Skip to main content

Conventional smoke alarms

Every year across the United Kingdom Fire Services are called to over 60,000 fires in the home, where nearly 500 people are killed and 11,000 are injured. Many of these deaths and injuries could be prevented, simply by people taking a little more care with the fire safety of their homes.

A properly maintained smoke alarm will detect the presence of smoke from a fire in its early stages. It will give out a loud, high-pitched, warning sound, which will give you and your family those precious few minutes in which to make your escape. Without an alarm your chances of making a successful escape will be seriously reduced, particularly at night when you are at your most vulnerable. 

What types of smoke alarm are available?

Three types of smoke detector are available. You need to choose these according to where they are to be installed in your home. They can be used with most smoke alarm systems designed for the deaf. You can purchase conventional smoke alarms from most DIY stores and electrical retailers.

You should consider which type of fire is most likely to occur in your home. As both a fast flaming fire, or a slow smouldering smoky fire, are equally as common, the best protection would be given by at least one of both the ionisation type and optical type alarm.

Please also see our Smoke alarms for the deaf webpage.

Heat detectors

Heat detectors are not sensitive to smoke, but detect heat. They are ideal for use in kitchens where you do not want cooking fumes to set them off. You may have difficulty finding heat detectors as they are not widely used. They are also expensive.

Ionisation smoke alarms

Ionisation - a complicated looking name - but really just a smoke alarm which reacts best to a fast-flaming fire, such as an oil/fat fire from the kitchen. It is a bit less sensitive to a smouldering fire where more smoke is given off before flames occur.

This is by far the most common type of alarm because it was the first to be mass-produced for the home market and it is more than likely to be the one you have in your home. It is also the cheapest, costing less than £5 (or £7 for a twin-pack).

Optical smoke alarms

This type of smoke alarm reacts best to smouldering fires, where a lot of smoke is produced, such as soft furnishings and PVC wiring insulation. They are a bit less sensitive to the flaming fire, such as oil/fat fire from the kitchen. They are also a bit more expensive but are becoming more widely available at DIY stores.

What other features do smoke alarms have?

A 'hush' button

Very useful for those nuisance alarms, which we all get when we are cooking sausages etc. By pressing this button the alarm will be silenced for about eight minutes allowing you to continue cooking uninterrupted. During this time the alarm will still be working just in case a real fire breaks out!

Emergency lights

Useful if the fire has knocked out the fuse on the lighting circuits.

An interconnecting facility

This ensures that all the alarms will sound when any one of them detects smoke. You will probably need to ask an electrician for help with this one.

Fitting a smoke alarm

Conventional smoke alarms should be simply screwed to the ceiling, at least 30cms (12 inches) away from a wall or a light fitting, as close to the centre of the room, hallway or landing, as possible. Always read the manufacturers instructions before fitting, particularly when linked or mains powered alarms are to be installed

A home with one floor

An alarm should be fitted in the hallway, between the living areas (lounge, dining room, kitchen etc) and the sleeping areas. Here it will detect smoke coming from those areas which, if left undetected, would cut off your escape route to the front door.

A home with more than one floor

An alarm should be fitted on each level, in the hallway and on each landing of the stairs. Smoke entering the escape route from any room in the home will be detected, giving your family a chance to escape through the front door.

If you choose to fit only a single alarm in a home with more than one floor

Care must be taken to position it where it will be heard throughout the home, particularly when you are asleep. In this case it is recommended that it be fitted at the top of the stairs.