Early detection = early alarm = early escape from a burning building. When the fire occurred, it was not only the flames themselves which presented as a hazard – most victims were first overcome by breathing in fumes and thick smoke.
Palace Backpackers Fire – Childers
In June 2000 a resident of the Childers Palace Backpackers Hostel maliciously lit a fire inside. The fire quickly spread throughout the timber building. Unfortunately the hostel did not have working smoke detectors or alarms and fifteen young people died as a result. The after effects of this tragic event are still evident on the local township to this day.
The arsonist was captured by police and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Slacks Creek House Fire – Brisbane
A few minutes before midnight on 23rd August 2011, a fire tore through a house in the suburb of Slacks Creek, South Brisbane.
This fire caused the greatest loss of life in a domestic house fire in Australian history, with eleven people (including many children) dying due to inhaling toxic smoke.
A finding from the 2014 Coronial Inquest stated that; ‘Once this particular fire started, it is likely that some or all of the deaths would have been prevented if the sleeping occupants had been quickly awoken and had realised that they needed to leave the house as quickly as possible … smoke alarms were either not present in the dwelling or were not maintained’.
Many prescriptive requirements and recommendations from the Coronial Inquest were subsequently incorporated into the QLD Building Fire Safety (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Regulation 2016.
Nothing is more annoying than a smoke alarm going off for no reason (especially at 3am in the morning!). But why is your smoke alarm beeping without smoke being physically present? There could be several reasons for false alarms. The good news is that you don’t have to go on living this way – our wireless interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms provide reliable and trustworthy protection for you and your family.
The basic operating principal of a photoelectric smoke alarm is that it activates when the light beam inside the smoke alarm chamber is broken or disrupted – typically by tiny smoke particles. However these foreign particles can also come from sources other than real smoke – below are some of the most common examples and how to rectify them.
High humidity can occur naturally as the air carries dense moisture particles that your smoke alarm confuses for smoke particles. Although brands can differ, smoke alarms should be designed to work up to 93% relative humidity (RH) as per the Australian Standard 3786:2014 – however anything over 85% RH range and air could potentially become dense enough to scatter the light beam of a photelectric sensor. Extreme tropical weather conditions in the Northern Territory and far north Queensland can sometimes produce these high humidity conditions.
High humidity can also be artificially created by steam from a bathroom shower or the clothes dryer running inside a laundry room. If your smoke alarm is positioned outside a bathroom entrance or inside the laundry, consider moving it further away or out of that room altogether so that escaping shower steam and humid air doesn’t trigger a false alarm and start your smoke alarm beeping and going off for no reason.
A build-up of dust in the air can also affect your smoke alarm. If dust particles enter the internal chamber they will interfere with the photoelectric light beam and trigger nuisance alarms. We recommend cleaning your smoke alarms regularly by gently vacuuming around them with a soft brush attachment from your vacuum cleaner. Cleaning smoke alarms in this way may remove any cobwebs which could also prevent pests from entering the alarm. Be aware of any activities in the home which may create excess dust – for example renovations or shaking out old dusty blankets or doonas in a room which has a smoke detector installed.
Section 4.17 of Australian Standard 3786:2014 requires smoke alarms to have protection against foreign bodies, so that a sphere of diameter larger than 1.3mm cannot pass into the sensor chamber – this protection is provided by way of an internal mesh screen. Despite this requirement it is still possible that very tiny insects (smaller than 1.3mm) could enter the smoke alarm and by doing so interfere with the photoelectric sensor. One tip to reduce this likelihood is to wipe the ceiling perimeter around your smoke alarm with surface insect spray (be sure not to allow the insect spray itself to enter the alarm as this could affect its sensors which, you guessed it, could create false alarming).
It is true that whilst many house fires start in the kitchen, installing an alarm in the kitchen can induce frequent nuisance alarms. Irrespective of what smoke alarm brand you have, if it is installed too close to the kitchen stovetop or oven it will activate and start beeping when smoke particles are emitted from the food cooking process (after all, the smoke alarm is doing what it is designed to do). When cooking, always be sure to switch on the rangehood or oven exhaust fan to draw smoky air particles away from your smoke alarm. If the problem continues, try repositioning the fire alarm further away from the cooking appliance.
Beeping smoke alarms that are going off for no apparent reason can be both frustrating and stressful. Worse, an ongoing beeping smoke alarm may generate a ‘boy who cried wolf’ effect, reducing home occupants reaction to a real life fire event.
Fortunately, our wireless interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms undergo strict quality control measures and are manufactured in adherence to Australian Standard 3786:2014, independently tested and by the CSIRO which means may reduce the likelihood for nuisance alarms. Using the tips outlined above and below, your interconnected smoke alarms will provide many years of stress-free and reliable fire protection for you and your loved ones.
Want to know more about the potential causes of beeping smoke alarms and why they may start going off for no reason? Please refer to our helpful Red smoke alarms diagnostic checklist below!
Ever wondered how to physically attach a smoke a detector onto your ceiling? Click here to watch this short video – it demonstrates how simple it really is! A major advantage of wireless lithium battery powered smoke alarms is that there is no hardwiring involved – this means they can be legally installed by property owners without requiring an electrician.
Checklist of what’s needed:
Drill with 5mm drill bit
Screws and anchor plugs x 2 (included with our smoke alarms)
Smoke alarm and its mounting bracket
STEP 1: Twist the mounting bracket to remove it from the back of the smoke detector.
STEP 2: Locate the mounting bracket in your chosen position on the ceiling. Use a pencil to mark the location of the two mounting bracket slots on the ceiling as per above.
Important – refer to general guidance at the end of this article about where best to locate your smoke detector so that it is compliant with legislation.
STEP 3: Use a 5mm drill bit to drill a pilot hole at each location marked on the ceiling. Now insert the anchor plugs and use the two screws to attach the mounting bracket to the chosen position.
Don’t over-tighten the screws as this may slightly distort the shape of the plastic mounting bracket (and prevent the smoke alarm from being able to ‘lock’ into it).
STEP 4: Attach the smoke alarm to the mounting bracket and firmly turn clockwise to lock it into place. By attaching the smoke alarm to the mounting bracket, the on/off switch is engaged and the alarm will become powered on (if it has not been switched on manually already).
STEP 5: Press the test button to ensure you smoke alarm is working properly. If you have more than one interconnected smoke detector, then the others in the same group should also activate within approximately 10-15 seconds (this is normal). Allow all the smoke alarms to finish their full test cycle without pressing the hush button – they will all stop automatically after approximately 10-15 seconds.
Where should I install interconnected smoke detectors?
As general guidance, smoke detectors in Queensland should be placed inside every bedroom, interconnecting hallway outside the bedrooms, and on every level of a multi-story dwelling. Additionally, smoke detectors should not be installed within 30cm from the edge of a wall, within 30cm from a light fixture, 40cm from an air conditioner vent and also not within 40cm from a ceiling fan blade. It is preferable to install smoke detectors on the ceiling, as opposed to the wall (refer to the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services for more information).
Safety note – Prior to undertaking any home maintenance, it is a good idea to have suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) available, for example safety glasses when operating a drill. If using a ladder to reach the ceiling it also helps to have someone hold the ladder steady whilst you are standing on it. 240v smoke detectors which are hardwired to mains power (i.e. not the lithium battery ones as described in this article) should always be installed by a qualified electrician. Don’t forget – if replacing a 240v hardwired smoke detector in Queensland it must be replaced with a 240v hardwired smoke detector.
Want to know more? Have a look at our shop page – we absolutely love smoke alarms!