New smoke alarm laws take effect 1 Jan 2017

 

Legislation was passed in Queensland Parliament on the 31st of August, 2016, meaning households in Queensland are set to become the most fire safe in the nation. This legislation has eventuated as a result of the recommendations handed down following the tragic 2011 Slacks Creek house fire. A move that is welcomed by Complied Australia.

 

What are the new laws?

The major changes are:

  • All smoke alarms must be photo-electric.
    Building Fire Safety (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Regulation 2016 – Part 5A Section 55E (1)(b) and (c)
    – Ionisation alarms will no longer be permitted to be installed in domestic dwellings (where required to meet compliance). This includes dual sensor alarms with an ionisation sensor.
  • All smoke alarms must be AS3786-2014 compliant.
    Fire and Emergency Services (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 104RB (2)
    only smoke alarms that meet with AS3786-2014 will be permitted to be installed in EXISTING domestic dwellings as both new installations and replacements (where required to meet compliance).
    This does not include new installations at the time of build. These alarms are subject to the Building Regulation 2006 and will be prescribed and approved on the certified plans.
  • Smoke alarms must be installed in all bedrooms.
    Building Fire Safety (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Regulation 2016 – Part 5A Section 55C (2)(a)
  • Smoke alarms must be installed at egress paths between storeys.
    Building Fire Safety (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Regulation 2016 – Part 5A Section 55C (2)(c)
    – at the top and bottom of stairways that connect the storeys and levels of the dwelling.
  • All smoke alarms must be interconnected.
    Fire and Emergency Services (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill 2016 104RBA (5)(e)
    – to clarify, this amendment applies to all existing domestic dwellings in Queensland, regardless of their age.
    In many cases, wireless (Wi-Fi/Radio Frequency) technologies will need to be utilized to meet these requirements.
  • Smoke alarms must be installed outside dead air spaces.
    Building Fire Safety (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Regulation 2016 – Part 5A Section 55C (3)
    – must be installed away from wall corners, lights and forced air circulation (fan blades, air con ducts/intakes, split cycle air conditioners etc) and must not be installed too low on walls.
  • Smoke alarms must be replaced no later than ten years from the date of manufacture.
    Fire and Emergency Services (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill 2016 104RC (1)
    – previously, alarms were to be replaced in accordance with the manufacturers expiry information. In most cases, this was ten years from the date of manufacture, however in some cases, the manufacturer expiry date was greater than ten years from the date of manufacture. This requirement falls under AS3786, however has now been clarified under FESAB2016 104RC(1) as most consumers do not have access to AS3786.
  • All smoke alarms must be powered by consumer mains power or if battery operated must have a ten year non-removable lithium battery.
    Building Fire Safety (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Regulation 2016 – Part 5A Section 55D
    – this is in addition to existing minimum requirements set down by the National Construction Code (BCA), eg. Dwellings built or substantially renovated after 1 July 1997 must have 240v hard-wired alarms installed in the minimum locations prescribed by the BCA.
    Additional alarms prescribed by the Building Fire Safety (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Regulation 2016 can be 9v battery operated photo-electric with a 10-year non-removable battery, however wherever possible, 240v hard-wired alarms are recommended.
    Effectively 9v stand alone battery operated smoke alarms with removable batteries will be phased out by 1 Jan 2027.
  • All existing consumer mains powered (240v) smoke alarms that are required for compliance must be replaced with 240v smoke alarms.
    Fire and Emergency Services (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill 2016 104RC (3)
    – this now requires all dwellings that were built prior to 1 July 1997 that had not undergone any renovations but do have existing 240v hard-wired alarms, where the current minimum requirement is only 9v stand alone battery operated alarms, that any 240v alarms that are required for compliance must be replaced with 240v alarms and cannot be replaced and/or substituted with 9v stand alone battery operated alarms.
    Effectively bringing older dwellings with 240v hard wired alarms in line with the existing requirements for dwellings built after 1 July 1997 where 240v hard wired alarms must be replaced with 240v hard wired alarms.

 

The above referenced amendments will be integrated into the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 and the Building Fire Safety Regulation 2008.

 

The new laws don’t affect everybody straight away

 

There is a phase in period of ten years ending 1 Jan 2027.
Prepare and become familiar with the new requirements and when and how they will affect you.

 

When do I need to comply?

 

From 1 Jan 2017

  • Any new or replacement smoke alarm being installed in ANY EXISTING DOMESTIC DWELLING of ANY AGE or ANY CIRCUMSTANCE and WHERE REQUIRED FOR COMPLIANCE must be photo-electric and must be AS3786-2014 compliant.
    – no more ionisation alarms (or dual sensor ionisation/photo-electric alarms) to be installed.
    Business as usual at Complied, as we have only ever offered photo-electric alarms.
  • All new properties submitted for Building Development Approval or existing dwellings that undergo substantial* renovations must meet the requirements of the new laws entirely and will be prescribed by a building certifier.

From 1 Jan 2022

  • At the first point of sale or lease after 31 December 2021, a property must meet the requirements of the new laws entirely.
    this will be applicable to the majority of our clients (rental properties).
    eg. If a property has a 12 month lease renewal effective in December 2021, then the requirements of the new laws will not be required to be met until December 2022.

From 1 Jan 2027

All domestic dwellings in Queensland must meet with the requirements of the new laws entirely, including all private owner occupied dwellings.

 

 

 

                     Common questions answered here

1Can I still replace my 9v alarm with a 9v alarm with a removable battery?

Yes you can.
Provided that the dwelling was built prior to 1 July 1997 and has not undergone any substantial* renovations since, then yes, existing 9v stand alone battery operated alarms can be replaced with 9v stand alone battery operated photo-electric alarms with removable batteries until at least 1 Jan 2022.

2Should I upgrade to the new laws immediately?

There are a number of factors to consider in doing so.
The first is safety.
It is certainly recommended to upgrade to the new laws as soon as possible.
By replacing all existing ionisation alarms with photo-electric alarms, the level of protection in the dwelling is dramatically increased.
As is installing additional photo-electric alarms in bedrooms, at egress paths and also interconnecting them.

The second is cost.
Remember that smoke alarms must be replaced no later than ten years after their date of manufacture.
Generally speaking, when a smoke alarm is purchased, it is typically between 6-18 months old (from date of manufacture).
Therefore as an example:
A rental property built before 1 July 1997, single storey dwelling with four bedrooms, all bedrooms served by one hallway that currently requires only one 9v battery operated alarm in the hallway to meet the minimum requirements under the Building Code of Australia.
If this alarm in the hallway still meets the requirements under AS3786 (still functions as designed and is not expired), then there is no legal requirement to upgrade, therefore no additional costs (to those under the current legal requirements) need to be incurred until at least 1 Jan 2022.
If the 9v alarm was to expire in 2017, it would be business as usual to replace this alarm with a 9v photo-electric alarm at a cost of $25.00.
Bearing in mind that a 9v photo-electric alarm installed in late 2016 would need to be replaced with a ten year 9v lithium photo-electric alarm in 2022, one would enjoy only five years of the ten year service life of this 9v alarm. Effectively losing approx. $12.50 of value from the $25.00 spent on the new alarm.
The flip side is also true.
Replace the existing 9v alarm with a ten year 9v lithium alarm (approx. $80.00), install an additional ten year 9v lithium alarm in each of the four bedrooms (approx. $320.00) and have them all interconnected (approx. $100.00 with unobstructed ceiling access) which is an approx. total spend of $500.00 five years earlier than required. These alarms will expire only five years after 2022 (or a little earlier), effectively losing approx. $250.00 of value from the $500.00 spent on the new upgraded alarms.
In terms of best value and bang for buck, it is more cost effective to upgrade to the new laws nearer the time you are required to do so, rather than right now.

Costs are also expected to reduce in line with market forces as more compliant products enter the market.

HOWEVER COMPLIED AUSTRALIA STRONGLY RECOMMEND REPLACING ALL EXISTING IONISATION ALARMS WITH PHOTO-ELECTRIC ALARMS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

3What is deemed 'substantially' renovated?

The term “substantially renovated” is clearly defined under the new laws.
A property undergoing “substantial renovations” should be subject to a Building Approval process.

As part of this process, a building certifier will prescribe the smoke alarm requirements under the Building Regulation 2006.

4I have existing alarms near wall corners, lights or air conditioners

Any smoke alarms that are required for compliance that are currently located within 300mm of wall corners or light fittings, or within 400mm of fan blades or an opening from which air is supplied from an air conditioner or forced air ventilation may well be compliant right now.
However, under the new laws, alarms in these locations will fall non-compliant.
This will include many sole occupancy units within class 2 buildings, where alarms are installed on concrete ceilings and where the electrical cables supplied to these alarms are positioned in core drilled holes in concrete at the time of construction.
In these cases, the alarms must be relocated with the likely solution being electrical conduit installed externally on the ceiling.
In cases in many class 1 buildings (houses, townhouses etc) the alarms must also be relocated which will likely expose ceiling damage which will require patch and paint repair.
In many cases additional electrical cabling and coupling materials will be required to relocate the alarms to compliant locations.

5My house was built or renovated after 1 July 1997 and has 240v hard wired alarms. Can I install 10-year 9v lithium alarms in the bedrooms and egress paths to meet the new requirements?

Yes.
Under NCC (Building Code of Australia – BCA), all dwellings built or substantially renovated after 1 July 1997 must have 240v hard wired alarms installed in the minimum locations set down by the BCA.
However the BCA is not referenced in the new requirements prescribed under Fire and Emergency Services (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill 2016 104RBA.
The additionally required alarms are prescribed under the Building Fire Safety (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Regulation 2016 Section 55D where  both hard-wired photo-electric alarms and battery operated 10 year lithium (non-removable battery) alarms are permitted.

It is important to remember that all alarms required for compliance must be interconnected and some different brands and types may have compatibility issues, therefore wherever possible we recommend the additional alarms be 240v hard-wired also.

6How does the legislation work?

The legislative hierarchy works like such:

  • The NCC (Building Code of Australia – BCA) prescribes the minimum smoke alarm requirements at a national level.
    This takes effect when “called up” by the below Qld State legislation.
  • The Building Fire Safety Regulation 2008 prescribes additional smoke alarm requirements specific to Queensland for EXISTING DWELLINGS.
  • The Fire and Emergency Services Act (Qld) 1990 calls persons to act, to ensure that EXISTING DWELLINGS meet with referenced codes, standards and regulations. Both the above are referenced as well as AS3786, the Australian Standard which prescribes the minimum performance requirements, service life and labeling requirements of smoke alarms, and AS1851, the Australian Standard which prescribes the testing and maintenance requirements for smoke alarms.

 

  • Requirements at the time of build for NEW DWELLINGS are prescribed under the Building Regulation 2006.

7How much will the required upgrades cost?

Implementation costs to households will vary greatly depending on a number of factors, including the size and design of the dwelling, the age of the dwelling, the type of smoke alarms currently installed, the type of smoke alarms required to meet compliance; and location within the state.
The Queensland Government estimate that the average cost per dwelling will be between $600.00 – $1000.00.
However industry believe that these costs could soar well above $2000.00 in many cases.

For property owners of existing dwellings, provided that substantial renovations are not undertaken from 1 Jan 2017, there will be at least a five year lead in period for landlords and a ten year lead in period for owner occupied dwellings.
With the average weekly rent in Queensland being $400.00 per week, the implementation costs will equate to approximately two weeks rental income over a 260 week lead in period (equivalent to 0.008%).
A minimal cost to save lives if budgeted for over the next five years.

 

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