Smoke alarms

Smoke alarm

What are smoke alarms

A smoke alarm (also known as a smoke detector) is a device that detects fire in its early stages and gives a loud audible warning.

Smoke alarms save lives - buying and fitting smoke alarms could help you to save your home and the lives of your family.

What types of smoke alarm are available?

There are currently two types of smoke alarms on the market - ionisation and optical (also described as photoelectric or photoelectronic.)

  • Ionisation alarms - Costing from under £5 these are by far the cheapest smoke alarms you can buy, but this does not mean they are in anyway less effective. They are marginally less sensitive to slow burning and smouldering fires that give off larger quantities of smoke before flaming, but will detect flaming fires such as chip pans quickly before the smoke gets too thick.

  • Optical alarms - These are more expensive but more effective at detecting larger particles of smoke that are given off by slow burning fires, such as smouldering foam filled upholstery and overheated PVC wiring.

Each type looks similar and is powered by battery, mains electricity or both.

When deciding on which type of smoke alarms to buy, you should consider which type of fire is more likely to occur in your home. However, the best protection would be to fit both and make sure that they have a continuous power supply such as mains power with a back-up battery.

Any smoke alarm that you buy should meet British Standard BS EN14604: 2005 and carry the well-known Kitemark.

Heat detectors are recommended for your kitchen - to detect fires in kitchens.

Smoke alarms for deaf and hard of hearing people

Specialist smoke alarms

Conventional smoke alarms work by emitting a loud noise when smoke is detected, providing the vital early warning of fire, and therefore aiding escape. People who are deaf or hard of hearing need additional ways of making them aware the alarm has been activated, including vibrating pads and flashing strobe lights.

Deaf people need to place a vibrating pad under their mattress or pillow at night. If smoke is detected, the alarm will sound and set off the pad to assist in waking them.

British Standard BS5446-3:2015 specifies smoke alarm kits for deaf and hard of hearing people. Products made to this standard give deaf people assurance of quality smoke alarms designed to meet their needs.

999 SMS to the emergency services 999 SMS to the emergency services

The emergencySMS service lets deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK send an SMS text message to the UK 999 service where it will be passed to the police, ambulance, fire rescue, or coastguard.

Simply by sending an SMS message to 999 you can call for help and the emergency services will be able to reply to you.

You will need to register your mobile phone before using the emergencySMS service:

Register now - emergencySMS (opens in new window)

Fitting your smoke alarms

For maximum protection a smoke alarms should be fitted in every room of your house except the bathroom, kitchen and garage.  And a heat detector should be fitted in the kitchen.

For minimum protection at least one alarm should be fitted on each level of your house.

Smoke alarms are simply screwed into the ceiling and should normally be fitted at least 30 centimetres (12 inches) away from any wall or light fitting and as close to the centre of the room, hallway or landing as possible. Always read the manufacturers instructions before fitting.

Looking after your smoke alarms

Your smoke alarms needs regular maintenance:

  • Once a year replace the battery - this is also applicable for mains powered smoke alarms that have a battery back-up.

  • Once a week check the alarm by pressing the test button.

  • Once a year vacuum and wipe the smoke alarm casing to ensure dust isn't blocking the sensor chamber.

If your smoke alarm is making an intermittent bleeping/chirping noise, please follow these steps:

  • Check that your smoke alarm is definitely the source of the bleeping/chirping; make sure the noise isn't coming from another alarm (smoke/carbon monoxide/gas/burglar alarm) by process of elimination.

  • Clean the alarm as per the instructions above.

  • Test the alarm by pressing the 'test' button.

  • Change the battery (unless it's a ten-year alarm).

If the smoke alarm fails to operate or continues to chirp/bleep, please contact Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service for advice.

Is your smoke alarm more than 10 years old?

Was your home built between 1992 and 2008? If so its hard-wired smoke alarm detector heads need replacing as research shows that they have a 10-year shelf life and may no longer work when you need them to.

This advice could save your home and your and your family’s lives.

For more information - Is your smoke alarm more than 10 years old?

Smoke alarms in rented properties

New safety laws for landlords came into force on 1st October 2015.  The new safety laws make it compulsory for all landlords to fit smoke alarms in rented homes, as well as offering protection against carbon monoxide poisoning.

The new safety laws make it compulsory for all landlords to:

  • Fit at least one smoke alarm on each floor of their premises

  • Fit a carbon monoxide alarm in rooms containing a solid fuel appliance

  • Check that all alarms are working when a new tenancy starts - with potential penalties of up to £5,000 if they don’t comply.

Landlords must check the alarms are working at the start of every new tenancy with potential penalties of up to £5,000 if they don't comply.

Tenants are required to check the alarms are in working order and notify the landlord if they identify any problems.

More information about smoke alarms for tenants and landlords

Leaflet - smoke alarms

Leaflet - smoke alarms (new window, PDF 252KB)

Risk Rater - How safe is your home?

Complete a short questionnaire to assess fire safety in your home, and get a personalised fire safety plan - with advice on how to prevent fires in your home:

Download the Risk Rater app via the App Store - for iPhones and iPads (opens in new window)

Download the Risk Rater app via the Google Play Store - for android devices (opens in new window)

Safe and well visit

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service offer a free 'Safe and Well Visit' for people who are aged over 65 and for people who are referred to us by partner agencies because they are considered to be at a particular risk.

Safe and Well Visits incorporate the traditional fire safety information (and smoke alarm fitting), but also offer additional advice on slips, trips, fall prevention, bowel cancer screening, affordable warmth and advice on how to stop smoking or drinking alcohol.  Heart checks are also offered.

Book a Safe and Well Visit for over 65's

Last updated: Tuesday 21 March 2023

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