Don’t sound this alarm | IMPAC health and safety

6 July, 2018  |  News

A recent Consumer NZ smoke alarm test found that ionisation-type smoke alarms perform poorly. So poorly, in fact, that the watchdog called for retailers to pull them from their shelves.

Consumer NZ tested smoke alarms which use either photoelectric or ionisation sensors to detect smoke. According to their findings, the four ionisation alarms in the test “give much less warning of smouldering fires (such as those caused by faulty electrical wiring, curtains draped over a heater, or a hot ember igniting upholstery foam) making it less likely you can get out of your home safely.”


smoke 315874 640Consumer NZ’s test aimed to determine which alarm responded the fastest.

Retailers take action

In a follow-up article, Consumer NZ announced they were “pleased to report all stores contacted about their ionisation alarms agreed to stop selling them.”

Consumer NZ head of testing, Dr Paul Smith, said, “removing a product that doesn’t perform a critical safety task effectively is a major win for New Zealand consumers.”

Consumer NZ’s advice

Check which type of smoke alarm you have in your homes and rental properties. The organisation says, “you can identify an ionisation alarm from a radioactive symbol somewhere on the alarm body – it may be underneath, so you might need to remove it to check.”

They go on to advise people:

  • Not to remove working ionisation alarms – any alarm is better than no alarm.
  • If only ionisation alarms are fitted, you should also fit photoelectric models at least in hallways and escape routes.

And for rental properties:

  • Landlords must ensure working smoke alarms are installed at the start of a tenancy. Existing ionisation alarms can stay where they are, but all new smoke alarms must be photoelectric models with a long-life battery.
  • Tenants must not remove smoke alarms and are responsible for replacing dead batteries. To see which photoelectric models performed well, see their smoke alarms test.


Fire and Emergency’s advice

Fire and Emergency New Zealand agree with Consumer NZ that people should choose long-life photoelectric smoke alarms over ionisation smoke alarms wherever possible. FENZ goes on to say that, while they may cost a little more, the benefits of photoelectric are huge:

  • They provide up to 10 years smoke detection.
  • They remove the frustration of fixing the 'flat battery beep'.
  • Because you're not paying for replacement batteries, long-life alarms effectively pay for themselves over their lifetime.
  • You don't have to climb ladders every year to replace batteries.