Smoke Alarms

What is a smoke alarm?

A smoke alarm is a battery or electrically operated devices that senses the presence of visible or invisible particles produced by combustion. It is designed to sound an alarm within the room or suite of rooms in which it is located.

Over the years, properly located and maintained smoke alarms have been proven to be effective at saving lives and even reducing the level of property damage. Always remember ,though, working smoke alarms make up only a small part of an overall home fire safety strategy. Adopting fire safe behaviours, as well as developing and practising a home fire escape plan, are essential.

Where and how many smoke alarms should be installed?

The law states that at least one smoke alarm be installed on every level of your home and outside of sleeping areas. This will help to provide the earliest warning in the event of a fire. It is also a good idea to install smoke alarms in each bedroom, especially those of children, smokers or those who sleep with the door closed. Remember to always follow the manufacturer's instructions to ensure proper placement. Improper placement (too low or in dead air spaces) can result in a delay or failure of the alarm to activate.

What is the difference between a photoelectric and an ionization smoke alarm?

Ionization smoke alarms are generally more effective at detecting fast flaming fire, such as a grease fire or a burning waste can.

Photoelectric smoke alarms are generally more effective at detecting slow smoldering fires, such as those caused by a cigarette. which can smolder in a couch or bed for more than three hours before igniting into an open flame.

There are also smoke alarms on the market that use both forms of sensors. The type of detection technology should always be listed on the packaging information. However, regardless of the alarm purchased and installed, all units must have been manufactured and tested to an acceptable standard for sale in Canada.

Why do some smoke alarms not operate in a fire?

A review of fatal fire data over a three-year period in Ontario found that in 85 per cent of the fires where a smoke alarm was present and did not operate,  a dead or missing battery/power source was the reason. In addition, a smoke alarm may not function due to improper location, age or being too far from the smoke or fire location.

Do smoke alarms last forever?

As electronic devices, smoke alarms are subject to failures. Fire departments, as well as smoke alarm manufacturers, recommend that smoke alarms be replaced at least once every 10 years. This applies equally to electric as well as battery-powered smoke alarms. Older smoke alarms may require longer to activate in a fire or smoke condition, reducing your time to escape. After 10 years of use, your smoke alarm has protected you and your family for 3650 nights or almost 88,000 hours.

What maintenance do smoke alarms require?

Smoke alarms should be maintained and tested in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. This generally includes monthly testing for proper operation, as well as gently vacuuming the alarm every six months. For battery operated alarms it is also recommended to change the battery every six months or when you change your clocks.

Why does the smoke alarm activate when there is no fire?

There are a number of reasons, including improper location, a dirty alarm, installation troubles, or cooking that can cause activation. Ensure that your alarm is installed at least 20 feet from appliances, such as furnaces, fireplaces or ovens, and at least three feet from heat/AC vents. Check the alarm for dust or dirt buildup and clean if necessary. If the alarm is electric, power interruptions or a loose electrical connection can also cause brief activation.

 Are there alarms that can be shut off?

There are alarms on the market now that have a pause or hush feature. These alarms are designed so that they can be silenced by the resident without the need for removing the batter/power source. When silenced or hushed, the alarm will automatically reset themselves after a few minutes, ensuring continuous protection.

I have a hard time reaching the alarm to change the batteries. Is there an easier way to change the batteries?

There are now a number of smoke alarms that are on the market that come equipped with a long-life battery that will last up to 10 years under normal use without the need to change the battery. These alarms are great for those people with very high ceilings, or those who are unable to or have a difficult time reaching the alarms. These units still require regular testing as do all alarms. It is recommended that a pole or broom be used to reach the units for testing purposes.

How do I obtain additional information about smoke alarms?

Contact the Fire Prevention Division of St. Catharines Fire Services at 905-688-5601, ext. 4224.


Photo of Smoke Alarm
Copyright © 2014 The Corporation of the City of St. Catharines