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Why your old smoke alarms could be putting you at risk

Why your old smoke alarms could be putting you at risk

by Andrew
August 15, 2019

You know that old smoke alarm you have? The kind that has a 9V battery and slightly disturbing radiation symbol? Well, it’s probably time for an upgrade.

Something that most landlords should now be aware of, but home owners may not be, are the differences between traditional ionisation smoke alarms and the more modern and effective photoelectric alarms.

The former ionisation alarms are the cheap and cheerful type sporting the radiation symbol and 9V battery that we were all faithfully installing for years. What you might not know is that while ionisation alarms are very effective at picking up wood and paper smoke (the type that your house will be full of while it’s burning to the ground) they can easily miss the early stages of fire as they don’t tend to react as readily to smoke caused by smouldering fabrics or furniture.

The latter photoelectric alarms are a bit more sophisticated and are today’s alarm of choice. Photoelectric alarms have been proven to pick up smoke from slower burning fires a lot more effectively than their radioactive counterparts, meaning there’s a much better chance that you’ll be alerted during the early stages of a fire when you can either escape or do something about it.

In fact, in July 2016 the installation of new ionisation alarms in tenanted homes was effectively outlawed in the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA). Let that sink in. You may be wagering your home and the lives of your family members on an alarm that is now ILLEGAL to install into a rental property. Further, based on their independent test results Consumer NZ is pushing for ionisation alarms to be banned outright.

It doesn’t stop there, the RTA introduced another important criteria to consider. All new self-powered smoke alarms must also have a long life battery rated to last at least 8 years from new. Makes sense right? The less often a smoke alarm’s battery needs replacing, the less likely it’ll run flat and be left in an inoperable state. It also means less being woken up at 3am by a chirping alarm because the low ambient temperature has finally caused the cell voltage to drop below the warning threshold.

So what does that mean for you? Well, our suggestion is that you go out and replace your all of your old smoke alarms with a long lasting photoelectric model as soon as possible. Why’s that? After all, you’re probably thinking ‘how often does a house fire really happen?’ Well, the author of this article can tell you from first hand experience that it can happen at any time without any warning or action on your part.

Two weeks ago we experienced a fire caused by a failed heating element in our hot water cylinder. Fortunately I was at home at the time, noticed the smoke and was able to prevent the fire from spreading further. For us, this was our wake up call because the ionisation smoke alarm that was mounted less than 1 meter away from the origin of the fire didn’t make a sound despite the presence of visible smoke.

Need help choosing alarm? Check out the free comparison over at Consumer: https://www.consumer.org.nz/products/smoke-alarms-and-batteries/review

Further reading:

https://www.tenancy.govt.nz/maintenance-and-inspections/smoke-alarms/

https://www.consumer.org.nz/services/smoke-alarms-and-batteries/guide



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