Smoke Alarm & Carbon Monoxide Safety

Most fire deaths happen in homes as a result of people breathing smoke and toxic fumes while they are asleep. Smoke alarms are an effective early warning device that can awaken sleeping occupants and help provide time to safely exit the building.

Statistics

British Columbia’s fire statistics reveal a strong link between working smoke alarms and reduced fatalities from residential structure fires. Statistics show that smoke alarms help save lives, reduce fire related injuries, reduce the spread of fires, and reduce the damage caused by fire. Numerous evaluations have been conducted by the Fire Service using decades of data and the results are consistent. International studies show that your chances of dying in a home fire may be reduced by 50 percent if a working smoke alarm is present in your home.

Mandatory Alarms

Smoke alarms are mandatory in all dwellings under the British Columbia Fire Code. All homes, sleeping rooms within boarding and lodging houses, hotels, and recreational cabins are required to be protected by smoke alarms.

Dwellings constructed before the B.C. Building Code required smoke alarms in 1979 are also required to have a smoke alarm. Smoke alarms are permitted to be battery operated in a dwelling unit constructed before the March 31, 1979 British Columbia Building Code inception date or in a building which is not supplied with electrical power.

Dwelling units constructed after the 1979 building code changes require the smoke alarms to be permanently wired to the home’s electrical system and interconnected.

While carbon monoxide alarms are not mandatory in B.C., it is recommended that alarms be installed if a home has a fuel-burning appliance, fireplace or attached garage. For more information visit Carbon Monoxide Awareness page.

Alarm Maintenance

All smoke alarms should be replaced after ten years to take advantage of current technology and to reduce the chances of failure due to product deterioration. When smoke alarms are being replaced the installation must not reduce the level of protection. In other words existing electronically interconnected smoke alarms should be replaced with similar type smoke alarms that provide the same or higher level of protection. If additional smoke alarms are being added in the home they may be battery operated. Always check local government bylaws for any further installation requirements.

Who is Responsible?

We've broken it down to help you understand what you are responsible for.

  • Homeowners have a responsibility to install and maintain their smoke alarms. Homeowners should also consider installing smoke alarms that have carbon monoxide (CO) detection built in, or add a separate stand alone CO detector. This will also help to provide early warning in the even that an unsafe CO level in the home is reached. For more information check the Technical Safety BC Carbon Monoxide Safety web page.
    • Owners of recreational cabins must ensure their smoke alarm is working. Consider bringing a working battery operated smoke alarm with you when you travel, especially if your cabin is remotely located and access to a replacement smoke alarm is not convenient.
  • Landlords/apartment managers have a responsibility to install smoke alarms as required by the year of construction and test them to ensure they are in working order prior to tenant occupancy. The landlord is also required to maintain the smoke alarm in working condition. Smoke alarms should be inspected whenever tenancy changes to ensure the smoke alarms are working properly.
  • Tenants should notify their Landlord immediately if they do not have the required number of working smoke alarms. In the event there is inadequate smoke alarm protection the tenant should consider installing their own battery-operated smoke alarm. In some situations a tenant may use a battery operated smoke alarm to provide additional protection in an inadequately protected dwelling.
  • Local fire departments that conduct inspections of hotels and public buildings should check the building maintenance records to help verify all smoke alarms are being maintained, and in working condition.

For more information about this bulletin, contact the Office of the Fire Commissioner.