It’s always important for homes to have working smoke, heat and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms – yet some units on the market allow the removal of batteries, making it tempting for households to take them out to prevent nuisance alerts. This is dangerous for the tenant and their family, especially when you consider that, according to Home Office statistics, 40 per cent of fatalities in fire incidents are due to the occupants being overcome by smoke, gas or fumes. Adrian Keats from Honeywell’s Home Safety business explains how this risk can be combated through the use of sealed smoke, heat and CO alarms.
Nuisance alerts can be annoying, and nobody wants to be forced to hear a screeching alarm after burning a slice of toast. However, when tenants remove the batteries from their alarm to prevent this, they are putting their family at unnecessary risk.
Yet despite the risks attached, it is actually a remarkably common occurrence. Every year over six million people remove the batteries from their alarms to stop nuisance alerts.
Between 2014-2015, 31 per cent of all dwelling fires and 38 per cent of all dwelling fire fatalities occurred in homes which included a smoke alarm that either was not operational or did not raise the alarm. This highlights the severe danger posed by deactivating an alarm, or allowing it to run out of battery.
However, when a tenant is troubled by regular nuisance alarms, removing the batteries can seem an attractive solution. Many of us, at one time or another, will have experienced a nuisance alarm – but by taking the batteries out, hazards much more serious than an over-sensitive alarm are created.
The answer to this lies with alarm selection, and this is where we can make a real impact. Many tenants are likely to regard one alarm as much like another, but in fact there are a wide range of options which provide very different benefits.
Smoke alarms - Optical vs ionisation
Fitting the right alarms can help to prevent nuisance alerts completely, therefore negating the desire for homeowners to remove the batteries. There are two types of smoke alarm, optical and ionisation, and they differ in several regards.
Ionisation units are the oldest type of smoke alarm, and usually the cheapest. These react to small particles of smoke produced by fast flaming fires, and are generally more sensitive to cooking smoke, such as that produced by burnt toast, than optical counterparts. If a homeowner is having trouble with nuisance alerts, their smoke alarm is almost certainly an ionisation model.
Whilst the lower price point of ionisation alarms may seem attractive to homeowners, it’s important that installers highlight that they can be triggered by cooking fumes and could end up disrupting the household on a regular basis, leading to battery removal, and putting residents at risk.
A better recommendation is an optical alarm. These are more expensive than ionisation equivalents, but they offer a higher level of protection without the irritation of nuisance alarms.
Optical units are able to detect slow flaming fires far quicker than ionisation models, which is absolutely key to the modern home. This is because these fires are commonly fueled by upholstery, foam filled materials or overheated PVC wiring, all staples of the average household.
While smoke alarms are the most popular form of detector in a home, it is important to remember that in areas such as kitchens and garages, there are different types of hazards that can require an alternative alarm.
Generally, there are two types of fire - fast-flaming and slow-starting, smouldering fires. In a kitchen environment, fast-flaming is most common. In fact, 59 per cent of household fires are caused by cooking mishaps, many of which stem from unattended chip pans which burst into fast-flaming fires.
Fast-flaming fires, unlike slow-starting, produce little smoke, but plenty of heat. This is where a heat alarm is a better solution than a smoke alarm. In a kitchen, where these fires are common, a heat alarm is the required option to alert and evacuate residents.
Carbon monoxide is frequently referred to as ‘the silent killer’, and awareness of its risks is growing quickly. However, there are still millions of households who have no alarm.
For full protection, an audible CO alarm should be placed in any room containing a fuel burning appliance - including gas boilers, wood burners and cookers - but also in any bedrooms which may be located above these areas.
Alarms should be positioned high up in the room, typically 30 centimetres from the ceiling, and a metre away from boilers, fires, cookers or heaters.
Choosing a high-quality alarm is vital. Whilst end users may be tempted to cut corners, it’s an absolute must that social housing providers select a well-established brand which is properly approved and kitemarked to the relevant standard.
For smoke alarms the standard is EN14604, for heat alarms BS5446 and for CO alarms EN50291.
Installers should always advise homeowners to choose sealed units where the batteries cannot be removed.
Sealed options, especially those which can be locked to the wall, protect the alarm from damage or tampering. This is especially relevant for family homes, where younger members might attempt to remove batteries, for example, to re-use elsewhere in the home, perhaps for a television remote.
What’s more, sealed battery powered alarms are just as reliable as wired-in models, but without the need for disruption of a home’s wiring, and without the possible risks attached to any damage which could come to a wired system. These sealed units can also last just as long as their wired-in equivalents with guaranteed maintenance free lifetimes of up to 10 years.
One organisation that is benefitting from the use of sealed alarms is the Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership. They have installed 9,000 of Honeywell’s XC100 CO alarms across their portfolio of properties in south-west Scotland.
The alarms, which were fitted to replace existing units that had come to the end of their lifespan, were the first choice for both the housing partnership and the contractor on site.
“I felt it was important to spend a little more in order to ensure a quality product,” explained David McLachlan, contract manager at Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership.
“Like most products, CO alarms are available at a wide range of price points, but we wanted to ensure we were fitting the very best technology and that they would be robust – preventing the need for early replacement.”
David was faced by a decision over whether to continue to offer battery-powered devices, or switch to models which were required to be hardwired in. Both contained their benefits, with wired models desirable due to the fact that they are always on and active.
But the clincher came when looking at the installation. Whereas battery-powered models could be installed within minutes, wired alternatives would take far longer and cause more disruption to the tenants, potentially damaging the household’s décor.
The fixed battery in the XC100 proved to be a good middle-ground. As tenants could not disarm the unit there was no danger of the alarm not being active when required – and the association recorded each installation date to ensure a replacement will be provided in plenty of time at the end of the unit’s lifespan.
“These alarms give our tenants an excellent degree of safety. They’re easy to install and we test them every year to make sure they’re working properly. For us the XC100 was the perfect solution.”
Working smoke, heat and CO alarms are vital for properties right across the country – they save lives and help to keep tenants and their families safe. By selecting quality sealed units with irremovable batteries, housing providers can help to ensure this, while helping to ensure nuisance alerts are kept to a minimum.