Here at First Choice Electrics we have tailored a program to offer yearly smoke alarm and RCD maintenance services (for rental properties) to alleviate real estate agents and landlords from the related obligations. This page explains the requirements for Smoke Alarm and RCD maintenance and introduces the combined yearly smoke alarm and RCD maintenance service offered by First Choice Electrics.
Smoke Alarm Maintenance
The Building Regulations 2012 do clearly state that it is the responsibility of the owner (i.e. landlord) to ensure “to the extent practicable” that the smoke alarms are in full working order and not more than 10 years old (Part 8, Division 3, Regulation 62).
What maintenance companies are offering is a yearly testing and cleaning program to meet the above “to the extent practicable” requirement and safeguard the landlord/real estate agent against any legal ramifications that may arise.
Current legislation and standards do not specify how often smoke alarms must be tested however the relevant authorities do provide recommendations.
FESA recommend that occupants test alarms monthly by pressing the "test" button on the alarm and also recommend cleaning of the smoke alarm with a vacuum cleaner at least once a year. Additionally, FESA recommend changing the backup battery in mains powered smoke alarms yearly.
Residual Current Device (RCD) Maintenance
Overseas research indicates that a primary cause of failure of RCDs is ingress of dust and moisture which can cause the moving components to stick or to operate slower than intended. The research also shows that regular testing, by pushing the "test" button, is effective in improving reliability.
Energy safety recommend that property managers remind their tenants to push the "test" button on RCDs every three months and notify them if the RCD does not operate. While this simple test moves the contacts and aids reliability it does not test the operating time of the RCD.
AS/NZS 3760:2010 recommends an appropriately trained, qualified or experienced person carries out their own push-button test along with an operating/disconnection time test at least once every two years (for residential properties). When tested at its rated sensitivity an RCD must trip within 300 milliseconds (for a 30mA RCD), which is much less than the critical section of the cardiac cycle, therefore significantly reducing the risk of death or injury.
By using a qualified electrician to carry out smoke alarm and RCD maintenance the property manager and the owner can be assured that the correct procedures are undertaken to ensure that the property is smoke alarm and RCD compliant and safe.
First Choice Electrics are experienced in checking properties for smoke alarm and RCD compliance in accordance with the relevant codes including Installation and testing for correct operation. We have put together a package for our clients to provide scheduled maintenance and testing of smoke alarms and RCDs in accordance with the relevant codes and regulations.
First Choice Electrics offers a Smoke Alarm and RCD Maintenance service for $99 inc. GST per annum (per property) which involves a yearly check and report on the property including all items listed below:
Smoke Alarm Maintenance
- Checking for compliance with AS 3786-1993
- Checking for compliance of smoke alarm locations with the Building of Australia (BCA)
- Checking of Expiry Dates
- Replacement of replaceable 9V batteries
- Vacuum cleaning of the alarm vents
- Push-button testing
- Smoke testing (with ‘smoke in a can’)
- Decibel testing
- Checking for the correct number of RCDs. The number of RCDs shall be as necessary to meet the requirements of AS/NZS 3000:2007 Wiring Rules
- Push-button testing. To ensure that the integral test button on the RCD is functioning correctly
- Operating time testing. To ensure maximum tripping times do not exceed the limits specified in AS/NZS 3760:2010
Following maintenance work a 'Certificate of Compliance' summarising smoke alarm and RCD status will be completed and provided to the property manager including confirmation of maintenance works carried out and any additional works required to make the property compliant.
Having a safety device that is not operational is a significant safety concern and where existing smoke alarms or RCDs are found to be faulty or out of date we will be obliged to replace them immediately.
Photo-electric vs Ionisation
The two most common types of smoke alarms used for residential application in Australia are photo-electric and ionisation.
There have been whispers in the industry that smoke alarm legislation may change with relevant fire authorities pushing for reform. Fire authorities, including FPA Australia and FESA in WA, are recommending the use of photoelectric type smoke alarms (as opposed to the more commonly used and cheaper ionisation type) as the most appropriate type of smoke alarm for residential application1. New regulations in the Northern Territory do now require the installation of photoelectric type smoke alarms. At this point in time, neither the relevant Australian Standards nor the Building Code of Australia (BCA) require photo-electric smoke alarms to be installed in residential properties outside of NT and so owner’s of rental properties in all other states (including WA) are not legally obliged to do so at this stage2. Latest research indicates that photoelectric smoke alarms are significantly more effective at detecting smouldering fires (considered to be the type of fire most likely to occur in residential properties while tenants are asleep) whereas the ionisation type are marginally better at detecting flaming fires3.
As our clientele are largely real estate agents and the properties are owned as investments we understand that many of our customers’ preference is to install the cheaper, and still compliant, ionisation type smoke alarm. We recommend, however, that when replacing existing or installing new smoke alarms, owners consider installing photo-electric type smoke alarms for the added safety of their tenants. (Note: ionisation smoke alarms may be better suited in some situations such as where the smoke alarm needs to be installed close to a bathroom to minimise nuisance alarming due to shower steam).
Although more expensive compared to the ionisation type, the additional cost of a photoelectric smoke alarm over the life of the alarm (i.e. extra cost per year, assuming a 10 year service life) is minimal. If legislation is changed in line with the recommendations of the fire authorities then those owners that do install photoelectric type smoke alarms now will save on any additional cost of replacement should any new legislation require replacement prior to expiry of the smoke alarm. If a law was passed in WA at some time in the future – there has not been any solid indication that there will be – we don’t know whether it’s likely to be retrospective.
1 FPAA Position Statement Selection of residential smoke alarms; AFAC Position on Smoke Alarms in Residential Accommodation; PHAA Policy-at-a-glance – Smoke Alarms in Residential Housing
2 Australian Standards and the BCA do currently require photo-electric smoke alarms in new properties, e.g. multi-storey apartments, where an AS1670.1 Fire detection/Alarm system is installed
3 FPAA Fact Sheet Smoke Alarms – Ionisation or Photoelectric; QFRS Photoelectric smoke alarm information Sheet