A guide to smoke alarms in the home

With the buzz of Christmas just around the corner it’s easy to overlook the potential fire hazards and toxic threats that come from using fairy lights, candles and flammable decorations.
Smoke alarms in the home

Cards, wrapping paper and Christmas trees can also all act as extra fuel for a fire sparked by candles, overheated sockets, faulty fairy lights or cigarettes, making homeowners more vulnerable than at any other time of the year.

Smoke alarms are obviously your first defence against a household fire, saving thousands of lives every year.

But despite this, they often go untested or aren't maintained by UK homeowners.

Where to install a smoke alarm

Every home should have at least one smoke alarm – ideally one on each landing if a house has several floors.

Smoke alarms should be installed where you'll be able to hear them throughout the home, particularly when you’re asleep or when doors are closed.

Alarms should also be installed centrally on flat ceilings and should be at least 30cm (12 inches) away from any wall or light.

If you’re a private landlord you must fit at least one smoke alarm on each floor of the properties you rent out.

You must also fit a carbon monoxide alarm in any room with a solid fuel burner (e.g a wood or coal burning fireplace).

Landlords could be fined up to £5,000 if all the alarms required are not fitted.

The different types of smoke alarm

Optical alarms

Optical alarms are ideal for detecting slow-burning fires, such as smouldering foam-filled upholstery and overheated PVC wiring.

These alarms can be installed near (but not in) kitchens, as they are less likely to go off when toast starts smoking than ionisation alarms.

Best for: bedrooms, hallways, living rooms, landings and stairwells

Heat alarms

Insensitive to smoke, heat alarms are activated by temperature – so well suited to smoky environments and kitchens.

Best for: kitchens and garages

Ionisation alarms

The cheapest alarm on the market, ionisation alarms react quickly to household blazes by detecting the change in ionised properties of the air, so can detect a fire before smoke gets too thick.

Best for: Landings and stairwells

Multi-sensor alarms
These alarms contain two separate sensing elements – optical and heat – which allow them to monitor two different by-products of fire.

Best for: Stairwells, landings, bedrooms, living rooms and hallways. Not suitable for kitchens.

How to maintain and test a smoke alarm

  • Test your smoke alarms by pressing their buttons once a month and change their batteries once a year if they have removable batteries.

  • If an alarm doesn’t beep when you test it, replace the battery or replace the alarm.

  • Make sure there is at least one smoke alarm on each floor of your property.

  • Never remove the batteries in your smoke alarms unless you are replacing them.

  • Make sure that everyone in your home knows what to do in a fire and knows your escape route. Get out, stay out and call 999.

  • It’s important that smoke alarms are regularly checked and maintained and tested once a week by pressing the test button to sound the alarm.

  • Unless it’s a 10-year alarm, batteries should be changed once a year and never removed for other purposes.

  • It’s also a good idea to gently vacuum the smoke alarm using your soft-brush hoover attachment to remove dust from the sensors about twice a year.

  • Smoke alarms should be changed every 10 years.

  • The future of smoke alarms

    Frantically waving a towel at the ceiling while your smoke alarm emits its piercing screech after you’ve burnt yet another piece of toast could well be a thing of the past.

    New technologies have been developed in recent years, meaning that smoke alarms can differentiate types of smoke (and steam) – meaning far fewer false alarms.

    Some models also give you information and a ‘heads up’, even speaking to you in a human voice, telling you what and where the problem is.

    And in case you’re away from home, you can also get sent a message directly to your phone.

    Other tips

    Make sure that everyone in your home knows what to do in a fire and knows your escape route. Get out, stay out and call 999.

    If you’ve been affected by a fire and need some help and advice on making a claim with us, we’re here to help.

    Before you make a claim, please make sure you have your policy schedule and as many details of the damage as possible to hand, as these will speed up your claim.

    You can also call us free on 0330 100 7783.

    For more information on the Fire Kills campaign please visit gov.uk/firekills

    Get a free smoke alarm!

    We are giving away free smoke alarms to the first 100 customers who email us at community.manager@morethan.com with the following details:

    Full Name (first name and surname):

    Postal address (including city, county and full postcode)
    Telephone number

    IMPORTANT: Please use ‘Fire’ in the subject line

    One request per person only. Alarms are limited to one per household.

    Terms and conditions

    1. The promotion is open to UK residents over the age of 18. Excludes employees of the RSA group of companies and their families.

    2. To enter the promotion, entrants must email community.manager@morethan.com with the ‘Fire’ as the subject, and submit their full name, postal address and telephone number. Please be aware the email you send us is sent via the internet, and is not secure. MORE TH>N will not use your name and address for any other purpose other than to send the smoke alarm, it will not be retained for any other reason.

    3. Smoke alarms are subject to availability and will be sent out as a first come first serve basis. We have 100 alarms to give away.

    4. Alarms will be despatched within 30 days of receipt of email.

    5. Alarms are limited to one per household.

    6. Any entry that is incomplete or fraudulent, or which otherwise does not comply with these rules, will not be fulfilled.

    7. If you do not receive an alarm unfortunately you weren’t one of the first 100 customers to contact us.

    8. You will not receive a reply to your email or any further communication from us to tell you whether you will receive an alarm or not.

    9. All entrants agree to be bound by the terms and conditions of this promotion.

    10. The promoter is Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance plc trading as MORE TH>N.

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