Getting a smoke alarm installed in your home is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself, your property and family from injury, damage and fatalities following a fire. Early warning can help you to either put out the fire before it gets out of hand or save your family and some valuable items if you're unable to stop it. Below is a complete guide to selection, installation, testing and maintenance of smoke alarms to ensure you are always protected.

Selecting the alarm

There are two main types of alarms:

  • Ionization alarms – these are less expensive and hence most commonly used. They are ideal for detection of fast-flaming fires, whose particles set off the alarm even before much smoke is emitted. However, ionisation alarms are slower at detecting smouldering or smoky fires, since these don't emit too many particles. Do not install near the kitchen as they can be set off by your cooking.
  • Photoelectric alarms – these are more sensitive and are triggered by smoke particles entering the chamber. In addition to flaming fires, they can easily detect smoky or smouldering fires.

In addition to these, there are special-purpose alarms such as carbon monoxide alarms which are installed in homes with central heating units/oil or gas furnaces to ensure carbon monoxide does not exceed allowable levels and heat alarms which can detect fires originating from the kitchen without being set off by your regular cooking activities. However, special-purpose alarms should be used in addition to either of the two standard types above.

Installation and testing

Smoke alarms should be fitted on every level of your home, i.e.  every storey of the house. The most ideal location is the ceiling at the most central point in the level. Do not place close to your lights or appliances, which give off heat that can trigger the alarm. In addition, smoke alarms should be fitted in individual rooms that have large appliances, e.g. if you have a TV/computer system in the bedroom. Do not install too close to your kitchen. Battery-powered alarms are easy to install and maintain.

For peaked ceilings, do not install the smoke alarm at the apex. Instead, select a point approximately four inches below the peak-point. You can also mount the alarm on a high wall, provided it is installed no more than twelve inches lower than the ceiling.

Most alarms come with a test button you can use to check whether the alarm still works. Press this button once a month to ensure it is still operational. Ensure that all the family members know what the smoke alarm sounds like and how they should act when it goes off.


Look for a smoke alarm with a 10-year lithium battery installed. Such alarms are designed to be used for that period of time, so change the entire system if the alarm beeps because of low battery. (Check the manual to find out how it sounds). If your alarm has another type of battery, it should be replaced at least annually. Only use the recommended brands on the back of the alarm or in the manual. Follow manufacturer recommendations for cleaning, because dirt particles can sometimes cause the alarm to be triggered, especially photoelectric alarms.

For more information on this topic, check out a company like The Fire Protection Specialist Company Pty Ltd.