, the battery cannot be deliberately removed. At the end of the 10-year battery life span, the entire smoke alarm unit is simply replaced with a new one!
Don’t risk your life or that of your loved ones – whatever smoke alarm you have in your home please check to ensure it is; interconnectable, photoelectric and contains a sealed 10 year long life battery (or hard wired).