A guide to smoke alarms

Smoke alarms

From different types, advice and care

Every year the fire and rescue service is called to over 600,000 fires which result in over 800 deaths and over 17,000 injuries. About 50,000 (140 a day) of these are in the home and kill nearly 500 and injure over 11,000, many which could have been prevented if people had an early warning and were able to get out in time*. In fact you are twice as likely to die in a house fire that has no smoke alarm than a house that does. Buying a smoke alarm could help save your home and the lives of you and your family.

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We liaise directly with your insurance company on your behalf and work closely with them to drive down overall claims costs and life cycles.

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Personal Safety

Fire damage can cause structural damage so the less people in the property, the better. Be aware of obstacles and sharp objects within the property and wear personal protective clothing. We highly recommend that you DO NOT enter the property unless instructed it is safe to do so by supporting authorities. Soot and smoke are hazardous to health. If you do enter the building you need to take precautions. Do not eat or drink anything that has been in contact with the flames, soot or smoke as certain contamination will have occurred.

Environmental Safety

Ensure gas, water and electricity supplies are switched off at the mains, do not touch any electrical sources whilst in contact with water. Remember that the fire services may use large quantities of water to extinguish the fire. Contact utilities suppliers and glaziers if necessary. Secure the property if possible. Although fire damage can be devastating you need to be aware that you are still responsible for the security of the property and you should act to keep your property safe and not compromise the safety of it.

3. Limit Secondary Damage

If it is safe and easy to do so you should try and remove valuable items to protect them from secondary damage caused by soot and smoke. It is also a good idea to make a quick list of items that have been damaged. Contact your insurance company and inform them of the situation. Be clear and concise with them. Offer them a list of items that have sustained damage and salvage what you can. Once you have contacted your insurance company, call Tempest Restoration on 0845 052 4522 and arrange for us to visit the property to provide expert advice and service to return your home to its pre-incident state as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Please note that Tempest Restorations services are not a replacement for the Emergency Services and should only be contacted after them and your insurance company.

What are smoke alarms?

Smoke alarms are self-contained devices that incorporate a means of detecting a fire (smoke detector) and giving a warning (alarm), usually a very loud beeping sound. They are about the size of a hand and are normally fitted to the ceiling. They can detect fires in their early stages and give you those precious minutes to enable you and your family to leave your house in safety.

What type of smoke alarms are available?

There are mainly four types of smoke alarm currently on the market – ionisation, optical (also described as photo electronic), heat and combined.

Ionisation: These are the cheapest and cost very little to purchase. They are very sensitive to small particles of smoke produced by fast flaming fires, such as paper and wood, and will detect this type of fire before the smoke gets too thick. They are marginally less sensitive to slow burning and smouldering fires which give off larger quantities of smoke before flaming occurs. They can also be too over-sensitive near kitchens.

Optical: These are more expensive but more effective at detecting larger particles of smoke produced by slow-burning fires, such as smouldering foam-filled upholstery and overheated PVC wiring. They are marginally less sensitive to fast flaming fires. Optical alarms can be installed near (not in) kitchens, as they are less likely than ionisation alarms to go off when toast is burned.

Heat Alarms: They detect the increase in temperature from a fire and are insensitive to smoke. They can therefore be installed in kitchens. They only cover a relatively small area of a room, so potentially several heat alarms need to be installed in a large kitchen.

Combined Optical Smoke and Heat Alarms: Combinations of optical and heat alarms in one unit to reduce false alarms while increasing the speed of detection.

Combined Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms: Alarms that combine both smoke detection and CO alarm protection in one ceiling-mounted unit. This reduces costs and takes up less of your living space.

Each type looks similar and is powered either by a battery, or mains electricity (or a combination of both, with the battery being the backup for the mains power, which could be interrupted). Some are interlinked so that any smoke detected in one room can raise the alarm at all others. This interlink can be achieved at the least cost with radio-interlinked smoke alarms.

Most smoke alarms now have hush buttons, for use where false alarms can be a nuisance e.g. when cooking. The alarm lets you know it’s been silenced by “chirping” or by displaying a red light – while a real fire producing lots of smoke will set it off anyway. Another helpful technology is the ‘Sleep-Easy Function’ which allows you to silence the alarm if a low battery beep starts in the middle of the night.

In a standard smoke alarm, the battery will need to be replaced every 12 months. You can buy alarms fitted with sealed 10 year batteries. The advantage is that you don’t have to replace the battery every year.

Mains-powered alarms have to be installed in all new buildings and after a major refurb. Make sure that the chosen mains powered alarm has a battery back-up. These can be alkaline batteries (need annual changing) or the alarm can be supplied with re-chargeable lithium batteries, which will last the lifetime of the alarm. Mains alarms need to be installed by a qualified electrician.

Some people find their alarms are frequently set off when they are cooking or when the toast burns. An alarm installed inside the kitchen must be a heat alarm rather than a smoke alarm. Just outside a kitchen (eg in hall or dining room) an optical smoke alarm or, even better, a combined smoke and heat alarm should be installed, as these are less sensitive to false alarm.

Alarms can also come with an escape light. When the alarm sounds, the light comes on. The light can help you see your way out, and it is good for alerting people whose hearing is not perfect.

In addition, for people who are hard of hearing or deaf, there are smoke alarm systems for the deaf. When the alarm goes off, a pad below the pillow vibrates (if you are asleep), and a strobe light flashes – alerting you or waking you up instantly.

Which smoke alarm should I choose?

The general rule is quite easy.

Kitchen and Garage: Heat Alarms

Landings: Ionisation smoke alarms or combined optical smoke and heat alarms

Bedrooms, living rooms and hallway: Optical smoke alarms or combined optical smoke and heat alarms.

We recommend that you buy your smoke alarms from Safelincs as detailed at the bottom of this page. Always buy an alarm which has been certified to the British or European Standard.

How many should I fit in my home?

The number of smoke alarms to fit in your home depends on your particular circumstances. Fires can start anywhere, so the more that are fitted, the higher the level of protection.

For maximum protection an alarm should be fitted in every room (except bathrooms) You should choose the type most suited to the risk in each room. For minimum protection the number to be fitted will depend on the type of home you live in:

If your home is on one floor, one smoke alarm, preferably of the optical type, may be enough to provide you with early warning of a fire.

If your home has more than one floor, at least one alarm should be fitted on each level. In this case a combination of optical and ionisation alarms, preferably interconnected, will give the best protection.

Do not fit an alarm in the bathroom, as steam may trigger the alarm.

Where do I fit my smoke alarms?

Smoke alarms are usually screwed onto the ceilings, although specialist sticky pads can be used, and should be fitted as close to the centre of the room as possible, but at least 30 centimetres (12 inches) away from any wall or light fitting. You should always make sure that your alarm is fitted in a place where it can be heard throughout your home – particularly when you are asleep.

If your home is on one level, you should fit the alarm in the hallway between the living and sleeping areas. If you have only one smoke alarm and two floors, put it where you can hear it when you are asleep – on the ceiling at the top of the stairs leading to the bedrooms.

If you have a TV or other large electrical appliance in your bedroom, you should fit a smoke alarm there.

Looking after your smoke alarm

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions – smoke alarms need very little maintenance. A few minutes of your time during the year will ensure that your alarm is working and could help save your life and the lives of your family. You should:

  • Test your smoke alarm when the clocks are changed and vacuum it gently using the soft brush attachment to remove dust from the sensors
  • Once a year change the battery (unless it’s a ten-year alarm)
  • After 10 years it’s best to get a whole new alarm.

Do you keep forgetting to check your smoke alarms, help is at hand. Let us remind you to check them here.

Where can I buy them?

Smoke alarms can be purchased in many places nowadays. Your local hardware store is probably a good place to go to view a range or you can purchase them online if you know what you require. You can view a range of smoke alarms at http://www.safelincs.co.uk/all-smoke-alarms/.

Remember:

Buying and fitting smoke alarms, and ensuring they are carefully and properly maintained, could give you those precious few extra minutes in which to make your escape safely.

Plan an escape from your home in advance and talk about it with your family. If a fire occurs you may have to get out in the dark and difficult conditions. Escaping will be a lot easier it everyone knows where to go. Make sure your routes remain free of any obstructions and that there are no loose floor coverings that could trip you.

Always check the battery regularly, replacing it when necessary, and never remove it for other purposes.

Remember. Smoke alarms are a valuable addition to any home and are life savers. Fires in the home can start easily and spread quickly. Smoke alarms give you a fighting chance of getting out of a building alive.

* Source: http://www.fireservice.co.uk/safety/smoke-alarms/

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FAQs

A. We aim to be on the scene as soon as we can. With technicians located acrosss the UK, you are never too far away from the expert help of Tempest Restoration. The longer you delay after your property has been affected by fire, the worse the damage will be. From the moment of arrival on site, we will begin the decontamination process. We work around the clock to ensure that fire damage and your losses are kept to a minimum. We aim to safely return your business to normal, as quickly as possible.

A. Damage caused by fire may look superficial but its the effects on materials that are not visible that can have lasting consequences to health and to the structure of a building. Potential hazards include asbestos and lead among others. Your home is full of porous materials and smoke can penetrate these materials beyond what is viewable by the naked eye. Our bespoke equipment and understanding of the uniqueness of each fire gives us the ability to detect fire damage and deal with it safely and effectively. Hired machines in the hands of inexperienced operators will cost unnecessary time and money in the long term. We understand the urgency of returning your home to its pre incident state and we operate quickly and efficiently to do so for you.

A. From your point of view, the quicker the process starts, the quicker you can be back in your home. Restoration work following a fire can be lengthy, it would be wrong to assume its a quick fix. Secondary damage caused by fire begins within minutes but can be minimised if dealt with promptly by a professional. During a fire, chemical reactions produce chemicals that are toxic and potentially fatal. During the time that the fire services are extinguishing the flames, the use of water (although required for putting out the fire) can unfortunately cause further structural damage and additional hazards. The contaminated area needs to be neutralised and rendered safe to prevent further damage and degradation. Potentially, every minute is costing you money.

A. During the combustion of a fire, chemical changes occur and environmental pollutants are created, many of which are harmful to human health. This seems fairly straight forward but natural and synthetic materials in your home produce a vast array of chemicals, depending on their makeup. Here at Tempest, we thoroughly assess the entire area using state-of-the-art testing equipment to detect any traces of hazardous substances.

A. Of paramount importance and priority is safety. Fire can, however big or small, cause structural damage to your home. Even past the point of the emergency services approving the site safe for entry, you should still proceed with caution. Every fire is different and unique. The location of a fire in your home can cause a chain reaction to other rooms, and sometimes it can be contained, either way the process of restoration is variable depending on many different factors. We assess each site to ascertain the extent of the damage and the precise actions required. We undertake a comprehensive risk assessment and survey of the property along with safety checks of power supplies to isolate any further damage. Ventilation of the home then removes trace of odour. Contents are assessed for renovation/removal and damaged surfaces are decontaminated and cleaned, neutralising odours.

A. During a fire the heat produced can reach thousands of degrees. The corrosive smoke produced is forced into every space and becomes trapped in porous materials, most surfaces will almost certainly suffer corrosion. Combustion will create chemical products that will be toxic long after fire is extinguished. During the fire, fumes and chemicals produced such as carbon monoxide are potentially fatal. It is essential that your home is decontaminated by a professional following a fire, you could be ricking your health if you don't.

A. Yes. A fire produces chemical residues during combustion. The combustion process releases harmful chemicals into the environment. In older buildings materials such as asbestos and mercury have fatal side effects when subjected to fire. These chemicals penetrate porous materials and surfaces within the building itself. Smoke particles can penetrate some places you probably didn't think of, such as your heating system. If left, they can remain for months in the atmosphere which can result in lung irritation and respiratory problems, a major reason for having a professional undertake the restoration work.

A. Given that each fire is individual and unique based on many different factors including location, time and combustibles, the damage caused and cost to restore is also variable. In order to limit these costs, it is essential that fire damage remediation commences as quickly as possible. The secondary damage caused to properties begins following the fire being extinguished and will cause costs to escalate if not stopped. Our swift response teams located across the UK can be on site speedily and act quickly and efficiently to ensure your losses are kept to a minimum and your home can be back to normal in a short space of time.

A. Our technicians are trained to the highest standards and are equipped to decontaminate fire and soot-damaged properties. We have been restoring, renovating and repairing domestic and commercial premises for over many years and have served hundreds of customers in across the UK, helping them get back to normal. We are trusted providers to many insurance companies who come highly recommend.

A. We operate across the UK with technicians available in major towns and cities. Our head office is based in Swaffham, Norfolk where we undertake all our training.

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