That the requirement for smoke alarms in all residential property came into effect some 10 years ago. It’s not that I celebrate 10 year anniversaries with any particular fondness but rather that a 10-year anniversary for a smoke detector is a special day. It means by law, it’s no longer legal. It must be replaced because that’s the law. And it’s not restricted to residential investment property. Yes, our own home must also comply. Landlord, or homeowner, you have to replace it. 

Lucky for you, we have a lot of experience with these little pieces of equipment now. We have seen tenants break them, disarm them, cover them, ignore them and best of all, “Thank God they were there!”. We have watched ‘specialists’ check them, spent time with tenants complaining that their showers, their cooking or toast set them off. We have inspected property with smoke detectors everywhere but where they needed to be, and had experts tell us one thing only.

Battery life is King, long live the King!

Originally, everyone thought that hard wired detectors were the best way to go. The idea that relying on batteries alone just didn’t seem safe. We have learned that idea was wrong. The weakest part of the detector from our experience is the battery. If it has to be replaced Murphy’s Law kicks in and pretty much guarantees that the detector will realise the battery needs to be replaced at 3 in the morning. Nothing so enjoyable as waking to hear the detector letting out that charming ‘chirping’. And, if you have ever had that experience you’ll know 3 am is when we are all just so alert, eyes seeing clearly and able to disconnect a smoke detector from its mounting, remove the battery and replace it with another before relocating it in place.

The cost of replacing detectors that have been accidentally broken by tenants trying to replace batteries far outweighs the cost of a detector with a 10 year battery. Yes, tenants should pay for breaking detectors. The problem is detectors don’t break completely all in one go. A clip gets broken, then as the next tenant replaces another battery sometime later another clip gets broken. Eventually the detector won’t stay connected and has to be replaced. Who broke the detector? I’m afraid no one wants to go to tribunal fighting that argument.

Now we realise that detectors with 10 year batteries that don’t need to be replaced are so wonderfully easy to live with. Whether it’s got mains power or not, who cares! Problem is, planed obsolescence. Very few manufacturers make them with ten year batteries. If they did, no one would break them. The one we use and have found extremely good is one made by Brookes.

Not all smoke detectors detect the same thing in the same way

Some detectors, mainly the cheaper ones are ionisation detectors which are meant to be good at detecting flame but not so good at detecting smoke. What we have learnt is that these detectors are also good at picking up other things like steam coming out of bathrooms, toast cooked a little too long, and any number of things that aren’t a fire. Photoelectrics are better at detecting smoke, they tend to be a bit more expensive than ionisation detectors but also have far less false alarms.

Location, location, location

Just in case you didn’t know a real estate agent was writing this. We have seen detectors put in places that make absolutely no sense and were always destined to be hit by a broom in anger at some point. One common misguided strategy was placing them inside bedrooms. If there is smoke in the bedroom when you get your first warning it’s already too late.

The law requires them to be in the access way to and from a bedroom and generally within 3 metres of the bedroom. The idea is to wake you before the smoke gets there. Kitchens are another bad idea for smoke detectors. Apart from the fact that even a microwave will probably set off an alarm at some stage, some detectors’ sensors will be inclined to slowly absorb the smoke generated over time and become less reactive or even inactive when there is a real fire. In short, they lose the ability to ‘see’. Testing detectors by pushing the test button tests the circuitry, not the ability to sense. If you have a detector in the kitchen you could end up with one that can still ‘scream’ if you push its button, it just can’t see what to scream about.

How do you know how old your smoke detector is?

You would hope the manufacturers put it on the face of the detector where you could easily see it and with a clear date of when it expired just like, say, milk. Well they didn’t do either. To see how old the detector is you generally have to take it down and look for a serial number. That number might have the date in it or you’ll need to go to the manufacturers website to have it translated.

Strata checks and responsibility

Like all things strata, depending on the strata manager and the decisions of the body corporate, smoke detectors in units can often be checked by strata and may even be replaced by strata when due. The law (not that every strata always follow the law) is that repair and maintenance of smoke detectors are an owner’s responsibility unless it was installed at time of construction. Never the less there are body corporates that check the smoke detectors in units to be safe as they say. These plans may replace the smoke detectors though they aren’t required to.

What we are doing with property under our management

The critical date is May 2016. That’s when the legislation comes into force with the requirement for replacement within ten years. When we send our electricians out to a property, they will as part of their work check the age of the smoke detector. If it is coming up for expiry, they will replace them with a hardwired 10 year battery or 10 year battery only detector depending on what is presently there. For property that we don’t send our electricians to, we will from next year be searching our records to check when the detectors were installed. We will then organise replacements with you at the appropriate time.

For your own home

If you would like to have our electricians check and install smoke detectors in your own home, give us a call and we will arrange for them to contact you.

Contact us if you’d like to have a chat about making sure your property is compliant!