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Battery-powered smoke alarms failed in more than a third of property fires

As you will undoubtedly know, it is a legal requirement to ensure your rental property has adequate smoke detectors installed. 

Some landlords think they are required to install mains powered alarms but this is not the case, as battery technology is also accepted. 

Some smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are now manufactured with a 10-year sealed battery unit, and these types of alarms are typically cheaper and more convenient alternative to mains powered alarms.

But worryingly, fresh analysis shows that battery-powered smoke alarms actually failed in more than a third of residential property fires in England last year. 

Firefighters attended more than 7,500 fires in homes with battery-powered alarms last year and found that 38% failed to alert residents of the danger.

Incorrect positioning caused almost half - 45% - of the failures, while missing or faulty batteries caused 20%.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which analysed the data, is urging people to test their smoke alarms regularly, but especially during the run-up to Christmas when festive decorations, candles and lighting pose a potentially greater fire risk.

Of 29,586 property fires attended in England between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, 22,475 homes were fitted with a smoke alarm.

Battery-powered smoke alarms were found in 7,692 of the homes - but, of these, 2,899 (38%) failed to sound.

Mains-powered smoke alarms, by comparison, were less likely to fail, with failures reported in 21% of fires.

Industry figures suggest that one in 10 households do not have a working smoke alarm, while 22% never test theirs.

Cllr Ian Stephens, chair of the LGA’s fire services management committee, commented: “Smoke alarms are proven life-savers, but these worrying ‘failure’ rates are a reminder to people to test their smoke alarms regularly and change batteries where necessary.

“Smoke alarm ownership has risen over the years to more than 90 per cent, but this encouraging trend is being dangerously undermined if they don’t activate due to faulty batteries.

“The run-up to the festive season is a timely reminder of the importance of fire safety, but working batteries aren’t just for toys at Christmas – they are needed in smoke alarms all-year round.

“With the increased potential fire risk from Christmas trees, decorations, candles and lighting, and people spending more time using heaters, open fires, and cooking hot food during the colder winter months, anyone without a smoke alarm should buy and fit one as soon as possible. They should also check the alarms of less able family members and those on their own - it may save their life.

“Many fire and rescue services can fit smoke detectors for free as part of a home fire safety visit.”

Poll: Do you have battery-powered smoke alarms fitted in any of your BTL properties?

PLACE YOUR VOTE BELOW

  • Andrew McCausland

    Pushing the alarm test button just proves that the button and sounder works, not that the unit can detect smoke. On the recommendation of very highly qualified fire risk assessor we had to use for a large commercial project, we invested in smoke puffer bottles and use this to test the detectors before each tenant move in. I would recommend them. They are around £15 each and mean you are sure the smoke detectors actually work - unless the tenants later take the batteries out for their TV remote.

    Daniela Provvedi

    Excellent point, Andrew. I didn't think about it that way (ie. by pushing the button doesn't mean the alarm works) and clearly neither did the Inventory clerk. I'll definitely invest in a smoke puffer bottle. Thanks for the advice!
    However, if I may, once the Landlord proves at the start of the tenancy that the smoke alarm works, the responsibility falls on the tenant, for the remainder of the tenancy, to keep checking that it still works.

     
  • icon

    Why does no-one ever mention that all smoke alarms have a life span? If the unit has expired the chances are that the sensors have died inside and the unit must be replaced. You can continue to purchase batteries which will work when tested but if the sensors have expired and there is a fire the unit won't work regardless of whether the battery is regularly changed. Just wanted to put it out there. The comment about the puffer thing we were advised not to get them as not truly effective, sorry just what we were told.

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