/ Home & Energy

How often do you check your smoke alarm?

smoke alarm

Do you have a smoke alarm in your home? If you do, you’re not alone. But how often do you test it and do you even know if it’s up to the job it’s supposed to do?

New Which? research is reassuringly positive about the widespread ownership of this potentially life-saving little product, with 19 out of 20 Which? members telling us that they have an alarm fitted and eight out of ten having more than one around their home.

But ownership is one thing – do you know if your smoke alarm actually works and do you ever test it?

The same Which? research revealed that fewer than one in twenty Which? members checks their alarms regularly enough.

Just 4% of smoke alarm owners told us that they run a weekly alarm check, which is recommended by the London Fire Brigade. Seven in ten owners admitted to checking their alarms only every six months or even less frequently than that. And 2% of owners admitted to never checking their alarms at all.

Which? survey results

With products like this – where being in working order is absolutely critical but impossible to tell – running a check every week is the best way you can make sure your smoke alarm is primed and ready to let you know when there’s a fire. So, why not ink it in to the diary alongside something you do weekly, such as cooking the Sunday roast or putting the bins out?

Don’t Buy smoke alarm

Which? tests shows that you can’t always trust the alarms you find in the shops to sound when you need them to.

When we last tested smoke alarms in November 2013, one of them failed our tests. Then, when we tested carbon monoxide alarms in November 2016, we found three that would let you down.

And now, following our most recent smoke alarms test, yet another product designed to save lives has failed at the one job it’s meant to do.

Our tests suggest that in certain types of fast-flaming fires, such as those caused by plastics and solvents, the Don’t Buy Devolo Home Control Smoke Detector (30%, £53-£163) may not sound. This is what we found with one of the two samples we tested.

A second sample of this Devolo alarm passed all of our fire tests, but only just made it through the flaming plastics fire test, triggering at the very last permitted moment.

Devolo told us that safety is its number one concern and it aims to follow the highest international standards. It went on to say it’s concerned by our results and that the alarm has passed standard safety tests at two certified test labs.

But we’re so worried about the safety implications of this smoke alarm failing our tests that we’re calling on Devolo to remove it from sale while it investigates. We have passed our findings on to Trading Standards.

Do you have a smoke alarm fitted in your home or even more than one? How often do you check it?


Every time I make toast, even though no smoke visible the detector, which in the hall not the kitchen, still triggers if the kitchen to hall door is open.
So it is checkedd weekly on sunday.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

If you read the article again, Duncan, Albert Donnay stated: “Because the source is small, this is not enough to cause any detectable rise in CO in the kitchen away from the toaster.”

I expect that Evertonboy has a smoke alarm in the hall.

Whilst seeking the Donnay article I came across this

One part of the article discusses idiot owners and creating kitchen fires.

Usefully the article highlights the fact that different breads, widths, temperature etc affect how toast can brown.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Evertonboy was (almost certainly) referring to a smoke alarm in the hall.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

But it’s standard practice (and a requirement with new houses) to put smoke alarms in the hall, not carbon monoxide alarms. The latter are generally placed in rooms with appliances that use gas or solid fuel.

A year on and the Which? Magazine (p61 Sept) resurrects this topic. Under a heading Weak safety standards it says the standard – BS EN14604 – “continues to reward slow-reacting alarms in almost all fire situations” .

Last year BSI pointed out to Which?:
BSI response to Which? article on smoke alarms
24 August 2017

BS EN 14604 is a well-established and respected standard that has been utilized by government, regulators and the industry alike for a number of years to define best practice for smoke alarm devices.

The standard covers the main two types of smoke alarm, optical and ionisation, and clearly recognizes that they will behave differently depending upon the type of fire scenario they are being tested to. This latest research by Which? attempted to compare these two different types of alarm side by side across 4 differing test scenarios. The Which? article itself very clearly explains the difference in performance between the two types of alarm, and suggests where each might be best used in the home.

The test fires set out in the standard are designed to ensure that whichever technology is used, or the type of fire encountered, the smoke alarm provides adequate warning in the event of a real fire. The tests conducted are designed to measure the smoke alarms response to the very early stages of a developing fire. This is to ensure the smoke alarm provides adequate warning in the event of a real fire.

This is not BSI standard, but an international one, developed by national committees of experts. BSI’s committee is FSH/12/2 and includes:
B R E – Building Research Establishment
B S I A – British Security Industry Association
British Fire Consortium
F I A – Fire Industry Association
National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC)
National Landlords Association
UL International (UK) Ltd

Which? were invited to discuss their comments with the committee and were invited to join. This is the best way to contribute.

It is right that organisations should be active in looking at safety and adding constructively to it. However, I wonder why Which? feels its own expertise is so superior to that of the experts on these committees that it can condemn their efforts as “weak”? Does it know something the rest do not?

It seems to me that the standard allows a (relatively short) band of time within which an alarm must sound, but there will be a time band to allow for different technologies, different fire types, and tolerances. It uses developing fires and is designed to ensure the alarm on test triggers at as early a stage as possible when there is the likelihood of a fire.

Perhaps, now they have been invited on to the committee, Which? will explain, what the response was to their test findings and whether the committee agrees, or not, that the standard is “weak”. Which? should be aware that a new draft was put out for public comment and these comments are, according to BSI’s website, due to be resolved in October. Did Which? make appropriate comments? As the draft was public, could Which? tell us what changes were suggested?

Years ago I learned from the magazine that Which? tests had found that a smoke alarm responded slowly. They had been in touch with the manufacturer, which had provided information about obtaining a replacement cover with more holes in it. Information in the magazine and on the website has often been useful.

I presume that after a year, Which? has not been provided with feedback that allays its concerns about alarms responding too slowly. Which? has reported the matter to the recently created Office of Public Safety and Standards and hopefully we might learn more soon.

Which? was invited to join the BSI Committee last year, having been also asked to submit its findings. It now seems to be taking part. Hopefully we will learn more from this recent cooperation.

As I explained above in BSI’s response to Which? they explained the time band for alarms, and the standard gives what are regarded as acceptable upper limits for effective alarms. Whether the revisions to the standard, that were put out for public comment, were responded to by Which?, and whether it was decided to change the parameters in question, we could learn from Which?.

Which? have reported non-compliant alarms to the OPSS. As far as I know these were not alarms that passed the standard. The ebay ones were effectively fakes.

Here is an example of an alarm that was considered as inadequate by Which? https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/smoke-alarms/devolo-home-control-smoke-detector

I think this was the most expensive model in the test (at the time £169, if I recall correctly), so not one of the very cheap ones sold online.

Here is some more information, linked to the same page:
“Devolo told us its detector was tested by Trading Standards to clauses from the smoke alarms standard in November 2017, the product passed the tests and was rated as being safe.” I presume that the tests referred to were the official ones.

I think the general public deserves to know whether alarms that have been sold and on sale are fit for their purpose. The published standards are minimum standards and when it comes to buying a smoke alarm, many of us would like to know that they are buying one that will want the fastest alert possible. If used in or near a kitchen there might be a good case for a delay to prevent nuisance alarms, but not in bedrooms for example.

Which? has chosen to make public criticism of safety standards and I would appreciate feedback that is made public. Maybe OPSS is in the best position to do this.

BSI has not KitemarkTM certified all of these products and BSI did not certify the Devolo alarm that Which? claimed failed two of the four tests.

You’d have to ask trading standards (which one?) whether they had tested the alarm but as Which? presumably test to the BS EN 14604 then no, it did not pass the standard. Why Devolo should ask a trading standards office to test their alarm, or whether it was done in response to a complaint, I have no idea. Seems rather odd. Elsewhere they say “The company said the detector had passed test procedures in two German laboratories, but safety was its “number one priority”, and it would be “extensively investigating” the results..

Safety standards give the requirements all products must pass to be deemed safe, and to allow them to be placed on the European market. Manufacturers can, and often do, exceed these requirements. Products “fit for purpose” (if you like) will carry a certification mark – like BSI Kitemark or ENEC – or should have comprehensive documentation provided that demonstrates compliance and allows the use of the CE Mark.. Vendors are responsible for ensuring the integrity of products they market. ebay seems negligent in this case.