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Managing Nuisance Alarms

Virtually everyone with a smoke alarm in their home has experienced a nuisance alarm, which is the accidental activation of the smoke alarm, generally due to cooking activities or steam from the shower. In some homes - depending upon the smoke alarm's proximity to the bathroom or kitchen and the cooking practices of the occupants - nuisance alarms can be more than an occasional annoyance.

Unfortunately, the occupants' response to nuisance alarms is often to remove the battery from the alarm, or shut off the circuit breaker. A quick glance at Ontario's fire loss statistics confirms that this is a very bad idea. A recent ten-year study of smoke alarm operation revealed that approximately half of all homes that experienced a reported fire had no smoke alarm warning. In fatal residential fires, approximately two-thirds had no smoke alarm warning. Clearly, disabling a smoke alarm is a dangerous practice that leaves the occupants extremely vulnerable to fire.

There are alternatives to managing nuisance alarms that do not diminish the fire protection level in your home.

1. Solutions to Nuisance Alarms

The most common cause of nuisance alarms is cooking in the oven, stove or toaster. The first step is to minimize the problem at the source by keeping ovens and burners clean, and by turning down the timer setting on toasters. Using the fan on the range hood when cooking can also help to remove combustion particles from the air. If this fails to produce the desired results, there are other solutions to consider.

2. Install Smoke Alarms with a Pause Feature

For anyone experiencing nuisance alarms, a smoke alarm with a "pause" or "hush" feature is a must. These alarms have a button which, when pressed, silences the unit for several minutes. The alarm will then re-set itself automatically. It is highly recommended that any new smoke alarms purchased include this feature.

3. Move the Smoke Alarm

Frequent nuisance alarms can sometimes be avoided by moving the smoke alarm further away from the cooking area or from near the shower area.


Try Alternative Technology

Smoke alarms commonly use one of two different types of technology to detect smoke: ionization or photoelectric.

Ionization-type smoke alarms have a small amount of radioactive material that ionizes the air between two electrically charged plates, causing a measurable current to flow between the plates. When smoke enters the chamber, it disrupts the flow of current, which activates the alarm. Ionization alarms respond slightly faster to flaming-type fires.

Photoelectric-type smoke alarms aim a light source into a sensing chamber at an angle away from the sensor. Smoke entering the chamber reflects light onto the sensor, which triggers the alarm. Photoelectric alarms respond slightly faster to smoldering-type fires.

For smoke alarms located near the kitchen, replacing existing ionization units with photoelectric ones may help to reduce nuisance alarms.

For further information, please contact the Pembroke Fire Department at 613-735-6821 ext. 1201.


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