How to protect the home from fire & carbon monoxide
Keeping you and your home safe from fire
We all want to keep our home and family safe. One of the most important ways we can do this is to ensure we have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms correctly installed at home. This guide will help you to choose the right type of protection for your home, and understand how to be prepared in case of an emergency.
We’ll also show you how to install, test and maintain your alarms in the accompanying article.
Smoke alarms offer vital protection as they provide an early warning, 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 four main types of smoke alarm:
- Ionisation - these alarms detect flaming fires before the smoke gets too thick.
- Optical - 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.
- Thermoptek - these alarms are multi-sensor, effective for the rapid detection of both fast-flaming and slow-burning fires by monitoring smoke and heat together. Ideal for any room in the house, except kitchens and bathrooms.
- Thermistek (heat detector) - these alarms detect rapid rises in temperature and are ideal for use in the kitchen, where most house fires begin. Thermistek alarms can also be used in other dusty environments such as garages.
Some smart alarm systems can test for both smoke and carbon monoxide (CO). Our Nest Battery Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarm can let you know what is wrong and can even alert your smart phone, whether you’re at home or away. They can also be silenced from your phone once you know everything is ok. But that’s not all. These smart alarms can self-test to check the batteries are okay. And, if you need a glass of milk in the night, built in LED’s light up as you walk underneath it to show you the way. Now that’s really smart.
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 televisions or freezers. Fit smoke alarms where you can hear them if you are asleep. Perhaps on an upstairs landing close to the bedrooms. Or if your living space is in one floor, in the hallway between living and sleeping areas. 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 (with thermistek heat sensing technology) in the kitchen. This will detect the increase in temperature caused by a fire but will not be set off easily by cooking fumes.
A smoke alarm could change 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 at least once a month (by pressing the test button) and the battery should be replaced every 12 months (unless it is a 10-year alarm). Some alarms are fitted with a sealed long-life battery, generally 10 years. The advantage of these is that you don’t have to replace the battery every year, but you do need a new alarm every 10 years.
Set yourself an email reminder
Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should be tested regularly to ensure they are working correctly. However, this can easily be forgotten, especially with so many other things to do. If you’re worried that you won't remember, set a reminder on your phone or add it to your calendar - this way you shouldn't forget.
For more advice on testing and maintaining your smoke alarms, read our guide to installing smoke 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.
For an enhanced level of safety, especially for high-risk individuals such as the deaf or those with hearing loss, children and people under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Take a look at the linked or paired range of alarms. These alarms can easily be linked and go off at the same time, avoiding the risk of people not hearing an alarm in a distant part of the house.
Look out for smoke alarms with an LED light to illuminate your escape route in the event of a fire.
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 produced, 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 and vision problems. Eventually resulting in collapse and loss of consciousness. These symptoms 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 most carbon monoxide detectors will not detect smoke and you will need a separate smoke alarm for this purpose. However, some of the latest alarms, for example the Nest Smoke and Monoxide Alarm, are able to detect both smoke and carbon monoxide.
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 1m 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 not above any windows or doors.
If you only have one fuel-burning appliance, for example a gas boiler, you only need one carbon monoxide detector. But if you have other appliances, such as a log burner or a gas fire in other rooms, you need to fit a carbon monoxide detector in each room that these appear in.
It is also important to not install your CO detector in the wrong place - this could cause it to 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 our guide to installing, testing and maintaining 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 carbon monoxide: if symptoms clear up when you're away from home and come back when you return. If other people in your household experience similar symptoms
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
Carbon monoxide safety whilst on holiday
Most battery powered CO alarms are battery operated and portable which makes them ideal for taking away with you on holiday. This can help keep you safe in hotels where you may be sleeping next to boiler rooms or above a room with a fireplace. If you’re camping, CO can enter your tent from a smouldering barbecue or campfire outside.
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.
- Check your fire extinguisher hasn’t passed its use-by-date.
- Domestic fire extinguishers are not all used in the same way. Read and remember the instructions when you buy one – you may not have the chance in the event of a fire.
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 as this will help reduce the fire from spreading. 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.
Choosing the right fire extinguisher
To meet European standards, all extinguishers have red bodies with a band of colour to indicate the extinguisher contents. You should make yourself aware of the different colours as they are used for different types of fire.
- Red body
Ideal for freely burning materials, such as paper, cloth and wood. Some contain water plus a special fire inhibitor that prevents materials burning. These extinguishers are not suitable and should not be used for flammable liquids or fires involving electrical appliances.
- Red body with cream band
Multi-purpose foam extinguishers are suitable for fires involving freely burning materials such as paper, cloth and wood, plus most flammable liquids.
- Red body with blue band
Suitable for flammable liquids and electrical apparatus and most freely burning materials. But remember that powder smothers rather than cools the flames, so a fire may reignite.
- Red body with black band
For fires involving flammable liquids or electrical equipment like computers, photocopiers or generators. Not to be used in confined spaces where fumes could be inhaled. Never touch the black horn or the bottom of the extinguisher when in use as this will become freezing.
Wet chemical extinguishers
- Red body with yellow band
Designed for fires involving cooking fats and oils, these extinguishers are most suitable for use in kitchens. When operated, they create a fine mist to cool the flames and preventing splashing.
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
Fire doors are designed specifically to reduce the rate at which fire spreads through a building, providing valuable time for you and your family to escape safely.
They have intumescent strips around the edges of the door that lie dormant during everyday use. However, when fire doors are in contact with extreme heat, they expand at a rapid rate, sealing the gap between door and doorframe, creating a barrier against fire.
Fire doors are not always plain looking. There are stylish options to choose from in a range of colours, thicknesses and finishes.
When installing a fire door, remember it can only be trimmed by the amount permitted on the manufacturer’s fitting instructions, so carefully check the door sizes against your opening before you buy.
If you’re renovating your home or adding an extension, it’s recommended that you use a fire door for any room where a fire is most likely to start. Likely places include the kitchen, a room with a fireplace or any room that contains electrical or flammable items. However, building regulations can be complicated, subject to change and vary from place to place. Because of that, we can't advise on these issues but you are advised to refer to the building regulations for the use and requirements of fire doors.
Make 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, usually for two and three storey houses.
Teach your household these steps to 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 away from any flammable materials and are in secure holders on a surface that does not burn (for example tea lights can melt through plastic surfaces on a bath or television top)
- Don't plug electric blankets into extension leads or multi-way 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