A smoke alarm is an often overlooked, but very important part of keeping your home safe. Many fire deaths happen in the home, especially at night or early in the morning when people are asleep. Death is usually caused by breathing in the smoke and toxic gases from the fire, not from being burned. Poisonous gases created during a fire, like carbon monoxide, can quickly cause a person to become confused and disoriented.
Once a fire starts it can spread quickly. In as little as 3 minutes, the heat from a small fire can cause everything in the room to burst into flames (called a flashover).
Studies show that death or serious injury due to fire is less in homes where smoke alarms were installed and maintained.
A smoke alarm is a device that combines smoke detection and a loud alarm together in one unit. The alarm sounds if it detects smoke in large amounts, like in a fire.
A smoke alarm, when properly installed, tested, and maintained gives you an early warning of a fire, which increases your chances of getting out.
By law, smoke alarms sold in Canada must comply with the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) Standard for Smoke Alarms, CAN/ULC-S531. ULC studies show that both types of alarms work equally well to detect smoke and sound a loud warning. Installing both types of smoke alarms within a home can increase safety.
Smoke alarms are powered by batteries or household electricity (hard-wired):
Using a combination of both hard-wired and battery-powered alarms is recommended. Check with the local Building Safety Codes Officer for smoke alarm power requirements in new homes.
Some smoke alarms may be manufactured with both the ionization and photoelectric features. Since most home fires are a mixture of smoke types, any type of smoke alarm will meet the needs of the average home. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing, testing, and maintaining the smoke alarm.
Under Alberta Law, all dwelling units (including rental units) must have smoke alarms. The Fire Code and Building Code have different codes for different types of buildings. Contact your local fire department or building branch if you have any questions about fire or building codes or how to install the alarm.
Install at least one smoke alarm on every level of your home, including the basement (but not in unfinished attics).
Smoke alarms shouldn’t be put in kitchens, garages, or bathrooms. This is because dust, steam, and exhaust can set off nuisance alarms (see “What are Nuisances Alarms” below). Nuisance alarms are often called “false” alarms. However, it isn’t a false alarm because the smoke alarm is doing what it is supposed to.
Don’t install a smoke alarm near a window or register, where drafts can affect alarm operation and sensitivity.
Smoke alarms must be kept in a clean condition to work, as dust and grime may affect how they work.
Smoke alarms are electronic devices that age and can fail. Once installed, people sometimes have a false sense of security and don’t think to test the units regularly. Regular testing and maintenance is important to make sure the smoke alarm is working.
A smoke alarm going off when there is no real danger of a fire is called a nuisance alarm. Homeowners will often disable smoke alarms; however, doing this puts everyone in the home at risk in case there is a real fire, especially at night when everyone is sleeping.
Current as of: February 25, 2015
Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services