A fire can spread fast. It can put life in danger in two minutes. It can engulf a home in four minutes.
The loss of lives and home is devastating, emotionally and financially. Sadly, most cases of fires in homes are accidental and preventable.
You can take steps to protect your property from fire. One is to install a smoke alarm in your home. People lose their sense of smell when they are sleeping. A smoke alarm will be activated if it senses smoke from a fire.
The best unit to purchase is a photoelectric smoke alarm as it has been proven to be reliable in providing enough time for occupants to get out before their house is engulfed in fire.
Smoke alarm law
Effective 1 July 1997, all new residential buildings (or residential building extensions) within Western Australia are required to have mains powered smoke alarms. From 1 October 2009, all existing residential buildings must be installed with main powered smoke alarms before the transfer of ownership, rent or hire.
The new smoke alarm should bear the AS 3786:2014 marking to ensure it is up to the relevant standard. Smoke alarm with the AS 3786:1993 will be no longer be considered fit under the Building Code of Australia (BCA) effective 1 May 2017.
Penalties for non-compliance
Under the Building Act 2011 and the Building Regulations 2012, local governments can either issue an infringement notice or sue an owner who fails to have their property fitted with compliant smoke alarms before a sale, transfer of ownership, tenancy or hiring of said property.
Owners who fail to comply face a fine of $5,000.
Installation of smoke alarm systems
Install smoke alarms in all bedrooms, in the living room and hallway for optimal smoke detection. This is to ensure that all rooms where people sleep with closed doors are covered. Smoke alarms cannot detect smoke through closed doors.
At the minimum, have a smoke alarm installed in the hallway nearest the bedrooms. This should be accompanied with other types of alarms.
To prevent nuisance alarms, make sure not to install smoke alarms in incorrect places, such as kitchens, and in proximity of the doorways of bathrooms or laundry rooms. Other places in the house where smoke alarms shouldn’t be are very near a corner of a ceiling or wall; an air-conditioning vent; and the blades of a ceiling fan.
For houses with a second- or third-storey, smoke alarms should be fitted in the corridor between each level.
In houses with an attached garage, install a heat alarm with AS1670.1 marking, not a smoke alarm, to avoid nuisance alarms.
Smoke alarms should be interconnected to make sure than when one smoke detects a fire, all alarms in the entire houser will be activated.
Hire a licensed electrician to smoke alarms fitted in your home.
Smoke alarm requirements for dwelling types
The following residential structures are required under Australia’s Building Regulations 2012 to be fitted with compliant smoke alarms.
Class 1a: Includes a stand-alone house, or row houses, duplexes, town houses, terrace houses or villa houses where attached dwellings are detached by a fire resisting wall.
Class 1b: Includes (1) boarding houses, guest houses, hostels and similar properties where a maximum of 12 people would normally be occupants, and with a total floor area not exceeding 300 sq m; and (2) four or more single dwellings built on one allotment and leased as short-term holiday accommodations. Properties located in tourist parks, farmstays, holiday resorts, and cabins in caravan parks, are also included under this category.
Class 2: Includes apartments and flats in a building that has multiple units.
Class 4: Includes a caretaker’s residence and other residential units located in a non-residential building, if it is the sole place to live in in that property.
Landlord/tenant responsibility concerning fire safety
It is the landlord’s responsibility to make sure the rental property is habitable and safe to live in.
- Landlords must make sure to keep the smoke alarm(s) are in working order and are less than 10 years old. The unit should contain the date of replacement.
- Smoke alarms must be tested during regular inspections, or at least every six months. In addition, check for dust and cobwebs, and clean around the unit using a soft brush.
- Replace batteries every year, if the unit has a user-replaceable 9V battery. Follow the manufacturer’s guide when choosing batteries and testing the unit.
- Maintenance must be undertaken at every inspection. A record of maintenance must be kept by the landlord or the property manager.
Tenants also have a few maintenance responsibilities for the smoke alarm in their rental property.
- Each month, test the alarm by pushing down the test button. Release it when you hear a loud alert sound.
- Don’t damage the alarms or put anything like tape or paint that would hamper the airflow to the alarms.
- Make sure the green visual display light is on. This indicates that the smoke alarm is attached to the mains power.
The law mandates the installation of smoke alarms in residential and commercial properties as it is the only device the can provide the critical advance warning needed to avoid the loss of lives and property.
Learn and adopt first safety habits to eliminate the chance of fire in your home. Lastly, create an Escape Plan to guide you and other household occupants on what to do in case of a fire.