Working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors saves lives in the event of a fire or CO leak in your home.  According to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, residential fires account for 73% of all fire-related fatalities in Canada.  These devices also provide protection from death, injury or permanent disability from CO poisoning, a threat that poses the most risk during sleeping hours.

Post-fire inspections often reveal that dated, improperly-maintained or disabled safety devices are the culprit in these avoidable tragedies.  This good news is the rate of fire and CO related deaths is dropping as added protections are written into the Fire Code.

Fire Code Timeline for Alarm Requirements

1975   All Ontario homes required to have smoke alarms outside sleeping areas.

1986   Ontario Building Code requires direct-wired smoke alarms be installed in all new home construction.

2001   Ontario Building Code requires the mandatory installation of carbon monoxide alarms in homes and other residential buildings built after 2001.  Alarms may be hardwired, battery powered, or plug-in.

2006   Ontario homes required to have a working smoke alarm on every storey as well as outside all sleeping areas (excludes unfinished attics).  This covers single family, semi-detached and town homes, whether owner-occupied or rented.

2015   ‘Visual’ smoke detectors (also referred to as strobe) required in each bedroom for the protection of hearing impaired individuals.

2017   New regulation introduced making carbon monoxide detectors mandatory in all Ontario homes.  Until this time, only residential buildings built after 2001 were required to have carbon monoxide alarms.

Responsibility for Fire Code Compliance

Every home in Ontario must have a working smoke alarm on every storey and outside all sleeping areas.

Homeowners must install and maintain smoke alarms on every storey of their home and outside sleeping areas.

Landlords must ensure their rental properties comply with the law, keeping smoke and CO alarms in working condition, including testing, repairs and replacement as necessary.  Devices must be tested annually, after battery replacement, and after every change in tenancy.

Tenants must contact your landlord immediately if you do not have the required number of smoke alarms.  It is against the law for tenants to remove the batteries or tamper with the alarm in any way.

Failure to comply with the fire code smoke alarm requirements could result in a sizeable fine (amount depending on municipality), or a penalty of up to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for Corporations.

Types and Features of Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Devices

SMOKE ALARMS CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS
Smoke Alarms offer protection from smoke and fire.  In a fire, smoke and deadly gases tend to spread farther and faster than heat.  That’s one reason why most fire victims die from inhalation of smoke and toxic gases, not from burns. Known as the ‘silent killer’, carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless and toxic gas produced as a by-product of combustion.  Any fuel burning appliance, vehicle, tool or other device has the potential to produce dangerous levels of CO gas.  Examples of CO emitters around the home include:  automobiles; fireplaces, space heaters; fuel fired furnaces, gas dryers, stoves and water heaters.  Carbon monoxide inhibits the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, eventually depriving and stopping the brain, heart and other organs.
Smoke alarms must be installed in each bedroom, adjacent hallways, each living area level and basements. Carbon monoxide detectors must be placed in all hallways adjacent to bedrooms, each living area level and basements.
Because smoke is less dense than air, smoke alarms should be positioned on the ceiling or on the wall near the ceiling, keeping 12 inches out from the corner.  Smoke alarms should not be installed in humid or moist areas or directly over the stove or range.  Proximity to ceiling fans and drafty areas risk blowing smoke away from the unit.  Laundry room areas should also be avoided in order to keep the unit free of dust or lint. Being virtually the same density as air, CO detectors can be installed on ceilings or walls at any height.  To avoid false signals, they should not be positioned too close to combustion appliances, garage, kitchen or laundry.
Smoke alarm are available in models that are battery powered, long-life battery equipped, or ‘dual powered’ hardwired with option of battery backup.

Features offered include:  ‘hush button’, talking alert, and strobe alarm (required in bedrooms).

Carbon monoxide detectors are sold as plug-in (with battery backup), battery-operated, or hardwired.  Some offer digital read out display or audio message.

 

Smart detectors offer additional features through a companion smartphone app.  Features include smartphone alerts about smoke/CO (even when you’re not home) and low batteries, as well as the ability to hush alarms from your phone.  Some models connect to the internet via WiFi, while others require an additional bridge or hub, which are standalone devices that connect smart home devices to the internet.  Price quotes can be obtained through your provider.

 

Look for the ULC (Underwriters Laboratories of Canada) markings when purchasing alarms.  This certifies that the device meets the appropriate Canadian standard:

 

All alarms should be installed according to manufacturers’ directions.

How much does an alarm cost?

There are wide-ranging models of stand-alone smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors on the market as well as ‘combined’ or ‘dual’ smoke/CO devices that protect from two deadly threats in one unit.  CO and smoke alarms and CO detectors sell for a broad range of prices but remain a necessity for all properties. People pay about $10 for a simple alarm. Average models range from $20 to $30, while high-quality devices cost about $65.  You can expect to pay approximately $190 for a dual alarm with strobe.

Terms

DUAL POWER

This smoke alarm option is designed to satisfy the requirements of the Ontario Building Code, and offer an additional energy source from a battery.  This provides continuous protection when household electricity is not available.  The dual power alarm does not have battery charging capability and just like any other battery operated smoke alarm, the battery should be changed twice a year.  Another option to ensure continuous protection during a power outage is to install additional battery operated smoke alarms within your home.

HUSH BUTTON FEATURE

The hush button that can be used to temporarily silence the alarm.  This is a convenient way to deal with nuisance alarms, such as those caused by burning toast or opening smoky ovens, without disabling the alarm.  The hush button will silence the alarm for several minutes and then automatically reset itself.  Smoke alarms with this feature discourage the dangerous practice of removing the battery or disconnecting the power source as a method of dealing with frequent nuisance alarms.  This is a particularly useful feature if the alarm will be installed near a kitchen or bathroom.

It should be noted that many alarms with a hush feature will chirp intermittently while in hush mode.  The chirping will stop once the alarm resets itself.  If smoke continues to build from a real fire while the alarm is in hush mode, the smoke will override the silence feature and the smoke alarm will resound.

STROBE or VISUAL ALARM

These devices feature LED strobe light that provides temporal patterns, visual and voice warnings designed to notify the deaf and hard of hearing of a smoke and/or CO threat.

Maintenance Recommendations

Test smoke alarms at least every six months by pushing the test button or by using smoke from a smouldering incense stick.  When tested, the alarm should sound.  If battery-operated smoke alarms fail to sound when tested, make sure that the battery is installed correctly, or install a new battery.  If electrically-connected smoke alarms fail to sound when tested, make sure the power is turned on to the unit.  If the alarm still fails to sound, replace the smoke alarm with a new one.

Pros recommend changing hard-wired smoke alarms after 10 years.

A good way to ensure the battery in your smoke alarm is always fresh, change when you change your clock in the spring and fall.  All battery-operated smoke alarms emit a warning sound, usually an intermittent “chirp”, when the battery power is low.  If you hear this sound, it’s time to replace the battery.  The smoke alarm will continue to work even though it is chirping, so do not remove the battery until you replace it with a new one.  All smoke alarms wear out.  Replace smoke alarms in keeping with manufacturers’ recommendations. Check for a build-up of dust and cobwebs.  Vacuum around the smoke alarm vents with a soft brush at least every 6 months.  Remember, if it’s electrically connected, shut the power off first.