Are you safe? Smoke alarms 'so poor they shouldn't be sold'

Tenants should not remove smoke alarms, and were responsible for replacing dead batteries. Photo: Getty Images
Tenants should not remove smoke alarms, and were responsible for replacing dead batteries. Photo: Getty Images

Ionisation-type smoke alarms performed so “poorly” in tests watchdog Consumer NZ is calling for them to be pulled from shelves.

While all smoke alarms would respond to a fire eventually the difference was in responding to visible smoke, Consumer NZ head of testing Dr Paul Smith said.

“A smouldering fire can fill a home with deadly smoke long before it bursts into flames.”

Ionisation alarms gave much less warning of smouldering fires than photoelectric alarms, the Consumer NZ tests found.

Smouldering flames include those caused by faulty electrical wiring, curtains draped over a heater, or a hot ember igniting upholstery foam, making it less likely for people to be able to get out of their homes safely.

The tests showed ionisation models were great at detecting flames, but not so good with visible smoke.

“The four ionisation alarms in our test were faster at detecting flaming fires (burning oil and wood) but much slower at detecting smoke from smouldering foam,” Smith said.

He said people should purchase photoelectric alarms instead. These were also recommended by the New Zealand Fire Service, and the Residential Tenancies Act required all new alarms landlords installed to be photoelectric with a long-life battery.

“We think ionisation alarms should not be sold and are working with retailers to remove them from their shelves,” Smith said.

People could identify an ionisation alarm from a radioactive symbol on the alarm body.

Consumer NZ advised people not to remove working ionisation alarms, but to also fit photoelectric models at least in hallways and escape routes.

It advised landlords should ensure all new smoke alarms were photoelectric models with a long-life battery.

Tenants should not remove smoke alarms, and were responsible for replacing dead batteries.

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