We all want to keep our home and family safe, and one of the most important ways we can do this is to ensure that we have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms correctly installed at home. This guide will help you to choose the right alarms for your home, and understand how to be prepared in case of an emergency at home.
Smoke alarms offer vital protection as they provide an early warning of trouble, and will alert you to a fire even if you are asleep. They should be tested regularly, but it is also essential that you and all other members of your household understand how to react should the alarm sound.
Types of smoke alarm
There are two types of smoke alarm;
- Ionisation Alarms - these alarms detect flaming fires before the smoke gets too thick.
- Optical Alarms - these alarms are more effective for detecting slow-burning, smouldering fires and are less likely to go off accidentally. Ideal for use in ground-floor hallways and homes on one level.
For the best protection, use a combination of these alarms in your home.
Where to put your smoke alarm
The Fire Service recommend that you install at least one smoke alarm on every level of your home. In addition, it is wise to install extra alarms in rooms containing large appliances, such as TVs or freezers. Fit smoke alarms where you can hear them if you are asleep - on an upstairs landing close to the bedrooms, or in the hallway between living and sleeping areas if your living space is on one floor. Don't install smoke alarms in the bathroom as steam may set these off accidentally.
Fit your smoke alarm to the ceiling, as close to the centre of the room or hallway as possible. Try to keep at least 30cm away from the wall or any light fittings.
Smoke alarms should not be installed in kitchens or garages where they can be set off accidentally by steam or exhaust fumes. Instead, install a heat detector - not intended to replace smoke alarms elsewhere in the home, but designed to notify of a fire in this room. This will allow extra time to evacuate the building or to put out the fire if possible.
A smoke alarm could save your life - test it, change it, replace it
- Fit a smoke detector on every floor of your home, ideally on the ceiling of a hallway or landing
- Don't put a smoke detector in the kitchen where it can be set off accidentally
- Test the batteries once a week (by pressing the test button) and change them once a year. Some detectors have long life batteries and automatic testing facilities but it is better to be safe than sorry
For more advice on testing and maintaining your smoke alarms, read How to install, test and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
Low frequency, vibrating and visible alarms
There are a wide range of specialist products to help make sure all members of your household are aware of any potential dangers. Low frequency alarms produce a lower tone than regular smoke alarms, meaning they are much more likely to wake younger children, those with hearing difficulties and older people. Strobe alarms flash repeatedly to alert the household to the alarm, whilst vibrating pads can be placed under a hand or pillow whilst sleeping to provide an additional warning. Use these in conjunction with regular smoke alarms to be sure that everyone in the home is aware of a fire.
Carbon monoxide detectors
A carbon monoxide (CO) alarm should be fitted in any home that contains a fuel burning appliance, like a boiler, and tested regularly to ensure that it is working.
What is carbon monoxide (CO)?
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas that can cause harmful and potentially fatal effects.
Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete burning of fossil fuels, such as gas. This can occur in inadequately maintained or badly fitted domestic heating appliances, such as boilers and gas fires. If your flue or chimney is blocked, CO will be unable to escape your home if produce, allowing a dangerous concentration to quickly build up.
If carbon monoxide escapes into your home it will cause symptoms that include headaches, breathlessness, drowsiness, vomiting, chest pains, dizziness, vision problems and eventually collapse and loss of consciousness – which can easily be confused with, or misdiagnosed as, flu, fatigue or food poisoning. Be aware of the symptoms and be prepared to react if you recognise them in yourself or others.
Reducing the risk
When was the last time your boiler was serviced? Ensuring that your gas appliances are installed and regularly serviced by Gas Safe Registered engineers is the first step to safety within your home. Landlords are legally obliged to have an annual gas safety check completed in every property they let - and should provide tenants with a copy of the certificate.
Install a carbon monoxide alarm in your home. The sensing technology in a carbon monoxide detector accurately measures the levels of CO and the time of exposure, and is designed to sound before carbon monoxide levels become threatening.
Where to install carbon monoxide (CO) detectors
It’s important to note that your carbon monoxide detector will not detect smoke - you will need a separate smoke alarm for this purpose
Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed in every room that contains a fuel burning appliance. You can install them in other rooms to ensure adequate warning is given for occupants in other areas of your home - such as in rooms where people sleep.
Install your detector at a horizontal distance of between 1 and 3m from the potential source. If this is on the ceiling, it should be at the highest point (if you have a sloped ceiling) and at least 30cm from any obstruction, such as light fixtures. If this is on the wall, it should be located approximately 15cm from the ceiling but above any windows or doors.
It is also important to not install your CO detector in the wrong place - this could cause it go off unnecessarily, or not go off when needed. Don't locate your alarm in the following places:
- In an enclosed space, for example in a cupboard
- Where it can be obstructed, for example by furniture
- Next to a door, window, extractor fan or air vent
- In an area where the temperature may drop below -10°C or exceed 40°C
- Where dirt and dust may block the sensor
- In a damp or humid location, for example in the bathroom or above a sink
- Within 1m of any appliance
To find out how to fit your carbon monoxide alarm, read How to install, test and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
Carbon monoxide (CO) safety tips
- Fit an audible carbon monoxide alarm and test it regularly
- Get fuel-burning appliances serviced annually by a Gas Safe Registered engineer
- Keep ventilation ways clear and have flues chimneys swept at least once a year to identify and remove any blockages
- Check that you have enough ventilation in every room, and that air vents are kept clear
- Be aware of the symptoms: headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, collapsing and loss of consciousness are all signs of CO poisoning
- Key signs of exposure to cabon monoxide: if symptoms clear up when you're away from home and come back when you return, or if other people in your household experience similar symptoms
To find out how to test and maintain your carbon monoxide alarm, read How to install, test and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
If your carbon monoxide (CO) alarm sounds
- Switch off gas-fuelled appliances (boiler, cooker, gas fire) and open doors and windows in the room to ventilate. Do not sleep in the room
- Call the Gas Emergency Freephone Number 0800 111 999
- Visit your doctor or hospital urgently and tell then you believe you have symptoms related to carbon monoxide. Request a breath or blood test
If it is safe to do so, small household fires can be tackled with appropriate fire extinguishers and blankets, preventing a larger incident.
Choose a fire extinguisher designed for home use. The extinguisher itself will have clear instructions for use and suggest the best place to locate it in the house.
Domestic fire extinguishers aren't all used in the same way. Try to read and remember the instructions when you buy one - you may not have chance if there's a fire. It may be useful to print a larger, simpler version of the instructions and place next to the extinguisher so it is easy to see in an emergency.
How to use an extinguisher safely
Before you tackle even the smallest fire, make certain that everyone has been evacuated and the alarm has been raised. Find a place where you've got unrestricted access to the fire, and where you can make a quick and safe retreat if you need to. It's a good idea to crouch, as this will help you keep clear of smoke, avoid heat and get closer to the fire. Follow the operating instructions carefully - and ensure the fire is completely extinguished, and won't re-ignite or continue smouldering.
Don't continue to fight a fire if:
- It's dangerous to do so
- Your escape route might be cut off by fire or smoke
- The fire continues to grow, in spite of your efforts
- There are gas cylinders that are threatened by fire
As you go away from the scene of the fire, close windows and doors behind you wherever you can. And don't use an extinguisher to put out burning gas. Turn off the gas supply if it's safe to do so, and call 999.
Take care with hot oil as it can easily catch fire. A fire blanket is the safest way to extinguish a pan fire but you could also use a damp tea towel. Most modern blankets are made of woven glass and some are coated to ensure oils and fats can't penetrate.
Turn off the heat source, hold the blanket so your hands are protected behind it, then drape it over the pan. The flames will be smothered immediately, but you mustn't remove the blanket for at least 30 minutes so the heat has time to die down.
Install your fire blanket close to, but not above, the hob.
Never pick up a blazing pan and take it outside, as any flames that blow back could make you drop the pan - and you could get burned.
If you experience a large pan fire that's out of control the safest thing to do is get out, stay out and call 999
- Never throw water on it
- Turn off the heat if possible
- Do not move the pan
Prepare an escape plan
Practicing a fire drill is the best way to learn how to react quickly and a great way to get the family working together. Make sure you know what to do should the worst happen
- The best route is the usual way in and out of your home
- Plan escape routes and keep exits clear
- Get everyone to practice your escape plan
- Keep door and window keys handy - tell members of your household where they are
Another way out
If a fire gets out of control it may block access to the staircase trapping people upstairs, so exiting through a window could be your only option. A compact escape ladder could help you get out safely. Simply keep one on the landing or in an upstairs bedroom for easy access. Escape ladders are lightweight but strong, flame-resistant and easy to use - and come in different lengths for 2 and 3 storey houses.
Home fire safety advice
Teach your household these steps to fire safety
- Teach your family all the dangers of fire, and practice your fire escape plan thoroughly
- Fit a smoke alarm on each level of your home. Keep them free from dust, test the alarm regularly and replace batteries once a year
- Be prepared: install an household fire extinguisher in a prominent position, and a fire blanket close to (but not above) the hob
- Unless a fire is very small and can be put out with a domestic fire extinguisher, do not tackle it yourself. Get out, stay out and call 999
- Never leave a hot pan with oil in it unattended. If a pan fire starts, contain it by turning off the heat source then covering the pan with a damp tea towel or fire blanket if you have one. Leave it covered for at least 30 minutes while the heat subsides
- Don't overload electrical sockets. Remember one plug for one socket
- Keep matches, lighters and candles out of sight and reach of children
- Never leave lit candles unattended or where children are alone. Ensure candles are in secure holders on a surface that does not burn and are away from any flammable materials
- Don't plug electric blankets into extension leads or multiway sockets, as this can increase the risk of these being switched on accidentally
- Never dry clothes or materials near a fire
- In the event of a fire, make yourself heard and get everyone out. Try to shut all doors behind you if possible to contain the fire and call the fire brigade
How to prevent common fires in the kitchen
- Do not leave cooking unattended - take pans off the heat
- Switch off the oven or hob when you have finished cooking
- Spark devices are safer than matches or lighters to light gas cookers
- Keep electrical leads, tea towels and cloths away from oven or hob
- Never leave children alone in the kitchen
- Take care when wearing loose clothing if cooking - it can easily catch fire
If your clothes catch fire - Stop, drop and roll
- Don't run
- Lie down and roll around
- Smother flames using a heavy material like a coat or blanket
- Call 999, or ask someone else to, if needed