Fire Alarms

Smoke Alarm Installation and Maintenance

Only a working smoke alarm can save lives.

How do I install my smoke alarm?


Ensure you do not place an alarm in a dead air space.

If you can handle a screwdriver, you can install a battery
operated smoke alarm. They are simply fastened to the ceiling
with two small screws. Mains powered smoke alarms must be
installed by a licensed electrician. For effective operation smoke
alarms should be located away from corners.

When installing your smoke alarm:

  • Do not paint your smoke alarm.
  • Do not place the alarm in turbulent air from fans, doors,
    windows, air conditioners etc. Rapid air movement may
    prevent smoke from reaching the alarm.
  • Do not place the alarm in dead air spaces such as the peak ofan A-frame ceiling. ‘Dead air’ at the top may prevent smoke
    from reaching the alarm in time to provide early warning. In
    rooms with simple sloped, peaked or gabled ceilings, install
    smoke alarms on the ceiling 90cm (3 feet) from the highest


    Smoke alarms should be tested regularly.

    point of the ceiling. Read and follow the manufacturer’s

Note: For complex ceiling structures, consult a fire safety expert for the number of alarms required and the best locations.

What maintenance is required?

Monthly: Smoke alarms require regular testing. They are
equipped with a test button that should be depressed (by the
use of a broom handle or similar) until the alarm sounds.

Six monthly: Every six months the alarm should be checked for

excessive dust.

Yearly: Every year you should clean your smoke alarm with
your vacuum cleaner to remove any dust particles that may
affect the smoke alarm’s performance. In most cases the battery
should be replaced.

Ten yearly: Every 10 years, all smoke alarms should be
replaced. The service date (the date when the alarm will no
longer work) should be indicated clearly on the base of each
smoke alarm.


Replace your smoke alarm battery annually.

When do I replace the battery?

When batteries are

low the smoke alarm will sound a short
‘Beep’ at regular intervals. This is your reminder to replace the
batteries. Except for smoke alarms fitted with rechargeable or
long life lithium batteries, we suggest you replace your batteries
annually, for example when you change your clock to daylight
saving time, or on some notable anniversary.

Disposal of your old smoke alarm

Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years and therefore
consideration needs to be given to disposal of your old unit. Old


Ionisation smoke alarms can be disposed of in a quantity not exceeding 10 units.

photoelectric smoke alarms may be disposed of with household
waste in any quantity.

Local legislation may allow your old ionisation smoke alarms to
be disposed of with household waste in a quantity not exceeding
10 units. Any more than 10 units would require being treated as
radioactive waste and disposed of in accordance with local


Purchasing a Smoke Alarm

Smoke alarms are a normal part of many Australian homes, where
they have been responsible for saving lives. Regulations vary from
state to state, but in most states it is now mandatory to install at
least one smoke alarm.


Smoke alarms can be purchased from department and hardware stores, as well as electrical retailers.

Where can I buy a smoke alarm?

  • Fire Protection Companies – FPA Australia member companies
    can provide advice, service and sell smoke alarms to the
    public – see and choose your
  • Department Stores
  • Hardware Stores
  • Electrical Retailers
  • Some public fire brigades also sell smoke alarms

Caution is advised when dealing with telephone canvassers and
door-to-door vendors.

How do I choose between brands?

Only purchase smoke alarms that carry the Australian Standards tick mark or are suitably certified or listed.

Only purchase smoke alarms that carry
the Australian Standards tick mark or are
suitably certified or listed.

Only smoke alarms that have been certified as meeting the requirements of the Australian Standard and carry the Standards Australia Tick Mark or are ActivFire listed should be used. (See and click on the “ActivFire” link).

Ionisation or photoelectric?

There are two types of residential smoke alarms: Ionisation and Photoelectric. Photoelectric alarms are superior to ionisation smoke alarms in detecting the visible smoke produced by smouldering fires. For more information on the differences between photoelectric and ionisation smoke detectors, please see our ‘Smoke Alarms – Ionisation or Photoelectric?’ Fact Sheet.

Power supply options?

Most Smoke alarms are available with the following power source

  • Hardwired 240 volt powered with 9 volt back-up battery
    Smoke Alarm - Lightning Bult

    Photoelectric smoke alarms are superior
    to ionisation alarms in detecting visible
    smoke produced by a smoldering fire.

    (battery needs replacing annually).

  • Hardwired with 240 volt powered with lithium rechargeable
    battery back-up (battery lasts life of the alarm).
  • Battery powered 9 bolt (battery life typically one year -needs
    changing annually).
  • Battery powered 10-year lithium (battery lasts the life of the
    smoke alarm).

Legislation since 1995 requires new residences to be fitted with a smoke alarm wired to the mains electricity.

Hardwired smoke alarms have a more reliable power source but must be installed by a licensed electrician. Other options available include interconnected models, which when any one alarm detects smoke, all connected smoke alarms will sound, providing a warning throughout the home. Special models for use in caravans, and models incorporating an emergency light are also available.

How many do I need?

Legislation since 1995 in all states requires new residences to be
fitted with a smoke alarm wired to the mains electricity. Some
states have also legislated that all residences require a
minimum of one battery operated smoke alarm.

Note: The fitting of one alarm will only provide a minimum level
of protection.

alarm5A better level of protection is gained by installing a smoke alarm in each bedroom, in corridors and hallways that lead to exits and the living area. Installing a heat alarm in the kitchen is also a good idea. FPA Australia recommends that smoke alarms installed in corridors and hallways between sleeping areas and exits are photoelectric smoke alarms.

Australian and international research indicates that more than 90% of children under the age of 16 will not wake from deep
sleep from a smoke alarm sounding in their bedroom. This is why multiple interconnected smoke alarms are a great way to maximise the chance of waking sleeping children or other occupants with a hearing impairment. An interconnected smoke alarm in the master bedroom will alert parents who can then assist others to escape.

Alarms for the hearing impaired

Warning devices are available for the hearing impaired and
information on these alarms can be obtained from deaf
associations in each state. See
australia.html for links.

Smoke Alarms—Ionisation or Photoelectric?

The purpose of a smoke alarm is to sense the presence of smoke in
the home and to audibly alert the occupants, to give them time to
escape to a safe place.

There are two types of residential smoke alarms: Ionisation and


Ionisation alarms detect the presence of large quantities of verysmoke1
small particles entering the ionisation chamber, which when in
sufficient quantity will cause an alarm to sound.

Sufficient quantities of very small particles are generally only
produced by flaming fires or from very hot surfaces. Ionisation
alarms are more responsive to fires that start as, or quickly
escalate into a flaming stage. This type of fire often produces
less visible smoke. Fires that start as a smoldering fire produce
large visible particles, but the amount of smoke may not be
enough to cause the ionisation alarm to respond.

Ionisation smoke alarms are more prone to nuisance alarms
from cooking (toasters, open grillers, birthday cake candles and
the like) and should not be installed near kitchens.


Photoelectric smoke alarms have a chamber with a light source
and visible smoke entering the chamber makes the light scatter
(like the dust in the air in a sunbeam of light), and in sufficient
quantity to make the alarm sound.

Photoelectric smoke alarms are superior to ionisation smoke
alarms in detecting the visible smoke produced by smoldering
fires. Most residential dwelling fires, whether flaming or
smoldering, tend to produce large amounts of visible smoke.
Photoelectric smoke alarms should be installed in sleeping areas
and paths of travel to sleeping areas.

Facts to help you choosesmoke3

    • The type of fires in residences that are most likely to occur while occupants are sleeping are smoldering fires. The greatest risk to life or injury occurs when occupants are sleeping.
    • Photoelectric smoke alarms are much faster at detecting smoldering fires than ionisation smoke alarms. Research has shown that photoelectric smoke alarms typically respond to
      smoky fires within a few minutes while the level of smoke is still low and the air breathable, allowing more time to escape safely.smoke4
    • Most ionisation alarms take longer to respond to smoldering fires and depending on the material may not alarm until the fire bursts into flames. By this time there is a greater risk of reduced visibility and breathing problems making escape more difficult and at worst impossible.
    • The fast-flaming and clean burning fires that ionisation alarms detect quickly are not common in domestic situations but when they do occur, nearby material usually catches fire quickly starting to generate visible smoke that a photoelectric
      smoke alarm will detect.
    • Flaming fires will mostly start in the kitchen but often
      someone is present and may do something about it. Even if no
      one is present, photoelectric smoke alarms usually detect
      these fires providing sufficient warning to occupants.