Smoke alarms aren’t the most exciting household item but they can make all the difference in the event of a house fire, giving you and your family early warning. Since 1997 smoke alarms that are connected to 240V mains power are also a legal requirement in all new homes, units, flats and townhouses. It is the legal responsibility of all owners and landlords to install working smoke alarms which meet Australian Standards.

Here’s Captain Electric’s guide to choosing the right smoke alarm to keep your home and family safe.

Types of Smoke Alarms:
There are two main types of smoke alarms for home use: ionisation and photoelectric alarms.

Photoelectric Alarms

Photoelectric Alarms ‘see’ the smoke and are best at detecting smoky or smouldering fires caused by things like burning foam filled furnishings or overheated PVC wiring. They contain a small photo cell and a light beam that shines away from the cell. Smoke in the air will scatter the light onto the photo cell and set off the alarm. Bugs and dust can also enter the test chamber so these sorts of smoke alarms should be cleaned occasionally.

Ionisation Alarms

Ionisation alarms contain a small amount of radioactive material which reacts with particles emitted in a fire. These sorts of alarms will best detect fast, flaming fires that aren’t emitting much visible smoke. Ionisation alarms are not as quick at detecting smoky and smouldering fires which account for most house fires. They are also quick to pick up on burnt toast so shouldn’t be located near your kitchen unless you want lots of false alarms!

So which is best?
As Photoelectric alarms detect smoke within 3-5 minutes they are recommended by Fire Authorities over Ionisation Alarms, which can take up to 20 minutes, for use in the home setting. It is not recommended that you rely on Ionisation Alarms alone.
N.B. Ionisation alarms are actually banned in the US – wonder how long it will take for Australia to follow suit?

What to look for when choosing a new Smoke Alarm:

  • Standards Australia certification or ActivFire registration – this tells you that the alarm complies with Australian Standards
  • 10 year Lithium Battery – as you should be replacing your alarm every 10 years, a pre-installed 10 year battery should last the life of the smoke alarm. No need to change the battery every year!
  • Test Button – this will allow you to test that your alarm is working. Some models can be using various methods that don’t involve you having to climb on a chair / ladder to press the button (handy!)
  • Hush Button – this allows you to temporarily silence the alarm if you happen to burn your toast.
  • Auto Battery Test – all smoke alarms should be able to monitor their own battery levels and alert you if the battery is running low (usually with an annoying beep every few minutes)
  • Interconnection – if one goes off, all go off!
  • Insect screen – most models available today have an inbuilt insect screen to prevent bugs from setting off a false alarm.

Don’t forget that your smoke alarm battery should be changed once a year – change your clock, change your smoke alarm battery! In the above video Michael steps you through exactly how easy it is to replace your smoke alarm battery.

A working smoke alarm can mean the difference between life and death for you and your loved ones in the event of a house fire. If you need more advice on the right type of smoke alarm for your home, investment property or business call Captain Electric (REC 18185) on 1300 455 996 or visit us at