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Smoke Alarms

You may have just seconds to safely escape a fire in your home. That’s why early detection is absolutely vital. Only working smoke alarms provide those precious seconds you and your family need to safely escape.

Smoke Alarm Facts

It's the law.
The Ontario Fire Code requires that every home have working smoke alarms on every level. If you are a landlord it is your responsibility to comply with this law. If you are a tenant it is your responsibility to notify your landlord immediately if your alarm/s is/are not working.

Smoke alarms save lives.
Most fatal fires occur at night when people are asleep. Often, victims never wake up. A working smoke alarm will detect smoke and sound an alarm to alert you, giving you precious time to escape.

One smoke alarm is not enough.
Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and near sleeping areas. If you or your loved ones sleep with bedroom doors closed, install an alarm inside each bedroom.

Smoke alarms don't last forever.
Smoke alarms do wear out, so if you think your alarms are more than 10 years old, replace them with new ones. Please note you cannot replace a hard-wired smoke alarm with a battery-powered smoke alarm. Related video: How to Install the Kidde Worry Free Smoke Alarm

Types of Smoke Alarms

There are many types of smoke alarms, each with different features. Alarms can be electrically connected, battery-powered or a combination of both. The combination with a hush feature to reduce nuisance alarms are highly recommended. Smoke alarms commonly use one of two types of technology to detect the presence of smoke in the air:

Photoelectric smoke alarms
best suited for living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens

These alarms consist of a light emitting diode and a light sensitive sensor in the sensing chamber. The presence of suspended products of combustion in the chamber scatters the light beam. This scattered light is detected and sets off the alarm. Photoelectric models are best suited for living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. This is because these rooms often contain large pieces of furniture, such as sofas, chairs and mattresses which will burn slowly and create more smoldering smoke than flames.

Ionization smoke alarms
best suited for rooms that contain highly combustible materials that can create flaming fires

An ionization smoke alarm uses a small amount of radioactive material to ionize air in the sensing chamber. As a result, the air chamber becomes conductive permitting current to flow between two charged electrodes. When products of combustion enter the chamber, the conductivity of the chamber air decreases. When this reduction in conductivity is reduced to a predetermined level, the alarm is set off. This is the most common type of smoke alarm. Ionization models are best suited for rooms that contain highly combustible materials that can create flaming fires. These types of materials include flammable liquids, newspapers and paint related products. We recommend installing this type of smoke alarm in the kitchen where grease fires can occur.

Styles of Smoke Alarms 

Every manufacturer has these alarms. They can be powered by a 9-volt battery or 3-4 double A batteries or a 10-year sealed lithium battery. In rental units, it's imperative that the landlord install and provide batteries for these alarms. 

Battery-operated, interconnected

These devices use a radio frequency to cause the other alarms to sound when one is activated. This can provide a higher level of security to homes that do not have hardwired alarms.


These devices are wired into the electrical system of the home. In homes built after 1986, only the alarm in the upper level by the sleeping area needed to be hardwired, the other levels could have battery operated devices. These alarms should have battery backup as power outages can render you unprotected if there isn’t one. This is the time when higher hazards exist when people use alternate methods of light and heating.

Hardwired alarms need to be changed after 10 years. The Ontario Fire Code requires that when replacing smoke alarms in a home you may not “reduce the level of protection provided in the building as required by the building code at the time of construction”. This means you can’t take down a hard-wired alarm and put up a battery operated one in its place.

You can replace hard-wired detectors yourself, if you can reach them and if you have sufficient skill to replace a light fixture. Be sure to first turn off electricity at the breaker box. If you can't replace them yourself, you can hire an electrician or an alarm service company to do the job. 

When replacing hard-wired alarms, it is a good idea to consider some newer features that are available today which may not have been available when the homes were built, or that the builder chose not to spend the extra money on:

  • One good feature is a built-in battery backup. This ensures continuous protection, even during loss of electrical power.
  • Another feature would be a “hush” feature which allows you to silence the alarm by pushing a button if it has been activated by small amounts of steam or cooking smoke. The alarm would silence for 10 minutes and then reset itself. Unfortunately, this feature does not work if the smoke or steam is very heavy or if it increases after you have silenced it. The silence feature only reduces the sensitivity of the alarm by about 50%, but it does not “turn off” the alarm.
  • If you have areas that are prone to false alarms, such as near kitchens or bathrooms, you should consider an alarm that uses photo-electric detection. This is less sensitive to steam and cooking smoke but it is also slightly more responsive to smoke produced by a smoldering fire.
Hardwired, Interconnected

Homes built with interconnected hardwired alarms are protected with constant notification on all levels. With interconnected alarms, when one alarm is activated (for example in the basement) all the other alarms throughout the home (such as the main floor and bedroom levels) will also go into alarm to provide earlier warning to someone that may be sleeping on a level which is remote from the fire. It is important that you maintain this feature when replacing the alarms. If you are doing the job yourself be sure to test all alarms for the interconnection by pushing the test button on each alarm and having someone stand near the other alarms to ensure they are working.


Some manufactures have created smoke alarms that have dual sensing systems in them to assist with nuisance alarms. It would require both the smoke sensing device and the fire gas sensing device to activate before an alarm is triggered. These are helpful in homes where the style of cooking creates more smoke that average or where there have been problems with nuisance alarms that cannot be solved by the hush button feature.

Smoke Alarm Maintenance

Only working smoke alarms can save your life! Smoke alarms require simple maintenance to keep them in good working order. These tips will help to make sure your alarms perform as intended-when you need them the most:

  • Test your smoke alarm regularly.
    Once a month, test your smoke alarms by pushing the alarm test button. 
  • Change your clock, change your battery.
    Install a new battery of the proper type at least once a year.  If the low battery warning beeps, replace the battery immediately.  We change our clocks each spring and fall so this is a good time to change your batteries as well.
  • Gently vacuum alarm every six months.
    Dust can clog a smoke alarm, so carefully vacuum the inside of a battery powered unit using the soft bristle brush.  If electrically connected, vacuum the outside vents only.
  • Replace older smoke alarms.
    All smoke alarms wear out. If your alarms are more than 10 years old, replace them with new ones.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I call the fire department every time my alarm(s) makes noise?

If the alarm is in full alarm mode, alert others and evacuate. Call 911 from a safe location. If the alarm is just chirping: First check the area to try to detect the smell of smoke. If you are certain that no emergency exists, assess the number of chirps and the interval between chirps. Compare your findings to the owner’s manual.

For example, an alarm may chirp once every minute to indicate for battery replacement but once every 30 seconds for end-of-life notification. Similarly, some alarms chirp once every 30-40 seconds for one indication, and chirp twice for another. If you have any doubts, replace the battery. If the alarm continues to chirp, despite its age, replace it. You can contact Barrie Fire and Emergency Service at the non-emergency line for advice. Ask for Fire Prevention at 705-728-3199.

The tenant keeps disabling the alarm, what should I do?

Correct the situation immediately. Document all corrective steps that you have taken. Explain to the tenant that his/her action is a violation of the fire code and that alarms are in place for their safety and the safety of all others in the building, and that penalties are in place to ensure same. If the behaviour continues or repeats, call Fire Prevention at 705-728-3199 for guidance and assistance.

What are smoke alarm requirements and responsibilities?

Smoke alarms are a requirement of the fire code in any building where people sleep, and other occupancies. In residential occupancies, one smoke alarm is required outside each sleeping area and on every level, (including crawl spaces) of the suite or home. Barrie Fire recommends that smoke alarms be installed inside bedrooms, especially if you sleep with your bedroom door closed.

You must maintain the level of protection that was installed in the home/residence when it was built. The year of construction of the home determines whether or not the smoke alarms are to be interconnected, such that if one device is initiated, all of the devices go into alarm. Newer homes have more requirements regarding the number of alarms, location, visual warnings, and battery back-up capabilities. Refer to the Ontario Building Code for full information.

Optimally smoke alarms should be mounted on the ceiling. If mounted on a wall, you must follow manufacturer’s instructions and they must not be less than four inches nor more than twelve inches from the ceiling.

What are the smoke alarm responsibilities of landlords and tenants?

It is the landlord’s responsibility to provide and maintain smoke alarms to the manufacturer’s specifications, while it is a tenant’s responsibility to notify the owner (or their agent) if a device is not functioning as necessary.

Where should I install smoke alarms?

Because smoke rises, you should place alarms on the ceiling. If you cannot do this, place them high up on a wall, according to manufacturer's instructions.  Avoid certain locations such as near bathrooms, heating appliances, windows or close to ceiling fans. Install smoke alarms on every storey of your home within 10 feet of bedrooms. Diagram: Acceptable Installation

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