QLD’s Smoke Alarm Laws Exposed: Hardwired vs. Battery Powered – Are You Breaking the Rules?

Smoke alarm regulations vary slightly across different states and territories in Australia, contributing to widespread confusion, particularly in Queensland, where a phased implementation of new smoke alarm legislation is underway. In this updated 2024 knowledge series, we aim to debunk several myths and misconceptions about smoke alarm requirements. By providing direct links to official government sources and referenced legislation, readers can authenticate the information for accuracy and currency.

One frequently asked question is ‘must smoke alarms be hardwired in Queensland?’. The concise answer is no, not always – it depends on the type of dwelling and specific circumstances. While many houses require hardwired smoke alarms, an equal number allow the use of non-removable battery-powered alternatives, maintaining full legal compliance. Read on to discover the instances when Queensland law mandates the use of hardwired smoke alarms and when lithium battery-powered options are permissible.

What is a hardwired smoke alarm?

A hardwired smoke alarm is one connected directly to a dwelling’s 240-volt mains electricity supply. Unlike lithium battery-powered counterparts, hardwired smoke alarms cannot be self-installed due to wiring requirements and should be professionally installed by a qualified and licensed electrician. Although they draw power from the household mains, these alarms must also include an internal battery backup to ensure continuous operation during temporary disruptions in mains electricity, such as power outages during thunderstorms—a not uncommon occurrence in Queensland.

When is it mandatory to install hardwired smoke alarms in Queensland?

In Queensland, there are three scenarios where it is a statutory requirement to install 240-volt hardwired smoke alarms in a residential homes. They are as follows:

  1. If you are constructing a brand new home
  2. If you are performing a substantial renovation
  3. If you are replacing an existing hardwired smoke alarm

1) If you are constructing a brand new home

If you are constructing a brand new home in QLD then hardwired smoke alarms are required as part of the building approval process – Queensland’s Building Regulations 2021 (part 4 – smoke alarms for domestic dwellings) and Australia’s National Construction Code 2022 Volume Two and Part 9.5 of the associated Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) Housing Provisions detail minimum necessary standards for the construction of new domestic dwellings, including the standards for fire safety and smoke alarms.

Page 14 of Queensland’s Building Regulations 2021 states that when constructing a new home, the smoke alarms must be hardwired to the domestic dwelling’s electricity supply; and must be interconnected to every other smoke alarm installed in the dwelling.

2) If you are performing a substantial renovation

If you are performing a substantial renovation to your QLD property, then 240V hardwired smoke alarms must be installed as part of the renovation process. Division 5A (section 104RBA) of the QLD Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 states that hardwired smoke alarms must be installed when a substantial renovation is being performed to an existing QLD dwelling. The Act goes on to define a ‘substantial renovation’ as work carried out under a building development approval for alterations, or if the total building works surpass 50 per cent of the dwelling’s volume over three years.

QLD Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) website also states that as part of a building approval process requiring a Building Certifier, all new homes and renovations should have the required smoke alarms installed pursuant to the requirements of the National Construction Code (NCC).

3) If you are replacing an existing hardwired smoke alarm

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, then the replacement smoke alarm must also be hardwired to the dwelling’s electricity supply (i.e. you can’t remove a 240V hardwired smoke alarm and replace it with a battery powered smoke alarm).

Outside of the 3 scenarios described above, it is legal and perfectly acceptable in QLD to install smoke alarms which are powered by a non-replaceable 10-year battery and maintain compliance. As there is no wiring involved, battery powered smoke alarms can also be DIY installed.

If there are some existing hardwired smoke detectors in your home, a combination of both hard wired and wireless 10-year battery powered alarms can even be installed to meet compliance, while offering a more affordable DIY approach. For example, replace the existing 240V hardwired smoke alarms in your home with new hard wired, and then in those extra locations where smoke alarms are still needed (and none installed), you can install wireless 10-year battery powered smoke alarms and have them all interconnected with one another – compliance is achieved.

Both the QLD Government and the QLD Fire and Emergency Services state on their websites at the links below.

QLD Fire and Emergency Services state here; ‘An existing dwelling with battery operated smoke alarms may replace them when required with battery operated photoelectric type smoke alarms that meet the Australian Standard 3786–2014.

The QLD Government states here; ‘alarms should also be hard-wired to the 240v power supply OR powered by a non-removable 10 year battery’. and here ‘there are compliant smoke alarms available (e.g. wireless alarms) which don’t need electrical work to be carried out during installation. A licensed electrician will need to be engaged if the installation involves electrical work’.

Smoke alarms powered by a non-removeable 10-year battery offer an affordable solution to smoke alarm installation in your QLD property. Unlike hardwired alarms, there is no electrical wiring required which means they are often easier and more cost effective to install.

When purchasing smoke alarms with a non-removeable 10-year battery just be sure that they are the photoelectric type, they are less than 10 years old from manufacture date (it must be printed on the alarm), they comply with Australian Standard 3786:2014 and that you install them in all the prescribed locations in your home as required by the Building Fire Safety Regulations 2008 (Part5A).

We trust that you’ve found this informative article helpful in understanding the three instances in Queensland where the installation of a hardwired smoke alarm is mandatory in residential properties. Beyond these specified situations, it’s entirely acceptable for compliance and fully within the bounds of the law to install smoke alarms powered by a non-removable 10-year battery through DIY methods.

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Referenced legislation in this article:

Queensland Building Regulations 2021 (Part 4)

Australia’s National Construction Code 2022 Volume Two (note: formerly called the Building Code of Australia BCA).

Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) Housing Provisions Part 9.5 Smoke alarms

QLD Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990

QLD Fire and Emergency Services Website – smoke alarms for new builds or renovationshttps://www.qfes.qld.gov.au/prepare/fire/smoke-alarms/new-builds-or-renovations

Queensland Building Fire Safety Regulation 2008