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What type of smoke alarm do you need?

There are two main types of smoke alarms available to homeowners and businesses in Australia, photoelectric and ionisation. Both alarms are used extensively throughout the country and have saved countless lives since their introduction into our homes and buildings.

Each style of alarm has unique advantages and disadvantages.

Photoelectric smoke alarms

Features of photoelectric smoke alarms include:

  • Detect smouldering fires fast - the most common fire in the home
  • Less prone to false alarms
  • Provides an early warning for slow burning fires
  • Also referred to as optical smoke alarms, this style ‘see’s’ the smoke particles as it passes through a light, redirecting light onto the sensor.

Ionisation smoke alarms

Features of ionisation smoke alarms include:

  • Reacts quickly to flaming fires and heat from fires
  • This style sense the invisible particles generated by combustion
  • Smoke is sensed by the ion cycle to activate the alarm, similar to the way your nose smells an odour.
  • Contain a small amount of radioactive material
  • If located near kitchens and bathrooms can be prone to nuisance alarms

Which style of smoke alarm is recommended?

All fire services across Australia, including the Melbourne Fire Brigade, recommend the installation of hardwired interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms throughout your home to provide the earliest possible warning for everyone in the home.

Photoelectric smoke alarm style is recommended as it senses fire in the earlier stages when it is just beginning to smoulder, giving residents more time to evacuate the building safely.

The interconnected nature of the smoke alarm system, either wired or wireless, is very important, as is locating alarms in sleeping areas. For example, if a fire starts in the kitchen at night when family members are asleep in bedrooms with the doors closed the alarm located in the bedroom will activate the warning siren as soon as the smoke alarm in the kitchen senses the smoke. This provides a fast warning for those who may not otherwise hear the alarm in the kitchen.

In a study by Fire and Rescue New South Wales, tests found that photoelectric alarms activated an average 30 seconds to 1 minute faster than ionisation alarms during smouldering fires. With ionisation providing a 53-second jump on photoelectric during a flaming fire situation.

The study found that the number, correct positioning, and interconnection of alarms was more crucial to surviving a fire than which style you had installed in your home.

Expert smoke alarm advice

Our electricians suggest getting advice from the experts when it comes to protecting your family and home from fire. 1st Call Electrical Services can come to your Melbourne home and provide recommendations specific to your home design and layout.

More information on smoke alarms:


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