Fire alarm requirements for a HMO

When it comes to supplying HMOs to the market and/or managing them, upgrading the property’s fire safety is paramount! Not only for compliance and insurance purposes but as a landlord or a property manager, you must put the safety of your tenants, residents and housemates first. 

Why do we need to upgrade the fire safety in a HMO 

Imagine a standard family house: Mum, Dad and two kids. A fire breaks out, and the parents grab the kids (and the dog) and run out of the front door. 

Let’s imagine a property with six unrelated people living in it. If a fire breaks out in room 1, the person renting that room will likely run straight out of the door to safety, leaving the other five tenants in danger in their bedrooms. You are increasing the safety of your investment and the people who will be renting your rooms.

What are the different types of smoke detectors?

There are two types of smoke detectors: ionisation and photoelectric. Ionisation smoke detectors are more sensitive to the tiny particles produced by flaming fires, which spread quickly and consume combustible materials rapidly. Photoelectric smoke detectors are usually much faster at detecting smoke from smouldering synthetic material, meaning residents are alerted before danger has turned into disaster.

All Australian state fire authorities now recommend photoelectric smoke alarms, as ionisation smoke detectors are prone to false alarms. False alarms can be a real nuisance, leading to occupants covering the units to disable them. This is extremely dangerous, leaving the home unprotected in a real fire.

What are the regulations regarding smoke alarms in Western Australia?

If you rent your property to a single family, the requirements are different if you rent to six unrelated individuals. So you can understand the differences between the two, I have noted the requirements for a single-family rental property below.

Smoke alarms must comply with AS 3786:2014, are to be no more than ten years old, in good working order and permanently connected to mains power. Smoke alarms must be located between each bedroom area and the rest of the house (in the hallway if there is one), and one in each storey of the property that doesn’t contain a bedroom along the path of travel people would most likely take to evacuate the building.

All homes approved for construction from 1 May 2015 require all smoke alarms to be interconnected. There are rare cases where Lithium (Non-removable batteries may be used): Mains power is not connected to the dwelling, where there is no hidden space to run the necessary wiring for hard-wired alarms or when there is no appropriate alternative location – for example, where there is a concrete ceiling.

What are the fire safety upgrade requirements for a HMO in Western Australia?

Before we get technical, I need to point out that each state or territory has a specific policy in place to support HMO, rooming, boarding or lodging houses. The requirements below are for HMOs in WA only.

  • Smoke alarms – Mains powered 240V photoelectric smoke alarms (or photoelectric with 10yr lithium non-removable battery) installed in accordance with the requirements of AS 3786:2014, Part and NCC Vol 2-2019 & AS 1670.6 -1997. All smoke alarms to be interconnected to provide early warning of fire to all members of the household.

  • Evacuation lighting – Install at least one evacuation light on each level of the property to assist household members in finding their way to an exit in the event of a fire – per the requirements of part 3/7.5.6 NCC Vol 2 – 2019. Lighting can be incorporated within the smoke alarm or linked via a relay to house lighting.

  • Exit door hardware – The prescribed exit door (generally the front of the building closest to the assembly area or road) is required to satisfy the requirements of Part D2.20 and D2.21 NCC Vol 1 – 2019. The main entry door of the property becomes a prescribed exit door and is to be fitted with appropriate hardware (latch with lever action handle, free to exit at all times). No deadbolts or other hardware to be installed. The door is to be fitted with a magnetic or ball-type hold-open device or latch at the foot of the door, allowing it to be secured in the open position by household members in the event of an emergency evacuation.

  • Evacuation sign and diagrams – Each bedroom and common area (where prescribed by state codes) is fitted with an evacuation sign & diagram identifying the minimum elements of Section 3.5.5 of AS 3745:2010 – Planning for emergencies in facilities. A4 size for bedroom doors and A3 size for common areas.

  • Fire Extinguishers Selected and installed to meet the requirements of AS2444 – 2001, in this instance, a 2.5kg dry chemical AB: E type extinguisher would be appropriate equipment to manage most domestic [fire] risk. Equipment to be tagged and installed at least 1 metre from any cooktop and installed with relevant location signs.

  • Maintenance – Property inspection and sign-off by a recognised, competent fire safety practitioner or qualified technician by way of a statement of compliance listing the installation date, fire safety measure and minimum standard of performance is to be provided. Each of the listed measures is signed off as compliant by the above technician at the completion of initial works and each subsequent year thereafter, which provides annual advice that the fire safety installations are being maintained to the appropriate code or standard. Prescribed maintenance means that smoke alarms, evacuation (and emergency) lighting, and firefighting equipment are maintained every 6 months. Evacuation signs are reviewed every 12 months, and exit door hardware must be functioning correctly at all times.

Need help with your Fire Safety Install?

The HMO team have installed and maintains over 150+ fire alarm installations annually for our clients. If you need help with the actual installation and certification of your HMO fire safety upgrade, reach out to the team, and we will see if we can help.