Modern smoke alarms a lifesaver

by Andy Bryenton

The smoke alarm is one of those unobtrusive little inventions, which has gone ahead and done its job admirably during the years, saving countless lives. Like any technological advancement, the time comes to change up to a newer and better model eventually. If you’re building or renovating, perhaps it’s time to throw out the old nine-volt ‘pie plate’ alarms and opt for a better safeguard.

New Zealand Building Code clause F7 is all about warning systems, and smoke alarms come into this category. Clause F7 applies to new homes and all existing homes undergoing building work, and it details the need for what is called Type 1 smoke alarms. To attain Type 1 status; an alarm must be loud enough to wake a sleeping person, 75 decibels at least, or the same noise level as a freight train passing by. That is important because the sleeping brain does not register smoke, and a loud and clear alarm is the best defence against a fire that has broken out unnoticed in the night.

Placement is also important, and smoke alarms should be placed either in every sleeping area or within three metres of each bedroom doorway so they can be clearly heard even with the door closed. We’re advised not to place alarms in kitchens or garages where smoke and heat are commonplace, or in areas very close to heat sources or extractor fans, such as near a heat pump or in the bathroom.

Multi-storey homes need an alarm on each level. With many different designs to choose from, including smaller, less obtrusive models to fit in with modern decor, it’s also important to think about two other factors — interconnectivity and battery life.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand recommends hard-wired alarms or photoelectric alarms with batteries that last up to a decade. By connecting alarms together, there’s also the added bonus that a fire in one part of the home will set off all alarms at once, alerting everyone that it’s time to make an escape.