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Smoke Alarms

FAQs

  1. Which type of smoke alarm should a homeowner purchase?
  2. Which type of alarm is more effective?
  3. What should tenants do if they don't have a working smoke alarm?
  4. Where should I install my smoke alarms?
  5. When should I replace my smoke alarm?
  6. Why does my smoke alarm go off a lot?
  7. Why does my alarm beep?
  8. Where do I get Ontario Fire Marshal information on Smoke Alarms?
  9. How often should a residential apartment building conduct fire drills?
  10. Are there fire codes for homes converted to separate residential units?
  11. Are smoke alarms utilizing ionization technology less effective than photoelectric type smoke alarms?

 

For more information, download the following pamphlet:
Smoke Alarm Pamphlet  Adobe PDF, 1 page, 88 KB

 

1.  Which type of smoke alarm should a homeowner purchase?

It is the consumer's responsibility to assess the circumstances of their household and to select the most appropriate alarm. However, an important consideration in the purchase of a smoke alarm is conformance to a recognized standard. In Ontario, CAN/ULC-S531 is the recognized standard for both the ionization and photoelectric types of alarms. Both ionization and photoelectric type products conforming to this standard are available on the market. A homeowner will know that a smoke alarm meets the requirements of this standard by the ULC or cUL label on the device.

 

2.  Which type of alarm is more effective?

There is no simple answer to this question. The two types operate on different principles and therefore may respond differently to various conditions. Some advantages to each type are set out below:
Ionization

  • Fastest type to respond to flaming fires
  • Lowest cost and most commonly sold
  • Some models have a hush or temporary silence feature that allows silencing without removing the battery
  • Some models are available with a long life battery
  • Photoelectric
  • Fastest type to respond to slow smoldering fires and white or gray smoke
  • Less prone to nuisance alarms from cooking

Notwithstanding these differences, to achieve ULC listing, both alarms must be tested to the same standard and meet the same requirements. Photoelectric smoke alarms may respond slightly faster to smoldering fires, while ionization alarms respond slightly faster to flaming fires. Since you can't predict the type of fire that will occur, it is difficult to recommend which is best. Both alarms will detect all types of fires that commonly occur in the home. Installing both types of smoke alarms in your home can enhance fire safety.

Information provided by the Office of the Fire Marshal 

 

3.  What should tenants do if they don't have a working smoke alarm?

The Ontario Fire Code states that the owner is responsible for both the installation and maintenance of smoke alarms. It also states that "Smoke alarms shall be maintained in operating condition by the owner."  This means at all times. Tenants should test the smoke alarms as per the manufacturers recommendations.  Tenants should contact the owner with any problems.

 

4.  Where should I install my smoke alarms?

The Ontario Fire Code states:" Effective March 1, 2006, it is the law for all Ontario homes to have a working smoke alarm on every storey and outside all sleeping areas. With this previously announced Fire Code amendment now in effect, it is hoped there will be a reduction of the number of preventable fire-related injuries and fatalities.

The amendment covers single family, semi-detached and town homes, whether owner-occupied or rented."

 

5.  When should I replace my smoke alarm?

Studies have shown that alarms should be replaced after seven to 10 years.

 

6.  Why does my smoke alarm go off a lot?

It may be dirty. Clean the unit with a vacuum cleaner - dust particles can and often do set off false alarms.

The alarm may also need to be moved or replaced. It could be too close to the kitchen, bathroom, or heat register. If the alarm appears to be defective, replace it as soon as possible.

 

7.  Why does my alarm beep?

It may have a weak or inappropriate battery. Check the manufacturer's instructions.  The unit may be malfunctioning and should be replaced.

 

8.  Where do I get Ontario Fire Marshal information on Smoke Alarms?

Refer to Working Smoke Alarms It's The Law

9.  How often should a residential apartment building conduct fire drills?

The frequency of fire drills is governed by the Ontario Fire Code (OFC, 2.8.3).  The frequency of required fire drills in residential apartment buildings is typically determined by the building's height.  In a low-rise apartment building such as a 3 storey, with 16 units, a fire drill is required to be conducted at least once annually (OFC, 2.8.3.2.(1)).  In a highrise apartment building (which is typically 7 storeys or greater) a fire drill is required to be conducted at least once every three months (OFC, 2.8.3.2.(1)(c)).

 

10.  Are there fire codes for homes converted to separate residential units?

If the building was originally a single home and the owner has converted it into separate apartments there are specific things the owner should have done to legalize the conversion.  The process includes obtaining various approvals and permits from city zoning, planning, building and fire departments.

 

11.  Are smoke alarms utilizing ionization technology are less effective than photoelectric type smoke alarms?

Claims are generally made about significantly delayed response times from ionization alarms as determined through testing or studies by various people, predominantly in the U.S.A. Many of these articles go on to suggest that people should replace their ionization smoke alarms with photoelectric or combination units.

The Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM) has stressed to the fire service that the public needs to be provided with properly balanced, accurate information. Scientifically-based testing conducted by the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) and Underwriters Laboratories Incorporated (UL) measures the performance of both types of smoke alarms against internationally developed and approved standards. This testing continues to demonstrate that both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms that meet these standards will respond as early warning devices well before a fire situation gets to be untenable and can provide sufficient time for escape. Quite simply, the science does not support claims that ionization smoke alarms are less effective than photoelectric alarms.

Because ionization and photoelectric alarms operate on different principles they may respond differently to various fire conditions. However, it is important for the public to understand that regardless of the type of technology used, both alarms are tested to the same standard and must meet the same level of performance to achieve ULC listing. Since one cannot predict the type of fire that may occur, installing both types of alarms can enhance fire safety.

When purchasing smoke alarms, consumers should look for a product which bears the mark of an accredited certification organization. This signifies that the unit has been manufactured and tested to an acceptable Canadian standard.

The OFM feels that a much more important issue than the type of smoke alarm technology people have is the number of people that die in fires in homes that are not equipped with any working smoke alarms. In Ontario, between 2005 and 2009, 63 fire fatalities occurred in preventable residential fires in homes where smoke alarms were either missing, had dead batteries or no batteries installed at all.