CO and smoke alarms – separating fact from fiction

Although most people recognise the importance of smoke and CO alarms, some widespread myths have gained a foothold in consumer understanding of home safety. Adrian Keats at Honeywell’s home safety business debunks the common examples of misinformation that housing associations are often confronted with.

According to regulation, landlords must install a smoke alarm on every floor of each property, along with a CO alarm in rooms containing a solid fuel burning appliance. Despite the dangers of non-compliance and the ability of these systems to potentially save lives, there is still a shocking level of misinformation. Here we take a look at three of the most common myths and separate facts from fiction.

FICTION: Smoke alarms can be falsely triggered off by household fumes from cooking.

Fact: Some smoke alarms use an older type of technology called ionisation, which is the culprit for the pervasive belief that all alarms are triggered by household fumes such as burnt toast. In actuality, modern optical alarms, unlike ionisation units, are much less susceptible to these types of nuisance alarms.

What’s more, by installing heat alarms designed for areas such as kitchens, nuisance alerts from cooking fumes can be avoided. These alarms detect fires which produce little smoke but plenty of heat such as those caused by a chip pan on fire.

FICTION: Carbon monoxide poisoning is only caused by a faulty boiler, so if a new one has been installed, you’re safe

Fact: Many people think that if they have just bought a new boiler, or indeed had their existing one serviced, then they’re safe from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

While this does reduce the risk, it does not eliminate it as boilers can break down or the flues become blocked at any time between service dates. Similarly, though the chance of a brand new boiler leaking CO is relatively slim, it is still possible, so all boilers should have a CO alarm provided alongside them when they are fitted.

Of course, these are not the only household appliances that can emit carbon monoxide. All fuel burning appliances such as gas cookers, heaters, coal fires and woodburners can cause a leak and create danger for the homeowner. What’s more, CO can also leak into a home from a faulty appliance in a neighbouring property, which a resident would have no control over.

Therefore, it’s important that any homes or apartments with these provisions are fitted with working alarms within the property, no matter the age of their appliances.

FICTION: I’ve bought my own alarm so don’t need anything else installed in my home.

Fact: Landlords have to install units that are kitemarked to the relevant standards, which for CO alarms, is EN50291. This is particularly important as these stringent legislative standards cover a wide range of performance and durability measures, and lay out the means, and extent of testing for things such as sensor reaction times, temperature resistance and minimum alarm volume levels. These benchmarks help to safeguard residents by ensuring that problems can be detected quickly and efficiently, giving households more time to react in the case of a leak. So while a tenant may have their own means of CO detection, it may not provide an adequate level of protection.

Also, despite regulations stipulating the installation of a CO alarm only in rooms with a solid fuel burning appliance, ideally, a CO alarm should be placed in every room housing a fuel burning appliance. And for complete safety, an alarm in any bedrooms which may be above these, too. The alarms can be interconnected, meaning all alarms will sound once an activation has occurred.

In larger properties where residents are unlikely to hear sounds from the other end of their home, a network of linked heat, smoke and CO alarms ensures that occupants can be alerted to a potential danger even if they are far away from the source of the activation.

Another feature which may be missing from a resident’s own purchase is the ability to view key data on an alarm and its status from an app on a mobile device. This function makes it easier for landlords to monitor details such as battery levels or recent activations.

Although the benefits of fire and CO protection systems may be obvious, it is worth clarifying any concerns tenants may have due to misconceptions. Not only would this help keep them safe, but also help to build trust.

For more information on the full range of Honeywell smoke, heat and CO alarms, please visit