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Interlinked smoke alarms and fire safety in Scotland

13 January 2022

Not sure where to start? Our guide covers all aspects of interlinked smoke alarms to help you figure out the best way to comply with the new Scottish fire safety legislation as well as enhancing the level of fire protection in your home.

There are many types of fire and smoke alarms, but the best ones are interlinked. Interlinked smoke alarms work by connecting to each other with wires or by wireless radio signal, so they all go off at the same time when one alarm goes off.

This is useful in homes as it makes it much more likely that all occupants will hear the alarms at the same time, allowing for a quicker evacuation.

As you probably already know, new fire-safety legislation in Scotland requires that all homes must have an interlinked system of hardwired or wireless smoke and heat detectors installed by February 2022.

Tip: Want to save some time? Check out our survey tool which shows you exactly what your home needs and provides a custom quote within 30 seconds.

What are interlinked smoke alarms and how do they work

set of interlinked smoke alarms

As mentioned above, interlinked smoke alarms work by connecting to each other to form a network.

If any of the smoke or heat alarms in the network are triggered, then all of the connected alarms will sound.

The main benefit of this type of alarm is that it should make it a lot easier and faster to identify a potential fire in the home, and therefore increase the chances of getting out alive.

Getting alerted to a potential fire as soon as possible will benefit all homeowners and tenants, but it would be especially helpful for older and disabled homeowners or tenants, who may not instantly hear their alarm system depending on where they are in their home at the time of the alarm.

There are two main types of interlinked fire alarms:

Wireless interlinked smoke and heat alarms

These alarms are typically linked together using radio frequency signals.

This type of alarm is popular as it doesn't require any wiring, so it can be easily installed without any specialist skills.

And because no wiring is required, there is no need for re-decoration after the alarms have been installed.

Wireless interlinked fire alarms are typically powered by a tamper-proof long-life battery, but they are also available as mains powered alarms.

If you do decide to go for wireless interlinked alarms, it would normally make sense to opt for the battery-operated versions, otherwise, you risk missing out on the main benefits of the wireless-type alarms.

Hardwired interlinked smoke and heat alarms

As the name suggests, hardwired interlinked alarms are connected via wires which run between the alarms to form a network.

This type of alarm is more common in commercial buildings, but it can also be used in domestic properties.

Hardwired interlinked alarms must be installed by a qualified electrician, and due to the amount of work involved in running cables around the home, the installation cost for this type of fire alarm can be significant.

There is also the strong possibility that some redecoration will be required after the installation, adding further to the time and cost of the installation.

A common misconception with hardwired alarms is that they never need to be replaced due to the fact that they are mains powered. This is wrong, as all smoke and heat alarms have expiry dates, and mains powered fire alarms will need to be replaced just the same as their wireless counterparts.

So, what is best, wireless interlinked or hardwired interlinked?

For most homes, wireless interlinked fire alarms powered by a sealed, tamper-proof lithium battery provide the best balance of increased home fire safety, as well as minimising the cost and hassle involved.

In addition to picking the best type of alarm, if you are a homeowner living in Scotland, there are specific rules you must follow.

What is the difference between a smoke alarm and a heat alarm

Smoke alarms and heat alarms are both a type of fire alarm.

Smoke alarms detect fire by sensing smoke particles, and heat alarms detect fire by measuring sudden, dramatic increases in temperature.

The reason both alarms exist is that it is not always appropriate to install a smoke alarm in each area of the home.

For example, in a kitchen, there can quite often be smoke from cooking or burnt toast. This is rarely a sign of fire, and yet, if you have a smoke alarm in your kitchen, it will likely be triggered.

In these circumstances, a heat alarm would be more appropriate, as it won't be triggered by smoke. Instead, if there was to be a fire in the kitchen, the temperature would rise very quickly, and the heat detector would sense that and trigger.

Updated fire safety legislation set by the Scottish Government

Scottish flag flying in wind

As a result of fire-related tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower incident, the Scottish Government has introduced new fire safety legislation which comes into effect in February 2022 (1, 2). This fire safety standard update requires that all homes in Scotland must have interlinked fire alarms by this date.

To comply with Scottish law, homeowners must ensure their home has:

  • 1 smoke alarm in the main room used for daytime living purposes, usually the living room
  • 1 smoke alarm in every circulation space, such as hallways and landing areas
  • 1 heat alarm in the kitchen

These alarms must all be interlinked, and there are specific product standards that each alarm must comply with.

Product standards for interlinked fire and smoke alarms

  • Smoke alarm standard: BS EN14604:2005
  • Heat alarm standard: BS 5446-2:2003

Carbon monoxide alarm standard

You may also have to install carbon monoxide detectors if you don't already have them. A carbon monoxide detector doesn't have to be interlinked, but you do require a carbon monoxide detector for each room where there is a carbon-fuelled appliance such as a gas boiler.

If you have an existing carbon monoxide alarm, it's worth checking that it hasn't expired.

It's worth remembering that carbon monoxide is tasteless, odourless and invisible, therefore we believe it is vital that you are alerted to a potential carbon monoxide leak as soon as possible.

Your carbon monoxide detector must comply with BS EN 50291-1, and if it's battery-powered it should have a tamper-proof, long-life lithium battery.

How many interlinked smoke alarms do I need?

Looking at the standards mentioned above, we can use the following example home to show you what is routinely required:

3 Bed Semi-Detached home with downstairs hallway and an upstairs landing, and a gas boiler in the kitchen.

This example home would require:

  • 3 interlinked smoke alarms (1 for the hallway, 1 for the landing, 1 for the living room)
  • 1 interlinked heat detector (for the kitchen)
  • 1 carbon monoxide detector (for the gas boiler in the kitchen)

Due to each home having potentially different requirements, it's best to avoid pre-made alarm "packs" and instead make sure you get the correct number and type of alarms for your home.

Want to find out exactly what you need in under 30 seconds? Use our instant survey tool to find out exactly what your home needs and what it will cost.

What happens if I don't install interlinked smoke alarms?

Concerned looking homeowner

At this stage, it is difficult to say exactly what will happen to those homeowners who decide to ignore the updated fire safety standard. But there are a couple of scenarios that could become problematic.

Home insurance

Whether insurance providers state specifically that you need to upgrade your alarms or not, it has long been a condition of home insurance policies that the homeowner will comply with the laws and building regulations which apply to their homes.

So it's probably fair to suggest that insurers may take a dim view about paying out claims in the case of a home fire if the homeowner has not complied with fire safety legislation (3).

Buying/selling homes

It will likely show on the home report that the home you are buying or selling does not comply with current fire safety legislation.

Will this alone prevent a sale? Probably not, but you might be forced to quickly get the required alarms installed before the sale can complete and so it begs the question, what's the point in delaying?

Letting out homes

If you rent out a property or several properties, you could find yourself in a spot of bother if you don't take steps to ensure that your property portfolio is compliant. In the worst cases, you could find yourself in a situation where your properties are unable to be let out until the required alarms are installed.

Peace of mind

The cost of complying with the new legislation on its own is not the best way to think about it. Not only are you complying with the law, but the steps you are taking by installing upgraded fire alarms in your home ensures that you are looking after yourself and the other occupants, and you can sleep a little bit easier knowing that your home is fully protected.

It's difficult to put a price on that.

Social housing/local authority tenants

The installation of interlinked smoke and fire alarms is the responsibility of the Social landlord, and compliance with the new standard will be monitored by the Scottish Housing Regulator.

Where to buy interlinked smoke alarms

homeowner using laptop computer

A key consideration for each homeowner looking to comply with the new Scottish home fire safety standard is where they will purchase their interlinked fire alarm system.

The Scottish Government has made it clear that there is no approved list of retailers for interlinked fire alarms, therefore it is the homeowner's responsibility to ensure that they are purchasing from a reputable source.

You should check that your chosen retailer is supplying alarms that definitely meet the updated standards, and it's also a good idea to check if they have reviews so that you can see what others have said about them.

As a highly rated online retailer of interlinked fire and smoke alarm systems, we think you should take a look at our online survey as it is a quick and easy way to get an instant quote for the correct number and type of alarms.

By answering just a few simple questions about your home, we can give you a detailed quote showing you exactly what you need and what it will cost.

Elderly and disabled customers

Certain households in Scotland may qualify for some assistance from their local authority, although funding appears to be very limited.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service had previously been provided with limited funding to help install alarms into owner-occupied homes deemed as being at the "highest risk".

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service may also be able to arrange a home fire safety visit to assist vulnerable homeowners in finding out what fire alarms they require, even if they aren't able to provide funding for the installation.

If you or someone you know is struggling to afford the cost of new interlinked fire alarms, it may be worthwhile contacting the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service or Care and Repair Scotland to find out if help is available.

How to install interlinked smoke alarms

person setting up smoke alarms

If you are purchasing wireless interlinked smoke alarms, then the installation generally involves running through a few different steps to "pair" your alarms together.

The actual process varies between the different alarms on the market, however, it generally involves:

  1. Powering on the alarms
  2. Pairing the alarms together
  3. Finding a suitable location to install the alarms
  4. Fitting the alarms to your ceiling

Once you have your smoke detectors and ceiling mounted and interlinked, it's a good idea to test them regularly.

If you are having hardwired interlinked smoke alarms installed then your electrician will manage the installation for you, but it is likely that it will be significantly more expensive than simply installing wireless battery-powered alarms yourself.

Final words on interlinked smoke alarms

The law is clear, it is the responsibility of homeowners to ensure that their homes meet the new fire safety standard.

Wireless interlinked smoke and heat alarms are the simplest way to achieve compliance without spending a fortune, but it's important that you get the right number of alarms for your home.

To make sure you get a system that isn't going to come up short, check out our simple online survey. There are no forms to fill, and in less than 30 seconds you will have a detailed quote that shows you exactly what you need to comply.

References

1. The Scottish Government, Fire safety for home owners, retrieved from https://www.mygov.scot/home-fire-safety
2. The Scottish Government, Changes to fire safety laws, retrieved from https://www.gov.scot/news/changes-to-fire-safety-laws/
3. Insurance Times, New Scottish fire safety legislation could invalidate home insurance policies, retrieved from https://www.insurancetimes.co.uk/news/new-scottish-fire-safety-legislation-could-invalidate-home-insurance-policies/1440025.article