/ Health, Home & Energy

How often do you test your smoke alarm?

Smoke alarm

How often do you test your smoke alarm? Do you ever get the vacuum cleaner out to clean it? Testing and cleaning your smoke alarm could just save your life.

Your smoke alarm could save your life, so it’s vital that it can respond quickly to a fire in your home. But there’s not just one type of fire – they have to react to everything from fast-flaming materials like polyurethane to slow-smouldering materials like wood.

That’s why you can feel confident that the alarm you’re buying has been certified as tested to the British Standard in all types of fires. Or can you?

Smoke alarms our fail tests

In our recent test of smoke alarms, two FireAngel alarms failed to go off as required under the British Standards in one of the four test fires.

We advise people not to buy these two models (LSI-601 & SI-601) and have passed our findings on to Trading Standards. We also passed our findings on to Sprue Safety Products Ltd, the manufacturer, which is conducting its own investigations into our findings. Check out the smoke alarms that did best in our tests.

Testing your smoke alarms

Once you have a smoke alarm you can trust, you’ll want to keep it in good nick. Yet, not everyone does.

Around one in ten Which? members never check that their battery-powered smoke alarm is working. So how often should you test your alarm? You might not know it, but you should really be testing them once a week. Only 5% of people told us that they actually do this, with 11% only checking them when they beep.

However, checking they’re working isn’t the only thing you should be doing. You’ll also want to vacuum under the cover of your smoke alarm every six months, using the soft brush on your vacuum cleaner, to avoid dust particles interfering with the alarms performance.

Changing the battery

It’s also a good idea to change the battery every year. And don’t prise out the battery in frustration when the nuisance alarm in your kitchen won’t stop beeping after you’ve burnt a slice of toast. Or at least make sure you replace the battery straight after.

You should certainly make sure you’re not one of the 4% in our survey who don’t have either a smoke alarm or a carbon monoxide detector in their home.

So, how often do you check and clean your smoke alarm? And do you change the battery every year as recommended?

[UPDATE 31/10/2013] – Sprue Safety Products Ltd is the manufacturer of the two FireAngel smoke alarms that failed to go off in the parameters required by the British Standard when exposed to a test fire in our tests. At the time Which? magazine went to press, Sprue confirmed to us in writing its offer that it would provide alternative FireAngel alarms free of charge to Which? members who own the FireAngel SI-601 and LSI-601, despite questioning our methodology and results.

We are very surprised and disappointed to learn that Sprue Safety Products Ltd has now said that it will not honour this commitment because it now asserts the alarms are compliant with the British Standard. However, Which? has tested the Don’t Buy smoke alarms under rigorous British Standard conditions and we remain confident in our results. Accordingly, these alarms remain Don’t Buys.

We are very concerned that Sprue has reneged on its agreement to replace Don’t Buy alarms and we will be asking it to reconsider. We are also looking into how we can help those who have the Don’t Buy alarms and are concerned – if this applies to you, please contact our Customer Services helpdesk on 01992 822800. We will take your contact details and keep you posted about what’s happening.

Meanwhile, please do not take down any existing alarms you have and remember to test and clean them regularly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Comments

I have seven smoke alarms in my bungalow, including one in the hall and two with mute buttons in the kitchen. With this number of smoke alarms I feel it is adequate to test them at the start of each month, though sometimes the job is done more frequently. I test the batteries twice a year with a meter. I have one carbon monoxide alarm, in the room with a gas fire.

My smoke alarms seem to stay very clean, though I once vacuumed the one in the hall after a spider had taken up residence.

I used to test my alarms with smoke but have not done this for a few years, except the ones in the kitchen which frequently have to be muted when cooking.

An easy way to test smoke alarms is to keep a stick of the right length handy, to avoid climbing.

I test my smoke alarms when making toast. I know that’s not the right answer.

I don’t even have a smoke alarm :s *gets told off by Which?*

Just spoke to West Yorkshire Fire Service and they have booked me in for a “Home Fire Safety Check” and part of that is they will install fire alarms. All for free. I didn’t even think about getting one installed before so thanks Patrick 🙂

Well done Lee, glad you’re going to be safe now.

Figgerty says:
22 October 2013

Lee, I thought this service was only available to the elderly and disabled. I would say you must be using an old photo but I saw you on TV so know you are a young man. I might try my local fire station and see if I have adequate coverage and in the best position.

Wavechange, are all seven alarms connected so smoke or fire in one area sets off the other alarms.

I test my two alarms about every month or so and have unannounced tests when my cooking gets too hot. I change the batteries as soon as I get a warning beep. With Christmas coming up it is important for everyone to have an alarm as tree lights and candles cause many fires. I have a real flame gas fire and I always use it during the Christmas holiday. That and fancy dress children’s outfits are not a good mix.

I phoned up to see if they sold them (I wanted one free, but didn’t want to just ask for one). They said they install them on the “Home Fire Safety Check” and asked if I even had one. I said no and they booked one in and said they will install 2 for free 🙂

Figgerty says:
22 October 2013

As this rate Lee, you will be a rival to Martyn Lewis and his moneysaving website.

Lee, I followed your example and have an appointment with a few hunky firemen next week for my Home Fire Safety Check. Thank you for the information and for enabling me to get this service. They will fit whatever alarms they deem necessary and all in uniform!!

Hehehe,I’m glad I helped you out and I have to admit, I’m pretty excited to have a few guys in uniform in my house too lol

Figgerty

You asked if my alarms are interconnected. They are not, but every one of them has wakened me up at some time. Smoke alarms usually decide to announce that they need new batteries in the middle of the night when the heating is off and the temperature falls.

When I get round to moving house, I will go for interconnected alarms.

You seem to be able to fix anything, Wavechange. Are you sure that you would not be able to connect the alarms to each other. The alarms the fire service install have a ten year battery life. I expect they are disposable at that point. My alarms were bought in Argos at about ÂŁ10 each and they are about 8 years old. I think they are good value for money as I can sleep better at night because I believe they are protecting me. Peace of mind is priceless.

Linking alarms not designed to be linked would be a lot of work. Replacing batteries that are not intended to be user-replaceable is often reasonably easy, though possibly not economic for domestic appliances.

Long-life batteries are likely to be lithium. Hopefully they will become cheaper soon.

Peter Morgan says:
22 October 2013

Two alarms were already installed. Don’t check the batteries, but the (infrequent) burning of toast or something in the kitchen tests the ground floor one. As I don’t smoke and my neighbour is out more than in, not convinced there’s a lot that is achieved having them… except minor nuisance if I am having a late night fry-up at 3am and might wake my neighbour if the alarm is triggered.

(Letterbox also sealed with metal plates because previous owners had large dog, so a firework through the letter box isn’t going to be a problem!)

The concept of this smoke alarm from Nest intrigues me- http://nest.com/smoke-co-alarm/life-with-nest-protect/.

The ability to monitor the device from a smartphone app is a huge bonus.

While checking my smoke alarm batteries yesterday, I tested the alarms with smoke. I have some thick string that smoulders well and is ideal for producing enough smoke to do the job. Six of the alarms worked fine but the one in the hall was noticeably less sensitive than the others, and fitting a new battery made no difference.

I wonder how many people just check their smoke alarms by pressing the button.

I will replace my faulty alarm with one of those recommended in the November issue of Which? and take the faulty alarm for recycling.

John Dennis says:
25 October 2013

I have just talked with Sprue about the Which report advising against buying two of their alarms. (I have three of them.) Contrary to the report they are NOT offering to replace if consumers have concerns but are, relying on their BS and one other rating, saying there is nothing wrong with the units. They will replace if the units give out “warning Chirrups”. I am now seriously concerned that the protection I have bought will not function as intended. I woudl like to see the results of an urgent investigation by trading standards.

Maureen says:
27 October 2013

The 0845 141 2561 number you gave to contact Spruce doesn’t work and I too have several Fire Angels (3 of them) which failed your tests. Why bother testing if no one takes any notice!!!

John Dennis says:
27 October 2013

0845 141 2561 worked when I called them on Friday and it did again when I tried it a minute ago.

I visited my local B&Q recently to buy a replacement smoke alarm for the hall, and the only one with a light was the FireAngel model identified as a Which? ‘Don’t Buy’.

The Which? report identifies one FireAngel alarm as a Best Buy, two as Don’t Buys and one as fairly poor. It is amazing how often Which? reports reveal that products sold under a brand name can be either good or poor.

George says:
27 October 2013

I have two of the fire angel SI-601 alarms which you have said are don’t buy, however when I called the 08451412561 number I get message “this number not recognised”, looks like Sprue are not honouring promise to swap units. Don’t buy any of this companies products, they cannot be allowed ignore Which test results and ignore customer concerns.

John Dennis says:
27 October 2013

0845 141 2561 worked when I called them on Friday and it did again when I tried it a minute ago.

George says:
27 October 2013

Curious? I will try again tomorrow.

David Price says:
18 November 2013

I too have found that the telephone number given by Which? does not work so I used the Technical Services Helpline who explained that they stood by their own testing. I asked if they had issued a Press Release to this effect and they said that they would send me by e-mail a Letter they had prepared for anyone concerned. I await that as I only spoke today. My alarms are the Wireless Safe system as I am totally deaf to these alarms. There is very little that I can change to but maybe the WS! 610 is an alternative to the ill-fated SI-601.

I purchased a Kidde smoke alarm with a light to put in the hall. It is a variant of a Which? Best Buy incorporating a light. I had assumed that modern smoke alarms would have bright LED lamps but this one has a small filament lamp. The EI smoke alarm that it replaces has a much brighter lamp with a decent reflector, and that was bought 15 or 20 years ago. If I had bought this to light up the stairs in a house it would have been useless, but fortunately I live in a bungalow.

I will write to Kidde and tell them about new-fangled bright LEDs that consume little power, and also complement them on the good design features of the smoke alarm.

I received a prompt reply from Kidde.

Dear Mr *********

Thank you for your email.

I will certainly pass your suggestion through to our engineers for consideration in any future designs.

Kind regards

************

Maybe Which? could have a look at the i9080 and decide whether it is fit for its purpose.

Previously on this Conversation . . . Figgerty mentioned the special need for safety at Christmas time and the advisability of having an alarm because of the potential fire risks when there are
Christmas tree lights, candles, and a living flame gas fire in the room with children’s high jinks and antics going on. This is obviously very important and I would recommend that if there is not an alarm already installed in the room that an additional unit be placed temporarily at a high level [not too close to the gas fire] to give a warning when people are tucked up in bed upstairs and the living room is supposedly empty. It is not unknown for children to get up during the night and reconnoitre the fireplace area for signs of Santa coming down the chimbley! Things can get disturbed and Mr Claus might have just lit his pipe and left a lighted match behind. But seriously, I think it would be a good idea to treat a gas fire just like an open grate and have a close-mesh firesecreen in front of it when children are tearing open the gift-wrap and pulling crackers. If sensible safety precautions are taken before going to bed, like disconnecting all fairy lights, snuffing out all candles and turning the fire off , the greatest risk of a fire is not during the night but when the festive frolics are in full swing; then it’s not an alarm that is the priority but a means of quickly putting out a small fire should a bit of paper fly into the fireplace or too near a candle. Having a wet towel and a small bucket of sand handy might also be useful as well as thinking beforehand how to deal with an emergency [999, evacuating, shutting doors, etc] in case something dangerous occurs. It’s not just the little ones who have to be thought about; an older man with a paper hat on, a glass of brandy, and a fat cigar in his hand can be a volatile combination when their head drops onto the table after indulging in the feast of Stephen.

Excellent advice, but perhaps you have turned the calendar forward instead of turning the clocks back today, John. 🙂

Christmas is less than two months away and if we don’t consider fire safety now, we are likely to be too busy to worry about it close to Christmas. Also, quite a lot of John’s advise could equally apply to birthdays, Halloween and Guy Fawkes night as well.

Excuse my sense of humour, Figgerty. John’s advice is certainly timely for Halloween and Guy Fawkes.

My suggestion is for everyone to check their smoke alarms with smoke – without setting the house on fire of course. I cannot be the only one with a smoke alarm that was underperforming.

Wavechange, there are numerous households in this country that do not have any smoke alarms fitted and even more have removed the batteries when the toaster or something similar sets the alarm off. I don’t do a smoke test on my alarms. I just press the test button about once a month and my oven sets it off sometimes if it’s very hot and the kitchen door is open. I will ask the advise of the Fire Brigade when they come to carry out their Fire Safety Check later in the week.

I hope John manages to drink his brandy and enjoy a cigar this Christmas without coming to any harm.

I have read about these homes without smoke alarms or with the batteries removed. I never gave fire a thought until I moved to a new area and temporarily rented a flat. A neighbour hammered on my door in a state of panic because of a fire. I dealt with the fat fire easily but was badly affected by the smoke in a matter of seconds. After learning that this was the second time that my neighbour had a kitchen fire, I bought two smoke alarms, even though my flat had a fire alarm system with heat detectors. My two alarms cost a fortune back in 1980 but are still working fine, and I bought more when I bought a bungalow.

My frightening incident made me very aware of the danger of fire, which I had never given much thought to before. I expect that your Fire Safety Check will give useful advice such as planning escape including keeping keys for doors and windows handy and closing all doors at night.

Let’s all be safe – at Christmas and all other times. 🙂

Graham Follett says:
28 October 2013

I had some old cheapo alarms when I got a visit from the local fire service a couple of years ago. They were doing a house to house call to check up and offer FREE fire service approved alarms – FireAngel ST-620 – if necessary. They surveyed the house, recommended re-positioning what I had, but then pointed out the alarms did not conform. They then arranged to revisit and install free alarms in their recommended positions, which they did. they were brilliant and say they have agreements with the suppliers so that as and when they fail – which you’re warned about by a ‘peep peep’ and flashing light – they will replace free – apparently for ever! And one failed after about 18 months and has been replaced as promised

Well done Bedfordshire Fire Service. I feel safe in their hands.

Lisa says:
30 October 2013

I I have one of these models of FireAngel smoke alarms, i have just tried calling the number you gave but it does not work?!

Bill says:
30 October 2013

I also have a couple of Fire Angel LSI-601’s, obviously worried I contacted them via 02476 323232 (contact no on their website) as the number published did not work. Spoke to a member of staff who claim that the effected model has now been tested by an independent test house and the results prove they do perform to the relevant British Standard. Apparently they have submitted the results to Trading Standards and are in the process of communicating with Which. Not sure if this is BS from Sprue or not?

Pierre says:
31 October 2013

31st October – just spoken to FireAngel Ltd about Which? Don’t Buy smoke alarms (of which I have two) who maintain they have had the products tested in sufficient numbers since they became aware of the Which? report to satisfy themselves that the design is compliant with the relevant British Standard. That still leaves the question of whether or not there has been a problem in the manufacturing process that has affected production batches from which the Which? sample has been taken and that potentially I have also purchased. FireAngel say they cannot address that question until such time as Which? provides them with this information. I hope Which? can provide them with this information and provide its members with an update. FireAngel are refusing to supply free of charge replacements.

Hi all – just to update you on the situation with these two Don’t Buy alarms.

Sprue Safety Products Ltd is the manufacturer of the two FireAngel smoke alarms that failed to go off in the parameters required by the British Standard when exposed to a test fire in our tests. At the time Which? magazine went to press, Sprue confirmed to us in writing its offer that it would provide alternative FireAngel alarms free of charge to Which? members who own the FireAngel SI-601 and LSI-601, despite questioning our methodology and results.

We are very surprised and disappointed to learn that Sprue Safety Products Ltd has now said that it will not honour this commitment because it now asserts the alarms are compliant with the British Standard. However, Which? has tested the Don’t Buy smoke alarms under rigorous British Standard conditions and we remain confident in our results. Accordingly, these alarms remain Don’t Buys.

We are very concerned that Sprue has reneged on its agreement to replace Don’t Buy alarms and we will be asking it to reconsider. We are also looking into how we can help those who have the Don’t Buy alarms and are concerned – if this applies to you, please contact our Customer Services helpdesk on 01992 822800. We will take your contact details and keep you posted about what’s happening.

Meanwhile, please do not take down any existing alarms you have and remember to test and clean them regularly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Patrick, it is clearly essential that products that are claimed to comply with a BS do, in fact, meet their requirements. It would be interesting to know exactly how the products tested failed the smouldering wood fire test – was it outside a time limit for example and by how long? Was the retest done on the same alarms, or new samples from a different batch?

Thanks for that update. In view of the non-compliance of certain alarms under Which?’s test conditions and the wrangle with the manufacturers over replacement of defective units, consumers are left with very little reassurance over performance and reliability. Given that compliant alarms are readily available at quite low prices [and perhaps even free of charge from the Fire Brigade] it is understandable that householders might want to put new ones up in place of Fire Angel SI-601 and LSI-601 alarms and I am surprised that isn’t your recommendation.

Hi Malcolm – the British Standard measures the time the alarm takes to sound after smoke reaches a certain density (certain variables are measured very precisely – such as environmental conditions). The models all clearly fell outside of the parameters measured. The re-tests were done on new samples from a different batch.

And John – we’ve given those particular models Don’t Buys. It’s up to the consumer whether they replace the alarm, as the manufacturer considers them safe to use. One option is a replacement alarm, which we are asking the manufacturer to provide to those who want it (as they agreed). It’s worth noting that another FireAngel model was a Best Buy, passing all our fire tests. Thanks

Thanks Patrick.

I presume that it is now time to inform Trading Standards that these smoke alarms do not comply with the relevant British Standards. If independent testing shows that these alarms are non-compliant they should be withdrawn from sale and a recall issued by Sprue.

Quite a few years ago, Which? alerted us to a problem with a smoke alarm that did not respond fast enough. I recall following the advice and contacting the company, which promptly sent a replacement cover with more holes, to achieve a faster response.

I have just had my free Fire Safety Check by my local brigade. They surveyed the place and fitted two new Fire Angel ST-620 alarms. They are sited in a slightly different position to my existing alarms and have a ten year battery life. They advise testing once a week by just pressing a button. No smoke test necessary, they say. The also provided advise as to the best evacuation route and what to do to keep safe for longer in the event of evacuation not been possible.

Most importantly, they say that most household fires they attend is to homes without alarms of any type. Hard to believe that people have Sky dishes but no fire alarms.

The user manual lists Sprue technical support tel no as: 0800 141 2561