Kidde Safety explains how discrepancies between national Building Regulations, standards and other rules expose opportunities to increase installation of domestic smoke, heat and carbon monoxide alarms.
Definitive guidance for smoke and heat alarms is provided by the Code of Practice, BS 5839, Part 6: 2013. It covers both new and existing homes, whether for single families or HMOs consisting of self-contained units. BS 5839-6 takes the form of guidance and recommendations, and is not in itself mandatory. However, it does form the basis for Building Regulations guidance as well as housing standards, specifications, legal, insurance or other situations.
While BS 5839-6 is based on a risk assessment approach, it recognises that, in most cases, guidance tabulated in the Code can be applied as a minimum standard. It lists the minimum Categories (locations for alarms) and Grades (power sources) recommended for different types of housing. Typically, for new houses up to 3 storey and individual flats, the Code recommends Category LD2. This means smoke alarms in all escape routes and any areas where ffires might start, such as living rooms, plus heat alarms in all kitchens.
Installation of smoke and heat alarms to satisfy Building Regulations is a legal requirement for all new-build dwellings, changes of use and certain alterations. Different Regulations and related guidance apply in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This guidance is not suitable for existing properties where Building Regulations do not apply, because more alarms may be needed in older homes to take into account the poorer passive fire protection and other factors, as BS 5839-6 makes clear.
Regulations in Scotland and Northern Ireland effectively mirror the recommendations of BS 5839-6. But Approved Document B in England and Wales calls for lower standards – effectively Category LD3, with smoke alarms just in escape routes and heat alarms only in kitchens open to circulation areas.
Worryingly, BS 5839-6 stresses that with LD3 the evacuation time once ﬁre is detected in the circulation area might be quite short and also “might not prevent death or serious injury of occupants of the room where ﬁre originates” such as living rooms. There is a good case to recommend the BS 5839-6 standard in both new and existing properties with more alarms.
All the Building Regulation guidelines and also the Code are agreed in demanding Grade D hard-wired, interconnected smoke and heat alarms with back-up power, which should be professionally installed. Battery-only smoke alarms are not permitted where Building Regulations apply. But Grade D is also important for existing buildings and the Code excludes Grade F battery-only systems from all rented homes. This focus on hard-wired alarm systems is obviously beneﬁcial to electrical contractors.
It has also developed interest in energy saving products. For example, the latest generation of Firex alarms, exclusively manufactured and supplied by Kidde, offer a much lower maximum mains consumption, with substantial energy savings over previous models and significantly lower running costs. Based on current energy tariffs (March 2016 average kWh cost from the UK’s top 5 suppliers, between £0.099/kWh and £0.109/kWh), it costs less than £1 per year to operate a Firex smoke or heat alarm.
Recent rules also apply to privately rented homes. In England, the ‘Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations’ call for a smoke alarm on each ﬂoor with accommodation and a carbon monoxide alarm in any habitable room with a solid fuel appliance. The landlord, managing agent or other representative must check that alarms work at the start of each tenancy and replace any that do not, highlighting the need for long-term reliability.
The regulations do not distinguish between battery and mains smoke alarms. But, as we have seen, the BS 5839-6 recommends Grade D mains with back-up power, interconnected alarms – also a legal requirement for Scottish rented properties. The English Rental regulations also require a CO alarm – but only in habitable rooms with solid fuel heating appliances. In contrast, private rented properties in Scotland now have to meet a much higher standard, in line with the Technical Handbooks, already applying to all new and replacement combustion appliance installations.
CO alarm standard
The latest guidance on CO alarms is provided by BS EN 50292:2013. It recommends that, ideally, a CO alarm should be installed in every room containing a fuel-burning appliance plus other well-used rooms remote from the appliance, as well as all bedrooms. Where the number of CO alarms has to be limited, priority should be given to any room containing a flue-less or open-flue appliance and where the occupants spend most time. In addition, rooms with extended or concealed ﬂues passing through should also have an alarm.
Building Regulations throughout the UK all require CO alarms to varying degrees but only with installation of new or replacement combustion appliances – and excluding those used for cooking, unlike the Standard.
BS EN 50292’s more rigorous approach contrasts particularly starkly with the Part J Approved Document applying to England and Wales. This only requires a CO alarm with installation of certain, solid fuel heating appliances. The continuing toll of deaths and illness resulting from carbon monoxide incidents associated with other fuels and types of combustion appliances, including cookers, highlights the urgent need for a better benchmark than this. There is a strong case for electrical contractors to promote CO alarms, in line with the British Standard, wherever possible.
Hard-wired CO alarms
According to all the Regulations and BS EN 50292:2013 alarms can be powered by batteries designed for the whole working life of the alarm or by mains. Hard-wired alarms are easily installed in new-builds, refurbishments and re-wires, alongside hard-wired smoke and heat alarms, and together can offer extra safety features. For example, Kidde’s 4MCO and 4MDCO hard-wired CO alarms can be interlinked not only with each other but also with Firex hard-wired smoke and heat alarms, using the unique ‘Smart Interconnect’ feature for extra security.
In some situations, fitting a battery-only CO alarm may be simplest and, of course, battery quality is key to long term, problem-free performance. With this in mind, Kidde’s self-contained 10LLCO and 10LLDCO carbon monoxide alarms enjoy a full 10-year guarantee, covering both the alarm and sealed-in lithium battery.