When it comes to the detection of smoke, heat and carbon monoxide (CO) in high rise buildings, it is vital to get it right first time. With this in mind, it’s crucial to be aware of the most effective alarm systems, and where to site them for the greatest level of safety. Adrian Keats from Honeywell’s Home Safety business explains

Despite numerous public campaigns on the dangers of inadequate fire and CO protection, there is still a shocking level of misinformation when it comes to best practice for specifying smoke, heat and CO alarms.

Here is our short guide to the key points to consider when specifying an alarm system for housing developments.

Smoke alarms

According to legislation, landlords are required to install at least one smoke alarm per floor in each residence. It’s important to note that these cannot legally be replaced by heat alarms.

Whilst one per floor is the minimum by law, this is not necessarily in-keeping with best practice. According to The Fire Safety Advice Centre, there should be an alarm within 1.5 metres of the entrance to all habitable rooms and any cupboards that pose a fire risk – especially those within the path of an escape route.

What’s more, residents of differing abilities should also be taken into account when an alarm system is specified. For example, choosing units which have clear LED display alerts alongside an audible alarm to cater for the hearing impaired.

When it comes to siting smoke alarms, you should position the unit as centrally as possible, whether this is in an entrance hall or a room.

Heat alarms

When selecting an alarm, it’s advisable to consider the type of hazard most likely to arise in each area of the home. Generally, there are two types of fire – fast-flaming and slow-starting, smouldering fires. In a kitchen environment, fast-flaming is most common. In fact, 59 per cent of household fires are caused by cooking mishaps, many of which stem from unattended chip pans which burst into fast-flaming fires.

Fast-flaming fires, unlike slow-starting, produce little smoke, but plenty of heat. This is where a heat alarm is a better solution than a smoke alarm. In a kitchen, where these fires are common, a heat alarm would react quicker than a smoke alarm, saving valuable time in alerting and evacuating residents.

In terms of location, a heat alarm should be placed as close to the centre of the ceiling as possible. Avoid fitting heat alarms near air vents, decorative objects, or anything which could obstruct the alarm and prevent heat from entering the unit and triggering the alert.

CO alarms

To remain compliant with the law, landlords in England and Wales must ensure that a carbon monoxide alarm is fitted in every room featuring a solid fuel burning appliance.
But, in terms of ensuring tenant safety, this is the bare minimum. Many incidents of CO poisoning are the result of gas leaks from incorrectly fitted, inadequately maintained or faulty appliances like boilers and cookers, none of which are covered by the legislation.

For real protection, a CO alarm should be placed in every room which contains a fuel burning appliance, as well as an alarm in any bedrooms located above these.

Once the amount of CO alarms necessary for a property has been determined, it’s crucial to consider alarm location. Detailed recommendations can be found in EN50292, a guide on selection, installation, use and maintenance for residential carbon monoxide alarms, but ideally, the alarm should be positioned high up in the room typically 30 centimetres from the ceiling, and at least a metre away from boilers, fires, cookers or heaters. It can be fixed to a wall or free-standing on a shelf, as long as the recommended positioning requirements are met.

Property owners are increasingly looking to connected alarm systems when specifying for developments as a more comprehensive safety solution. This is because a connected heat, smoke and CO alarm network means that whichever alarm is triggered, every alarm will activate thus ensuring homeowners are alerted to danger no matter what area of the home they are in. This is especially relevant when it comes to blocks of flats and houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) as it means that the entire community can be warned, no matter where a hazard develops.

Although domestic fire and CO safety has improved, there is still a long road ahead. Compliance doesn’t always equal the best level of safety, and the importance of proper siting is still not universally understood. Whilst going above and beyond legal requirements might feel unnecessary, the long term benefits of going the extra mile in fire and CO protection are more than worth the investment.