Smoke Alarm Compliance – Time to Act

November 26, 2019

The Queensland State Governments introduced new Smoke Alarm laws which came into effect on 1 January 2017. The new laws were developed following the recommendations made after the 2011 fatal house fire at Slacks Creek in Brisbane’s south, which tragically claimed 11 lives including 8 children. The full coroners report can be read Here.

Almost 3 years into the new legislation and there has been little action taken to plan ahead for the significant smoke alarm upgrades by the deadline, despite many strata schemes likely requiring a special levy to be raised if upgrade costs are not planned.

To learn about the specific requirements to achieve smoke alarm compliance (ensuring the safety of all occupants) by the looming deadline and how to plan for group works in a strata building with potential to gain cost savings, read on.

The legislation specifies that all homes in Queensland must be fitted with photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms in all bedrooms and hallways. Photoelectric smoke alarms are more advanced at detecting smoke from smouldering fires, compared to ionisation smoke alarms. The interconnectivity function ensures that if one smoke alarm is triggered, all smoke alarms in the premises will sound, quickly alerting all occupants to the danger.

Below we have provided the answer to a number of common questions surrounding the new smoke alarm legislation.


 Is my smoke alarm photoelectric? 

To ascertain if you have a photoelectric smoke alarm, look on the front, back or inside of your alarm for the words ‘photoelectric’, ‘optical’, ‘photo optical’, or the letter ‘P’. If your smoke alarm does not contain any of these, it should be replaced with a photoelectric smoke alarm.


What types of photoelectric smoke alarms are there? 

You can either have your smoke alarm hardwired into your home’s electrical wiring, or have it powered by a tamper proof, 10-year lithium battery. All smoke alarm systems must be interconnected to comply with the new legislation and will need to be fitted and tested by a qualified electrician.


Can I have both hardwired and wireless smoke alarms? 

The legislation allows for a combination of hardwired and wireless smoke alarms systems, as long as they meet the criteria of interconnectivity. Hardwired smoke alarms are interconnected by the household wiring, while battery-powered smoke alarms can be interconnected by wiring, or wireless radio technology. Check with your smoke alarm manufacturer, distributer, or electrical contractor to see if your smoke alarm is compatible with interconnection.


Where will smoke alarms need to be installed? 

The legislation specifies that photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms must be installed on each storey, each bedroom, and hallways that connect bedrooms to the rest of the dwelling. If there are no hallways, they must be installed between the bedroom and other parts of the storey, and if there are no bedrooms on a storey, at least one smoke alarm must be installed in the most likely path of travel to exit the dwelling.


When do I need to have the new smoke alarms installed by? 

All domestic properties leased and sold are to comply with the new legislation within five years (2022), while homeowners have up to 10 years (2027) to install the new alarms. All properties built or undergoing major renovations must comply with the new legislation after January 1, 2017 (this also applies to building applications).


What about new or replacing existing smoke alarms?

Any smoke alarm being installed or existing smoke alarm being replaced from 1 January 2017, must also be a photoelectric smoke alarm, which complies with Australian Standard 3786.


Who is responsible for compliance? 

There are already concerns from suppliers and the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service (QFES), about a lack of awareness of the 2022 deadline that will apply to approximately 550,000 rental properties in QLD. In the case of strata buildings, there is ever greater concerns that compliance will be left to the individual owners who may ignore the legislation, putting the entire building at risk.


The QFES does not differentiate between separate owners in strata buildings when enforcing fire safety laws and therefore it is the Body Corporate who is responsible for ensuring its unit owners comply by the deadline, despite who is responsible for the cost. The fine will be issued to the Body Corporate who will then need to pursue any non-compliant owners direct.


How can my Body Corporate achieve compliance?

Being proactive will reduce the added cost that will inevitably occur when demand for compliant smoke alarms outstrips the available supply and qualified installers. There is also the potential for special levies if the Body Corporate is required to supply the service to owners who decide not to act, jeopardising compliance for the entire building. Recovery of costs from any individual owners will then need to be pursued by the Body Corporate after paying up-front to gain compliance.


Replacement can be completed by individual owners (or their service provider) at their own cost, who should then be requested to provide written confirmation and evidence that they have made the changes needed. The alternative (recommended) option is for the Body Corporate to offer to complete the smoke alarm changes for all owners and recover the associated costs by agreement.


Supply of service has the likely outcome of 100% compliance and cost recovery relative to owners specific smoke alarm requirements, group savings due to volume and coordinated installation reducing inconvenience. To learn more about supply of service to owners, please read the previously published article detailing the process Here.


A word of caution, a project of this type will require substantially planning and a general meeting of the Body Corporate due to the likely cost of supplying all units with new smoke alarms exceeding Committee spending limits. Therefore, act now and don’t leave it until its too late to plan or negotiate with suppliers of smoke alarms and unit owners who need to be informed about the compliance requirements of the entire building.


This article was contributed by Grant Mifsud, PartnerArchers the Strata Professionals

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