Installing mains-operated smoke & heat alarms is mandatory for new build properties, but there’s no legal requirement for rewiring jobs. Harry Milligan of Appleby questions a loophole that leaves millions of householders without adequate fire safety protection and asks if it’s time for the law to be changed.

Are our wires crossed when it comes to smoke & heat alarms?

Fire alarms are one of the few undisputed good things in the world. It’s doubtful you’ll ever find someone who argues against them, as the statistics prove their value rests in saving lives and protecting properties.

You can’t never have enough smoke alarms. Although 89% of UK homes are believed to have at least one working smoke alarm, it is known that in half of all house fires, householders weren’t alerted by their smoke alarm. This is typically because the alarm wasn’t within range.

The advice is to have at least one smoke alarm on every level of the home. Ideally, these should be located in circulation areas, exit routes and anywhere that fires are particularly likely to start, such as a kitchen. Is this enough?

What type of smoke alarm is best

The most commonly used form of smoke alarm is battery powered. These are simple and inexpensive for the homeowner to install, yet they do require a high degree of diligence to test and maintain.

The risks of not keeping on top of this are clear. A public health report found that in 20% of homes with a smoke alarm, none were working – usually due to missing, disconnected or dead batteries.

The answer is to use mains-operated smoke alarms, which offer several benefits over purely battery powered versions. The most obvious advantage is service continuity because they are permanently connected to the mains power and, in the event of power failure, they have battery back-up.

Another key benefit is that they can be interlinked. This resolves one of the main challenges with battery powered smoke alarms, namely that, if the occupants are far away from the alarm that is closest to the fire, they may not hear it. In an interlinked system, all alarms are activated at the same time, for a clear warning throughout the entire home.
What the Building Regulations say

Since 1991, all new build properties must have mains-operated smoke alarms/heat alarms fitted as standard. The Building Regulations require that this must be, at the minimum, a grade D system. This means that there must be more than one alarm, mains powered with battery back-up, and all interlinked.

The same applies should any substantial alteration take place to a building, such as an extension or a change of usage – a common example of the latter is converting a commercial building into domestic household apartments. These are sensible solutions that are proven to be effective – but there’s a catch!

The loophole

The Government is committed to building 300,000 new homes a year, but three times as many existing homes are rewired each year, and this is where a safety mismatch becomes glaringly obvious, because, unlike new-build and substantial alteration cases, there is no requirement, at all, to install interlinked, mains-operated smoke alarms as part of the house rewiring process.

Admittedly, there is a requirement for the work to be carried out to the Wiring Regulations, but local building control approvals are not necessary with approved domestic installers who can sign off their own work. In these circumstances, the installer is under no obligation, regulatory or otherwise, to fit mains powered smoke or heat alarms

Conscientious electrical contractors may well include a Grade D system as part of their rewire services, but if they don’t this creates the curiously “compliant” situation where two houses, across the road from each other, are subject to different safety standards. On one side, we see a new build and we know that it will have Grade D system fitted as standard. On the other side, we have a newly rewired home… possibly without any smoke / heat alarms at all.

Time for change

The current situation presents an opportunity for everybody to win. The Government can deliver a simple, smart popular safety policy. The electrical contractor can add another level of service to their rewiring contracts and the homeowner has greater peace of mind, for the long-term protection of their family and property.

Updating the regulations to make mains-operated smoke and heat alarms mandatory in all domestic rewires is such a simple thing to do. At Appleby we think it’s time for a change, and make sure that fire safety is consistent wherever we live.

Guernsey Fire & Rescue Service is fitting Aico Smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms into islanders’ homes as part of a campaign run by the Service to ensure homes and businesses are made safe.

Guernsey Fire & Rescue Service conducts a risk assessment of every property before deciding which alarms to fit, also taking into account the occupiers. “Those considered most at risk, including the young and the elderly, may require extra protection so we will fit additional alarms in those properties” states Martin Lucas, Head of Fire Safety at Guernsey Fire & Rescue Service. “We have been running a free Smoke Alarm programme for eight years – thanks to sponsorship from prominent island companies – but decided to swap to Aico following issues with the alarms we had been fitting.

“This year we are really pleased to be able to include CO Alarms for the very first time. These will primarily be allocated to people over 65, who are known to be most at risk from CO poisoning. We’ve already seen a huge uptake of CO Alarms in the short time we have been offering them.”

A wide range of Aico alarms and accessories are now being offered free of charge by the Service including ten year Optical Smoke Alarms, CO Alarms and Alarm Kits for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing.

Aico’s RadioLINK wireless alarm interconnection technology was a feature of particular interest as Martin explains: “RadioLINK uses RF signals so we don’t have to cause any disruption to property when fitting alarms and interconnecting them together. It’s exceptionally good and is a tested and proven technology.”

AudioLINK data extraction technology on the CO Alarms is another feature that Martin considers to have added value and is encouraging landlords on the island to make good use of it. AudioLINK allows for invaluable real time data to be extracted directly from the Alarm using Aico’s free AudioLINK App which converts the data into an easy to read Alarm Status Report. It’s ideal for landlords as it can be used as part of the annual Gas Safety Checks (CP12) and property checks prior to changing over to new tenants. Landlords are also being encouraged to read Aico’s Landlord’s Guide to Smoke & CO Alarms, which has been published on the Guernsey government website.

“This is one of the many aspects we like about Aico” comments Martin. “Their products work really well and there is an ongoing development programme. We are excited about future developments.”

Guernsey Fire & Rescue Service is also keen to promote good practice when it comes to alarm installation, having hosted a large Aico Expert Installer session which trained over 50 people from the Service, electricians and electrical wholesalers. “We have never been able to bring so many people together to discuss fire safety before” states Martin. “The training day covered the full specification of Aico products and also installation and specification advice. It was so successful that we ran a further one purely for local Building Control inspectors. We would never have been able to do this without Aico. Their support has been fantastic – above and beyond anything we have experienced. I can honestly say we have never had this level of island support before.”

A wholly owned subsidiary of Ei Electronics, Aico is the market leader in residential fire and CO protection in the UK. All alarms are designed and built in Ireland specifically to meet the UK standards and regulations. With more mains powered domestic smoke alarms installed in the UK’s social housing than any other manufacturer, Aico is tried, tested and trusted.

For more information please go to or contact Aico on 01691 664100 or

Aico Ltd., the market leader in residential Fire and Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms in the UK, has expanded and enhanced its training and support services for customers. This includes two new Mobile Training & Demonstration Units plus an extended Centre of Excellence at Aico’s premises in Oswestry, Shropshire.

Aico’s new fully fitted Mobile Training & Demonstration vehicles enable the company to deliver detailed product and alarm technology information, plus its CPD accredited Expert Installer training, right to customers’ very doors.

Information boards on all Aico technologies, such as RadioLINK+ and AudioLINK, and alarm ranges – with fully functional product attached – are installed within the units, along with a virtual tour of the company’s manufacturing process in Shannon, Ireland.

The internal layout is highly flexible and can be configured to meet different requirements, be it a hands on training session with Aico alarms and technologies, a product demonstration, or working on bespoke specification projects.

In addition to the new Mobile Training & Demonstration Units, Aico also provides training, product demonstrations and much more at its Centre of Excellence, in Oswestry, Shropshire. Opened to great acclaim in 2015 as part of Aico’s 25th anniversary celebrations, the Centre has been expanded to twice its size to meet the demand for its use.

The new extension, officially opened at a launch Event in January, houses a dedicated training facility, with a large Conference Room which seats up to 150 people and is kitted out with the latest Audio Visual facilities. The Workshop allows for 20 people to comfortably attend a hands on training session and view alarms in action with the use of a smoke chamber. A new wholesaler area, with its imitation trade counter, has been set up to look familiar to wholesalers whilst showing the latest product and merchandise available to them.

The existing facilities at the Centre of Excellence remain, including ‘Ember Place’, which emulates a furnished home with typical room layouts including a lounge, kitchen and bedroom, with suitable Aico alarms and accessories fitted. In addition, there is a large modern meeting room which can accommodate up to 40 people; break out areas with seating and desks; and a Heritage and Manufacturing Area featuring a virtual tour of the Ei factory in Ireland.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Ei Electronics, Aico is the market leader in residential Fire and CO protection in the UK. All alarms are designed and built in Ireland specifically to meet the UK standards and regulations. With more mains powered domestic smoke alarms installed in UK social housing than any other manufacturer, Aico is tried, tested and trusted.

For more information please go to or contact Aico on 01691 664100 or