The smoke alarm is your first line of defence against a deadly house fire. An ear-piercing early warning system, this life-saving device gives you time to evacuate the premises before it becomes engulfed in flames.

But the technology doesn’t work without proper maintenance. According to the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Services, non-functioning smoke detectors were found in 45% of residential blazes. Failure to maintain a working smoke alarm increases the risk of a house fire fatality by 80%.

It’s up to the homeowner to ensure their smoke detector will trigger when they need it most. Here’s how to select, install, and maintain a smoke alarm at home.

Purchase the Right Device

No matter how strict you are with your maintenance regime, a poor-quality smoke alarm is prone to malfunction. Avoid cheap, no-name brands from cut-price online marketplaces, as these low-cost devices have sketchy reputations.

Instead, opt for a well-established brand you can trust, such as Lifesaver.

The gold standard for residential use is the photoelectric smoke alarm, which incorporates an electric current to detect smoke particles as they waft into the chamber. These devices activate fewer nuisance alarms. Moreover, they’re better at detecting slow smouldering flames, which are common in residential fires.

Queensland now mandates photoelectric alarms for residential use rather than the alternative, the ionization smoke alarm.  We expect other Australian States and Territories to follow suit in the future.

Whichever you get, ensure it’s compliant with AS3786:2014 and ActivFire certified.

Double-Check Your Positioning

The position of your smoke alarms determines if they’ll activate rapidly and whether householders will hear them while asleep. As positioning is potentially a matter of life and death, it’s worth re-confirming your smoke alarms have been placed correctly.

A device located in the corner of the room sits in dead air space and will take longer to receive smoke in the chamber, which causes a delay in triggering the alarm. Likewise, as smoke rises, a low-mounted device will also struggle to activate promptly.

Ensure any wall-mounted alarms are at least 30 cm from the ceiling. For ceiling-mounted alarms, double-check they’re at least 30 cm from the closest wall.

It’s equally important to ensure you can hear the alarm from everywhere in the house. Around half of residential fires occur between 11 pm and 7 am, so the alarm needs to be loud enough to awaken heavy sleepers.

Install a smoke alarm in every bedroom and at least one on every storey. Interconnected smoke alarms activate all devices on the network should just one detect smoke in its chamber—that gives you even more time to react.

Test Monthly

NSW Fire & Rescue recommend testing your smoke alarms monthly to ensure they’re in good working order.

To do this, use a ladder or a long stick/broom to press the test button. Once you’ve confirmed it’s working, press the test/hush button (they’re usually the same button) to turn the alarm off again.

If your smoke alarm is too high to reach, there are Test & Hush Remotes that suit certain models, which allow you to test or hush your smoke alarm from a remote control.

Many homeowners forget to test their smoke alarms. Setting up a reoccurring monthly reminder on your mobile phone is the best way to remember.

Clean Every Six Months

The build-up of dust can block smoke from entering the chamber, thus increasing the time it takes to trigger an alarm.

Every six months, remove the smoke alarm unit from its base plate and tap it lightly on a hard surface to loosen any dust or insects.  Afterwards, clean your smoke alarm with the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner to suck up excess dust. Be sure to vacuum or wipe away any grime lodged in the insect screen.

Change the Battery Annually

A flat battery is the most common cause of a non-functioning smoke alarm. Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure yours have plenty of juice at all times.

All mains-powered smoke alarms come with a backup battery in case there’s a blackout during a fire. Replace this backup every 12 months, and test the device immediately to ensure the new battery works.

Some smoke alarms (both mains-powered and battery-powered) have a non-removable lithium battery, which usually lasts for ten years. You won’t need to replace these batteries for the lifespan of the device.

Keep an ear out for a high-pitched chirping sound, which occurs when your smoke alarm is running out of battery. Should you hear this sound, replace the battery immediately and test the device again.

Replace Your Smoke Alarms Every Decade

Smoke alarms don’t keep working indefinitely. With time, the devices become less sensitive to smoke particles entering the chamber, which can cause a potentially fatal delay in activating the alarm.

Aim to replace all your smoke alarms every ten years to guarantee optimal performance. Remember to position your replacement alarms correctly and test them straight away.

Purchase an Industry-Leading Lifesaver Smoke Alarm from the Home Safety Store

Don’t put the lives of your loved ones at risk by purchasing a cheap, no-name smoke alarm.

At the Home Safety Store, we stock a range of pre-vetted, high-quality smoke detectors from Lifesaver, Australia’s most trusted brand. Take a look at our smoke alarm solutions to pinpoint the perfect product for you.