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A landlord's guide to smoke and carbon monoxide alarms

In our previous guide to fire safety in rental properties we went over the legal requirements for landlords when it comes to fire safety. In this article, we will specifically address smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, taking you through the requirements and answering some important questions.

This legislation was introduced to protect tenants from potential harm and landlords from potential litigation. Fire safety is paramount in any home, not just rental, but landlords can receive hefty fines if they don’t follow the rules on keeping their tenants and property as safe as possible. Fire damage claims are among the most expensive that insurers receive. The UK average fire claim value is £19,527 and in London this rises to £51,138.

Is it illegal to not have a smoke alarm?

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 states:

“Private sector landlords are required from 1 October 2015 to have at least one smoke alarm installed on every storey of their properties and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room containing a solid fuel burning appliance (e.g. a coal fire, wood burning stove).”

So, if you are letting a house with two storeys (floors), each one must have at least one smoke alarm fitted to meet the legal standards. Additionally, a smoke alarm must also be fitted in any room where you use something that produces smoke – so if you had a wood burner in your living room, or a coal fire in a fireplace, those rooms would also require an alarm.

This doesn’t include gas or electric ovens which might seem odd to some, as the kitchen is where you will cook and fires can more likely occur, however as The Fire Service explain:

“Some people find their alarms are frequently set off when they are cooking or when the toast burns. An alarm installed inside the kitchen must be a heat alarm rather than a smoke alarm. Just outside a kitchen (e.g. in hall or dining room) an optical smoke alarm or, even better, a combined smoke and heat alarm should be installed, as these are less sensitive to
false alarm.”

Is it illegal to not have a carbon monoxide alarm?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, including gas, oil, wood and coal. If you breathe it in, it can kill you quickly.

For carbon monoxide alarms, currently in England, the law states you only need to install them if “the house which is used wholly or partly as living accommodation contains a solid fuel burning combustion appliance”.

What this means is every home with at least one fuel-burning appliance/heater, attached garage or fireplace should have a carbon monoxide alarm. So, your oven, heaters, and fireplaces all mean you should install a CO alarm.

Where should I install a smoke alarm?

You normally screw a smoke alarm to a ceiling, as smoke rises. It is best to have it as central in the room as possible, but not too close to a wall or light fitting. Think about how your tenants will hear the alarm – will it be audible to them in their bedrooms while they sleep?

If the property you let is a flat or all on one level, the best place to install a smoke alarm is in between the living area and bedrooms (often the hallway). If bedrooms have large electrical appliances in them, such as a TV or large sound system, it is best to fit a smoke alarm in here too.

If you aren’t sure, speak to us, haart has contractors who are willing to help and keep your tenants safe. Find your local branch details here.

Where should I install a carbon monoxide alarm?

It’s important to put smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in the right places so they can perform best. You need them to be audible and in a place where they will detect smoke or CO easily. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure where’s best, The Fire Service has the following advice on where to install the carbon monoxide alarm:

  • If the home has only one carbon monoxide alarm, it should be installed in the main bedroom or in the hallway outside of the sleeping area
  • An alarm should be installed on every level of the home and in sleeping areas
  • Place the alarm at least 15 feet away from fuel-burning appliances
  • Make sure nothing is covering or obstructing the unit
  • Do not place the unit in dead air spaces or next to a window or door
  • Test the carbon monoxide alarm once a week by pressing the test/reset button
  • Every month, unplug the unit and vacuum with a soft-brush attachment or wipe with a clean, dry cloth to remove accumulated dust

What type of alarms should a landlord install?

There are no official alarms that you should fit. The best way is to research which ones suit your property and tenants’ situation. Remember that heat detectors are not a replacement for smoke alarms. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing the alarms.

There are different types of smoke alarm you can purchase, plus you can buy combined smoke and heat and combined and carbon monoxide alarms.

  • Ionisation

Sensitive to small particles of smoke produced by fast flaming fires, such as paper and wood, and will detect this type of fire before the smoke gets too thick. They can be a little too sensitive for placing near kitchens.

  • Optical

Better at detecting larger particles of smoke produced by slow-burning fires, such as foam-filled furniture or wiring that is overheated. They can be installed near kitchens but not in them due to their sensitivity.

  • Heat Alarms

Detect an increase in temperature but are insensitive to smoke, so you can put one in kitchens.

Who can fit a smoke alarm?

It is always best to get a qualified Part P and Gas Safe Engineer to install any smoke and carbon monoxide alarms you want in your property you intend to let – for maximum safety. If you install them yourself you must get an engineer to check them the next time they’re carrying out work at your property to prove you had independent, expert checks made on them.

How often should a landlord check a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm?

There are slightly different rules and regulations for installing and checking smoke and carbon monoxide alarms for England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. This guide from Propertymark outlines them in a clear and concise way.

Ideally, in addition to the legal checks, a landlord should test any smoke or carbon monoxide alarms any time they visit the property. Tenants should also be advised to test alarms when the clocks change and vacuum them gently using the soft brush attachment to remove dust from the sensors.

The batteries will need to be changed once a year, unless the alarm states it is a ten-year alarm. After ten years, it’s probably best to fit a whole new alarm.

Landlords must make sure the alarms are in working order at the start of each new tenancy. Landlords have to provide proof that this happened too.

Let haart help

Thinking of letting? At haart, we’re on a mission to get your property let. You can get in touch with us with all your questions and queries and we will do our best to help.

See our dedicated landlord’s hub and contact our friendly staff at your local branch. Be sure to check out haart’s Top tips for landlords, too.