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There was a time when general wisdom would have you believe that fires only started through poor decision-making—leaving the chip pan unattended, or falling asleep with a lit cigarette. The truth is, fires can happen because of a wide range of causes, and many of them do not require you to be at fault. Perhaps more terrifying, the cause of a fire can sometimes be completely out of your control to prevent!
While we should, of course, do everything we can to reduce the chances of a fire starting in the first place, we can’t pretend that the risk isn’t there. And, if you are unprepared for that risk, you could well pay with your life. Smoke alarms exist to prevent that ultimate cost from having to be paid.
Smoke alarms—especially modern variants—are far more sensitive to the signs of a fire than our human senses, and the additional time that gives us is often the difference between life and death. In the case of something like a kitchen fire while cooking, a smoke alarm can alert you in enough time to put the fire out. In the more dangerous case of a fire in the night when everyone is asleep, it can wake you in time to get out of the house safely.
At the very least, smoke alarms could one day save you a substantial amount of money in fire damages, but at most, they could save your life.
It is unlikely that anyone reading this will not be aware of the Grenfell Tower fire, but for those who aren’t, here is a brief recap. In 2017, a block of flats in West London called Grenfell Tower caught fire. The fire began with a malfunctioning fridge-freezer in a resident’s fourth-floor flat but quickly spread to encompass most of the building thanks to the material and design of the external cladding.
In total, the fire caused 72 deaths and over 70 injuries and was the worst residential fire in the UK since the Second World War.
Now, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this fire due to the safety of the building, namely that the fire should not have been able to spread as quickly and easily as it did, but the incident has naturally led to significant rethinking on fire safety in the UK. In Scotland, the Building Fire Safety: Ministerial Working Group was established to oversee fire safety reviews, regulations, and guidance, particularly as it pertains to high-rise flats.
Of course, this article is about smoke alarms, and the relevant factor here is that some of the group’s actions include introducing requirements for smoke and heat alarms.
The new standard covers all Scottish homes and will be the responsibility of the property owner to ensure that the standard is met. Though the new standard is a national requirement, it will be down to local authorities to enforce it. In cases where it is not possible to meet the new standard on a property, it is not considered a criminal offense.
It is particularly important for tenants of rented properties to understand this standard since the responsibility to meet the requirements falls on the landlord or owner of the property, but the risk is entirely the tenants. Which is to say; it is not the landlord that could lose their lives in a fire if a rented property burns down with tenants inside. If you are renting and your home does not meet the new standard, contact your landlord and make them aware of the situation.
There is a technical and practical answer to the question of how long you have to comply to the new standard. The original date that the regulations were to come into force was February 2021. However, in light of the global pandemic and the ongoing restrictions as a result of COVID-19, this date has been pushed back to February 2022. So, technically speaking, you have until then to comply with the new standard.
However, it is worth noting that these regulations are for the safety of the occupants, and could well save lives once implemented. In other words; you are not legally obliged to comply with the new standard until February 2022, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it as soon as possible. And, arguably, you should do it as soon as possible. Especially if you are a landlord.
The new standard is not necessarily concerned with how many fire alarms you have in terms of a set, universal number. The number of fire alarms needed for a property will be determined by things like the size of the property, the layout of the rooms, and so on.
The type of alarms is also critical to comply with the standard. For example, fire alarms now need to be interlinked. This allows an alarm to signal a warning, even if that alarm isn’t in the vicinity of a fire. With unlinked alarms, you could have a fire alarm going off in a different part of the house and potentially sleep through it until it is too late. With interlinked alarms, the alarm nearest to you will also go off, ensuring that you are warned no matter where you are in the house.
There are also requirements on the way the alarm is powered, with mains-wired alarms and long-life lithium battery alarms being necessary to meet the requirements of the new standard. It should be noted that mains-wired alarms will need a professional electrician to install.
Again, the scope of the job will affect how much the final price is, but you can expect a professional, fully tested, and properly certified replacement fuse board to come to around £500.
While we would never tell you to spend more money than you need to, it is worth noting that anything less than £400 would be a very uncommon price, and perhaps worth investigating further. This is not the kind of work that you should allow to be done improperly, as it could result in significant inconvenience, if not serious injury if something goes wrong.
Many of us already have smoke alarms fitted in our homes and properties. Unfortunately, if these fire alarms do not meet the new standard, they will have to be replaced.
The most likely area where this will cause a problem is with interlinked fire alarms, since it is common to buy fire alarms individually, rather than an interlinked set. This is, unfortunately, a key part of the new standards, and needs to be met. If your existing fire and smoke alarms are not interlinked or do not meet the requirements regarding how they are powered, they will need to be replaced.
Naturally, there are several alarms that have the necessary specifications to meet the new standard. It would be ridiculous to legally require you to have smoke alarms that you cannot buy. In the interest of helping you find a smoke alarm that meets the new standards, we’ve highlighted a few options here.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list; there are other smoke alarms available that meet the required criteria. These are just a few options that we feel are worth looking at. If you would like a more detailed text on what is required of your smoke alarms, you can check out the government’s own information on the subject.
See the full government regulation here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/fire-and-smoke-alarms-tolerable-standard-guidance/
Radio-interlinked fire alarms with sealed batteries can be installed by anyone. They do not require wiring into the mains power, and they do not need to be physically connected to each other. This makes installation considerably easier when compared to smoke alarms that need wiring into the property’s electrical supply, since that will need a qualified electrician. And, depending on where your smoke alarms will be installed in relation to your electrical wires, installation can also be a quite disruptive process.
With radio-interlinked sealed battery smoke and heat alarms, each alarm is a self-contained, independent unit that can be fixed in place and activated without the need for professional electrical work. The alarms communicate with each other wirelessly, and the power comes from the battery. You may still need professional advice regarding where you mount your alarms and how many you need, so it may be worth your while to have an expert install them regardless.
Firehawk has a large selection of smoke alarms that meet the criteria under the new standard, including a range of wired alarms. While the installation process for mains powered alarms is undoubtedly a more involved affair that can be disruptive and requires a qualified electrician to carry out, there are advantages to this kind of alarm; namely that you do not need to worry about the power.
With an older smoke alarm, you would have to periodically change the batteries, and even newer smoke alarms with long-life batteries need replacing every so often. With main powered smoke alarms, the battery is only there for backup in the event that there is a power outage in your property.
The BRK 600 Series smoke alarms are a range of mains powered alarms with a life expectancy of around ten years. These alarms can be interlinked using a hardwire, which makes for a more reliable connection between alarms, and one that should not fall victim to interference in the that a wireless radio connection can.
These alarms come with a separate fixture that is mounted in place and wired up. The actual alarm is then clipped or screwed into the fixture. This is for convenience and means that replacing the alarm in the future will be a simple matter of unclipping or unscrewing the old alarm and popping the new one into place, rather than calling a qualified electrician to disconnect the old alarm and wire in a replacement one.
It is the responsibility of the property owner to ensure that the building meets the new standards, and there is no financial assistance explicitly offered by the government for this. That being said, local authorities have discretionary powers to provide assistance for homeowners, so it might be worth checking to see if any help is available.
If you live in care or sheltered housing, or you do not own the property you live in, it is not your responsibility to ensure your home meets the new standards, so make sure that those whose responsibility it is are aware if you are worried that the new standards are met.
If you have bought alarms, but they are not yet installed, you will need to get them installed. For alarms that are mains wired, you will need a qualified electrician to install them. Though there are situations where installing this kind of alarm could come under the category of “minor work” and, as such, not “notifiable”, meaning you can do it yourself, these situations are rare, and it is likely your installation would need certifying.
For alarms that are battery-powered and radio interlinked, you can install them yourself if you have the tools and know-how. That being said, don’t feel as though you should install them yourself just because you can. We have already stressed how important smoke alarms are, and the fact that the Scottish government is regulating in the way it is shows how important they think these alarms are. It is important to get them installed correctly. So, if you are in any doubt, get a professional to do the job for you.
Government regulation can often feel unnecessary, even oppressive at times. But, as the Grenfell incident that sparked these changes shows, the consequences of being unprepared can be tragic.
Don’t think of adding and upgrading smoke alarms to meet the new standard as merely a legal obligation, think of it as a necessary precaution to protect yourself and your loved ones in the unfortunate event of a fire. And, whichever style of smoke alarm you decide to go with, make sure it is installed correctly, even if that means calling in an expert to do the installation for you.