Smoke alarms

Choosing the right one

photo of person testing a smoke alarm

A smoke alarm is the single most important thing you need in your home - it will alert you to a fire and give you precious minutes to escape to safety.  Flames and smoke can easily destroy your home and everything inside it - including you, your family and your pets. 

You should fit a smoke alarm to the ceiling of every level of your home. It should be fixed in a location where you can hear it when you are asleep (but not in a kitchen or bathroom). It should be situated at least 30cm from walls and light fittings.  Make sure your smoke alarms are not directly above or next to heaters and air conditioning units as this can prevent them from working properly.

Smoke alarms work in one of two ways and versions for the hearing-impaired are also available (further details on all this follows).  They can be battery-powered or mains-powered and can be linked so that if one is triggered they all sound together.

Key points about purchasing and using a smoke alarm:

  • Smoke alarms must conform to the British Standard 5446: Part 1 and display the kite mark.
  • Follow the manufacturers' instructions when installing.
  • The best protection is obtained by fitting a smoke alarm in each room - but not the kitchen or bathroom.
  • Best practice is to have mains powered alarms that are linked together.
  • The minimum recommended level of provision is to fit a smoke alarm on each floor of your home, at the bottom of the staircase and on each upstairs landing.
  • If only one smoke alarm is to be installed, make sure that it is fitted in a place where it can be heard throughout your home - particularly when you are asleep.
  • They are designed to be fitted at least 30cm from walls and light fittings.
  • Alarms should not be fixed next to or directly above heaters or air conditioning outlets.
  • If your home is on one level, you should fit at least one smoke alarm in the hallway between the living and sleeping areas.
  • Some alarms can be linked together so that if one of them senses smoke, all of them will sound - this can provide the earliest possible warning.
  • Smoke alarms should be tested every month by pressing the test button - put in on your calendar to test it on the first of each month so you don't forget.
  • Vacuum the inside of the alarm regularly to ensure that dust is not blocking the sensor chamber.

Alarms for the hearing-impaired

Smoke alarms that use a vibrating pad and/or flashing light are available and we also fit these for free. Contact your district community safety officer for further information. You can find their telephone number on the district pages in the About us/Our structure section. 

Which smoke alarm?

There are two main types of smoke alarms - optical and ionisation. 

Ionisation smoke alarms

These smoke alarms are the cheapest and are more widely available. They are very sensitive to flaming fires (ones that burn fiercely such as chip pan fires) and they will detect this type of fire before the smoke gets too thick.

Optical smoke alarms

Optical alarms can cost more but are more effective at detecting slow-burning fires such as smouldering foam-filled furniture and overheated wiring. Optical alarms are less likely to go off accidentally and so are best for ground-floor hallways and for homes on one level.

For the best protection, you should install one of each.

There are also alarms with different sized test buttons available. Smoke alarms with larger test pads are better for people with mobility issues as they can be tested using the end of a walking stick or broom handle, without the need to stand on a chair or step ladder to reach.

For advice about which alarm is better for you, contact your district office to speak to your local community safety officer.

FREE home fire safety check may be available to you. Requests are prioritised according to individual risk.

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