Wake Up! Get a working smoke alarm

Wake Up! Get a Working Smoke Alarm.

A working smoke alarm can save your family's lives in the event of a fire in your home.

Did you know that 90 per cent of residential fires are preventable? In Ontario, from 1995 to 2004, almost half (48 per cent) of the preventable fatal fires had no smoke alarm warning. Out of those fires:

  • 60 per cent had no batteries or power removed
  • 7 per cent had dead batteries
  • 4 per cent the batteries were not properly installed

In Ottawa, 44 people have lost their lives due to fires since 2002.

Legal responsibility

In Ontario, you must have a working smoke alarm outside every sleeping area in your home. As of March 1, 2006 you must also have at least one working smoke alarm on every storey that does not contain a sleeping area. It's the law!

If you live in a rental unit, it is the owner's legal responsibility to make sure that you have working smoke alarms.

It is also against the law to disable a smoke alarm.

Furthermore, the Ontario Fire Marshal recommends that each bedroom has a smoke alarm installed within it.  The revised Ontario Building Code requires that new homes have smoke alarms installed each bedroom and the Fire Marshal is asking that all fire departments in Ontario support this initiative and advocate for smoke alarms in bedrooms.

Did you know?

Half of home fire deaths result from fires reported between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. when most people are asleep.  In fact, one quarter of home fire deaths were caused by fires that started in the bedroom. If you need more reasoning to ensure you have working smoke alarms, three out of five home fire deaths happen from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.

Quick Tips:

  • Smoke alarms should be installed outside each sleeping area or where a sleeping area is served by a hallway, install the alarm in the hall.  Ensure the smoke alarm is installed on or near the ceiling, in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Install a new battery at least once a year; however we recommend changing them each time we change our clocks. That means once in the spring, and once in the fall.
  • Smoke and Carbon Mononxide (CO) alarms should be tested once a month to ensure they are working properly.  
  • Dust can clog a smoke alarm, so carefully vacuum the inside of the unit if possible. Remember, if it’s electrically connected, shut the power off first. 

Test your smoke alarm

To make sure your smoke alarm is working, you should test it once a month by pushing the test button.

If you think your smoke alarms are more than 10 years old, replace them with new ones.

Change your clock, change your battery

To make sure that the batteries are always fresh, change the battery in your smoke alarm when you change your clock in the spring and fall.

If you do not have a working smoke alarm or if you want more information about smoke alarms and fire safety, contact Ottawa Fire Services at 613-580-2860.

Public attitude towards fire safety

A national study commissioned by Duracell and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) showed:

  • One in 10 Canadians experiences a fire in their home, but 48 per cent believe it won’t happen to them
  • 64 per cent of Canadians claim to have an escape plan, but 63 per cent never practice it
  • 28 per cent have replaced a smoke alarm
  • 19 per cent have never replaced their batteries

A fire can destroy your home in minutes.

Energy source for smoke alarms

As an energy source for smoke alarms, the Ontario Building Code states: Power Supply
(1) Except as permitted in Sentence (2), smoke alarms shall be installed by permanent connections to an electrical circuit and shall have no disconnect switch between the overcurrent circuit device and the smoke alarm.

Many homes in Ontario have smoke alarms that rely solely on the supply of household electricity as an energy source. When power to your home is disrupted for any reason, the smoke alarms are no longer energized. Often, a power outage is planned and managed. For many customers, it is desirable to have the power outage during the night, when their demand for electricity is minimal. Unfortunately, this is when most people are at home sleeping, and depend on a working smoke alarm for early warning of a fire.

Many retailers offer smoke alarms with various features. One such feature is dual power. This smoke alarm option is designed to satisfy the requirements of the Ontario Building Code, and offer an additional energy source from a 9 Volt battery. This unit provides continuous protection when household electricity is not available. The dual power smoke alarm does not have battery charging capability and just like any other battery operated smoke alarm, the battery should be changed twice a year. Another option to ensure continuous protection during a power outage is to install additional battery operated smoke alarms within your home.

Remember, change your clocks, change your batteries.

Smoke alarm tips

Which type of smoke alarm should a homeowner purchase?

It is the consumer's responsibility to assess the circumstances of their household and to select the most appropriate alarm. However, an important consideration in the purchase of a smoke alarm is conformance to a recognized standard. In Ontario, CAN/ULC-S531 is the recognized standard for both the ionization and photoelectric types of alarms. Both ionization and photoelectric type products conforming to this standard are available on the market. A homeowner will know that a smoke alarm meets the requirements of this standard by the ULC or cUL label on the device.

Which type of alarm is more effective?

There is no simple answer to this question. The two types operate on different principles and therefore may respond differently to various conditions. Some advantages to each type are set out below:


  • Fastest type to respond to flaming fires
  • Lowest cost and most commonly sold
  • Some models have a hush or temporary silence feature that allows silencing without removing the battery
  • Some models are available with a long life battery


  • Fastest type to respond to slow smouldering fires and white or gray smoke
  • Less prone to nuisance alarms from cooking

Notwithstanding these differences, to achieve ULC listing, both alarms must be tested to the same standard and meet the same requirements. Photoelectric smoke alarms may respond slightly faster to smoldering fires, while ionization alarms respond slightly faster to flaming fires. Since you can't predict the type of fire that will occur, it is difficult to recommend which is best. Both alarms will detect all types of fires that commonly occur in the home. Installing both types of smoke alarms in your home can enhance fire safety.

Information provided by the Office of the Fire Marshal

What should tenants do if they don't have a working smoke alarm?

The Ontario Fire Code states that the owner is responsible for both the installation and maintenance of smoke alarms. It also states that "Smoke alarms shall be maintained in operating condition by the owner." This means at all times. Tenants should test the smoke alarms as per the manufacturers recommendations.

Where should I install my smoke alarms?

The Ontario Fire Code states:" Effective March 1, 2006, it is the law for all Ontario homes to have a working smoke alarm on every storey and outside all sleeping areas. With this previously announced Fire Code amendment now in effect, it is hoped there will be a reduction of the number of preventable fire-related injuries and fatalities.

The amendment covers single family, semi-detached and town homes, whether owner-occupied or rented."

When should I replace my smoke alarm?

Studies have shown that alarms should be replaced after seven to 10 years.

Why does my smoke alarm go off a lot?

It may be dirty. Clean the unit with a vacuum cleaner - dust particles can and often do set off false alarms.

The alarm may also need to be moved or replaced. It could be too close to the kitchen, bathroom, or heat register. If the alarm appears to be defective, replace it as soon as possible.

Why does my alarm beep?

It may have a weak or inappropriate battery. Check the manufacturer's instructions.

Ontario Fire Marshal

Working smoke alarms: it's the law