Blog: Smoke & CO alarm quality; what’s in a word?

Martyn Walley, national technical manager at Aico Ltd. advises on specifying smoke and CO alarms.

Have you ever started a specification or tender process based on the premise of let’s go for a poor quality product? No, of course not. Most people want a certain level of quality in the product they are specifying; when it comes to life saving devices, including Smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms, that quality bar needs to be set high.

But how do you actually identify quality in an alarm?

Setting Standards

Domestic alarms sold in the UK should be tested and approved (i.e. Kitemarked) to BS EN 14604 for Smoke Alarms, BS 5446-2 for Heat Alarms and BS EN 50292 for CO Alarms. The Kitemark is vital as it confirms the alarm has been third party tested to the standard.

However, there are some major differences in the build and quality of alarms, mostly as a result of manufacturing costs. For example, a good quality alarm will have careful circuit design that incorporates components to smooth out ‘transients’ which are often the cause of intermittent, random beeping and can even trigger fully fledged nuisance alarms.

Test and Test Again

Look for a manufacturer that tests every single alarm that leaves their premises. Avoid products that are batch tested.

Power Supply

Mains powered alarms with rechargeable Lithium cell back up is the best option as it doesn’t require battery changes and will continue to function as normal even in the event of a power failure. Furthermore the Lithium cells cannot be removed and, in any case, are not suitable for use in other devices.

Features of Note

A quality, well designed alarm also comes with many features.

Top of this list has to be the ability to interconnect the alarms wirelessly. Fire Alarm interconnection is a requirement of BS 5839-6 and Building Regulations. When an alarm system is installed using traditional hard-wired interconnection, the disruption and cosmetic damage to property is significant. Therefore, ensure an alarm has the ability to do this wirelessly, through the use of Radio Frequency (RF) signals. It’s faster, cabling and trunking costs are reduced and all the associated redecorating costs are eliminated.

RF technology has given rise to the ability to readily interconnect a Fire / CO Alarm system to other systems; the most common being Telecare/Warden Call systems, Sprinkler systems and BS5839 Part 1 panel based Fire Alarm systems.

Data extraction directly from an alarm in situ is another really useful alarm feature and a key indicator of quality. Smoke and CO Alarms have the potential to provide genuinely useful information such as battery back-up or battery life, alarm sensor status, number of times tested and removed and any alarm activation with details of when it occurred.

More recently, this data extraction has extended to cover whole systems, providing access to data on, for example, the number of devices on each system and their serial numbers, types of alarms, location of alarms, etc.

Accessories

 The better quality alarm systems on the market now come with a choice of accessories and system add ons. Some of the most beneficial, in my opinion, are those that provide an added element of control to the alarm system, such as Test, Silence and Locate switches. These allow the resident to test and silence all the alarms on the system from the one conveniently placed switch as well as allowing for quick identification of the unit that has caused the alarm. These can also distinguish between a Fire or CO incident if you have both included on the system, allowing the resident to take the correct actions for the type of incident that has occurred.

Getting the Support you Need

Lastly, I think we should mention the level of support you receive from the manufacturer as a vital part of the overall quality indicator. That support should feature specification and technical support and cover easy to understand product information, plus training.

It’s fair to say that quality comes at a premium. With fire and CO detection equipment you really do get what you pay for and spending less can mean a noticeable effect on alarm performance, providing a false economy. Installing quality fire and CO detection equipment is a financially sound long term strategy and one that residents deserve.

Martyn Walley, is national technical manager at Aico Ltd.