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Importance of changing your smoke alarm

Smoke detector

Almost one in ten Australians (9%) have never replaced the battery in their home’s smoke alarm, despite guidance suggesting this should be done annually for many smoke detectors to keep families safe, according to new research commissioned by QBE Insurance1.

Your smoke alarm is a vital early warning sign of fire and helps protect the lives of your family and the community by providing an early warning of danger. 

Many fatal house fires occur at night because sleeping occupants are not aware of the fire, don’t smell smoke and breathe it in. 

Yet many of us don’t give this device much of a second thought.

Two in seven Australians (29%) confess they’re not sure how and when to test their home smoke alarms, according to research commissioned by QBE2.

And one in five (19.2%) don’t know how often a smoke alarm should be replaced, with just one in seven (14%) correctly identifying that their home smoke alarms should be completely replaced once every ten years.

“This research certainly suggests we’ve still got some way to go in helping people understand just how important smoke alarm maintenance is for fire safety,” says QBE head of short tail claims Arron Mann.  

“There’s a whole range of smoke detectors on the market and in peoples’ homes,” he says. “Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions about how and when to replace the batteries and how best to test your alarms.”

Prioritise your own safety, so it could be helpful to ask for an expert’s help if you’re not confident about how best to keep your smoke detector in tip top condition, Mann says.
“I really like the idea that some people have adopted 1 April each year as ‘change your smoke alarm battery day’. 

“It’s a trigger to show your home’s smoke detector some love and attention. Afterall, these smart little devices don’t look like much, but they play a huge role in keeping us safe.”

The QBE research also found that just 46% of Australian had replaced their smoke alarm battery in the past year and one in six Australians, or 17%, have no plans to change their smoke detector battery in the future.

Why do you need a smoke alarm?

All Australian states and territories have legislated to make smoke alarms compulsory in residential dwellings, although specific requirements differ according to jurisdiction so it’s always a good idea to check the specifics in your area.

The CSIRO tests smoke alarms to ensure they meet Australian Standards and their website pulls together links to the emergency services in each state.

Under Northern Territory (NT) law, approved smoke alarms must be installed in all residential premises or movable dwellings. This includes caravans. Home owners must test each smoke alarm at least once every 12 months.

Tenants are required to test each smoke alarm at least once every 12 months and advise the owner or agent if an alarm does not work.

Property managers or other nominated persons may act on behalf of an owner to maintain, test or replace alarms.

Find out more about Territory laws on smoke alarms at the NT Fire and Rescue Service website.

Specifically, alarms must be placed in hallways near bedrooms; however, if bedrooms are in different parts of the house, you must have alarms installed in each of these locations. If there are no hallways associated with the bedrooms, alarms must be installed between the part of the home containing the bedroom and the rest of the house.

There are a various types of alarms on the market. Many fire experts recommend a photoelectric alarm, which detects smoke from smouldering synthetic material faster than ionisation alarms. 

This matters because burning material may smoulder for up to a few hours before flaring into flames and it’s important to detect the fire as early as possible so those at risk can escape. 

The danger is that the fire will produce smoke that will fill the home which could lead to serious inhalation and visibility issues, says Mann.

“The best smoke alarms respond to smoke within minutes, which is crucial when you think about how quickly a house fire can escalate into life or death danger.”

Always check your smoke alarm complies with the Standards Australia certification AS3786, says Mann.

How to maintain a smoke alarm

Some modern smoke alarms can be mains powered with battery back-up and most experts recommend replacing these batteries once every year or in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.  

Other models come with a pre-installed non-removable 10-year battery, typically a lithium battery, which will last for the life of the smoke alarm. 

“Best practice is to test your smoke alarm once a month by pressing the test button,” Mann says. “Smoke alarms can be cleaned with a vacuum cleaner once every six months as this removes dust particles and keep your device in working order.

“Change your battery once a year, either on 1 April or, another good trigger to remember to change it is when you change your clocks at the end of daylight saving. 

“Some alarms will have an inbuilt lithium battery that can’t be replaced. Smoke alarms don’t last forever, so remember that your entire smoke alarm unit should be replaced every ten years.”

If you’re in any doubt about the safety of checking, testing or replacing the battery, contact an expert to help.   

1. Pure Profile research study of 1,002 Australians aged 18-65 completed for QBE Insurance from 5-6 March 2019.
2.Pure Profile research study of 1,002 Australians aged 18-65 completed for QBE Insurance from 5-6 March 2019. 
4. Pure Profile research study of 1,002 Australians aged 18-65 completed for QBE Insurance from 5-6 March 2019.

Source:   QBE Insurance (Australia) Limited. ABN 78 003 191 035. AFS Licence No. 239545.
First published on the QBE Insurance website as 


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