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The smoke alarm has come a long way since its inception as simple heat sensing devices over a 100 years ago. Today, there are a wide variety of manufacturers and types of smoke alarms and an equal variety of building codes for their placement depending on where you live.

Here in Ontario, new regulations have recently come into effect that will change the type and placement of smoke alarms in any new home constructions or home renovation. Let’s take a look at the available options for homeowners and the mandatory codes to follow in Ottawa based on the Ontario Fire Code (OFC) or Ontario Building Code (OBC).

Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms are standalone devices that contain a sounding device to alert homeowners to the presence of smoke upon detection. While this may sound obvious, many times we confuse smoke alarms with smoke detectors. The difference is that a smoke detector is part of a larger system and does not audibly alarm on its own, but rather only detects smoke and then signals to a separate fire alarm panel and sounding device.

According to the OBC, there must be a working smoke alarm outside of every sleeping area in the home (usually in the hallway), and at least one on every storey of the house.

One fact to keep in mind when dealing with smoke alarms is that it is against the law to disable them. A common situation homeowners are often confronted with is a beeping/chirping smoke alarm that cannot be silenced. Don’t disable and ignore it! A beeping/chirping smoke alarm can mean low battery or an expired device. If your device is constantly making sounds, but there is no smoke or fire, check the battery and then the date of manufacturing of the device and replace it according to specifications – usually after 8 to 10 years.

While current code requires increased placement of smoke alarms, that is not the only new regulation in place in Ontario today. As of January 1, 2015, there are new requirements applying to new constructions and renovations that require a visual signaling component in smoke alarms – the smoke-strobe combination alarm.

Smoke-Strobe Alarms

Smoke-Strobe alarms are newer devices designed to provide a visual signaling cue when the alarm is triggered. This is necessary because people with hearing impairment cannot hear the alarm sound and require other means of signaling in order to recognize a triggered alarm.

In addition to having one smoke alarm outside every sleeping area of the home (usually in the hallway) and on every storey, as of January 1, 2015 the OBC requires all smoke alarms in new constructions or large renovations to have a visual signaling component.

The new code also requires one smoke-strobe alarm to be placed inside every bedroom. It does not matter if a person with hearing impairment lives in that home or not, the code applies across the board without exception.

Based on the above requirements, keep in mind that all new renovations or home addition here in Ottawa will require compliance with the new Ontario Fire Code. This means all newly built rooms, storeys or bedrooms will all need to have the appropriate smoke-strobe alarm devices installed and properly working.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms

As of 2001, carbon monoxide alarms have been mandatory in newly constructed Ontario homes that contain fuel-burning appliances (stoves, furnaces, fireplaces) or attached garages. Specifically, the OFC requires that they be placed adjacent to all sleeping areas of the home in order to protect sleeping occupants. They are not required by code to be in the furnace room or basement, however it is recommended.

Homeowners can choose to meet this fire code requirement with a separate carbon monoxide alarm, or a combined smoke-carbon monoxide alarm. These devices can be hardwired, battery operated or even plugged into the wall, although the hard-wired with battery backup types are strongly recommended.

As of October 2014, this code now applies to all existing homes in Ontario built prior to 2001 and therefore even if you previously did not have a CO alarm, it is now required.

New Technologies

Due to the new codes and requirements introduced over time, you may notice new fire protection devices in stores here in Ottawa. In addition to the new smoke-strobe combination alarms on the shelves today, triple combination smoke-strobe-carbon monoxide detectors are being manufactured and may be available eventually for consumers in Canada.

Wireless smoke alarms are also newly available, replacing the hassle of wiring each unit into the ceiling or calling an electrician to do the work for you. These devices also make it easy to interconnect to other wireless devices for increased safety signalling, thus allowing all units to sound an alarm when only one detects fire or smoke. While very convenient, one key note to keep in mind is that wireless smoke detectors must be monitored and tested frequently to ensure the battery is still working.