What is the right Smoke Alarm for my short-term rental?

Most people are well aware of the importance of smoke alarms but what gets confusing is knowing the right smoke alarm to have and where.

In this post, we will get to the bottom of what we need in our properties and what are your best choice’s from the wide range of alarms on the market.

Why do I need Smoke Alarms? (Yes, some people still don’t get it)
What’s the difference between a smoke alarm and a smoke detector?
What type of smoke alarm should I buy?
How many smoke alarms do I need to have?
Where do smoke alarms need to be installed?

How should I maintain my smoke alarms?
>> What we recommend

Why do I need Smoke Alarms?

What Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarms you choose and install should come before the choice of what faucet you should have in the kitchen!

At a fundamental level, you need to understand that the majority of people will not wake up to the smell of smoke or be alerted to fire, even when awake, without the alert from an alarm. Most kids will not even wake to most siren-type alarms.

In homes where almost 100% of the contents are made from synthetic materials that burn hotter, spread faster, and produce a massive amount of toxic smoke, our time frame for escape and chances for survival are getting lower and lower.

Early warning is essential to give the best chances for survival!

At least twice a year you’re reminded about the importance of smoke alarms and to change your batteries. Yes, you’ve guessed it… when the clocks go forward in the spring and back in the fall.

These reminders are the best way for fire department public educators to drill into you the importance of smoke alarms but the conversation is a much bigger one.

As a rental property owner or property manager, you have a bigger responsibility to provide for the safety of your guests by ensuring you have non-expired smoke alarms installed correctly on all levels of the home and they are tested and maintained regularly.

In the event of a tragic fire-related fatality, if the alarms are not present or have been disabled you as the property owner could be held liable.

The punishment is not just a simple fine but possible imprisonment!

What’s the difference between a smoke alarm and a smoke detector?

The terms alarm and detector are not used interchangeably.

A smoke detector is normally part of a larger interconnected monitoring system. On detection of smoke, it will send a signal to the main control panel that will then activate an audible and visual alarm. Smoke detectors are normally part of a commercial fire protection system or installed in large residential properties.

A smoke alarm is the type of unit we need to install in our small and mid-sized residential properties that has smoke detection hardware and alarm built into the same device.

What type of smoke alarm should I buy?

This is the right question and one of the most important!

There is are a huge range of smoke alarms on the market and trying to navigate all the terminology can be a challenge. Let’s walk you through the basics.

Photoelectric and Ionization
This is the technical side of smoke alarms and understanding the difference and why you should have both is important in preventing nuisance alarms (activation due to the cooking or steam from a bathroom) which can cause guests to disable them.

Photoelectric smoke alarms are generally more responsive to fires that begin with a long period of smouldering (called “smouldering fires”).


Photoelectric alarms have been the most commonly used alarms for decades. However, over time and after extensive testing, it has been found that this type is best installed away from kitchens and bathrooms as they are activated easily. Steam from bathrooms and cooking steam/smoke is the most common problem with accidental activation.

Photoelectric detectors are ideal for installation inside and outside sleeping areas.

Ionization smoke alarms are generally more responsive to flaming fires.


As technology develops, more and more advances are being made in early detection, and the Ionization smoke alarm should be your goto unit in areas that are likely to have a high chance of rapidly spreading fires. Locating an Ionization smoke alarm close to the kitchen, furnace / mechanical room is ideal as well as outside bathroom areas if steam is likely to activate a photoelectric alarm.

Combination Carbon Monoxide & Smoke Alarms
This is a great option for saving some money while meeting the requirements of the fire code but you are also putting all your eggs in one basket. Our recommendation is that if you do decide to purchase combination smoke and CO models, that’s fine, but we encourage you to also purchase a plug-in Carbon Monoxide detector with a digital display as well to be installed outside all sleeping areas.

Hard-Wired vs Battery Operated
New properties are now built to code with interconnected hard-wired alarms (with battery backup). These alarms operate of the 110V electrical system in the home and should the electrical system fail the battery backup will suffice.

These hard-wired systems are also interconnected so should one alarm be triggered, all the alarms in the home will activate. This is very important should an alarm be activated on a different level and sound may not travel enough to alert sleeping residents.

If you can’t install hard-wired alarms, new technology has advanced to allow you to have a battery-operated interconnected alarm. These alarms are interconnected with their own built-in wi-fi or Bluetooth connections.

Having an interconnected system, battery-operated or hard-wired, should be your choice of alarms.

How many smoke alarms do I need to have?

This is not always an easy question to answer… but at minimum to meet the requirements of the fire code…

You must install a working battery-operated or hard-wired smoke alarm on every level of your home.

Ideally, you should be placing these alarms outside sleeping areas to give the best chance of waking sleeping residents.

This is the bare minimum requirement but if you have a larger home or a layout that means smoke may take time to travel throughout your home then you should also be adding additional, interconnected, alarms.

Where do smoke alarms need to be installed?

Sadly, many owners don’t tend to think smoke alarms are a very desirable look for a property and quite often their placement comes at the cost of aesthetics.

Smoke alarms all have manufacturers’ requirements for placement and installation and you need to follow these guidelines. This image above is a general guide to ensure the placement is not in dead air spaces where smoke will not travel easily, so avoid being too close to corners or the peaks of vaulted ceilings.

You need to have at least one smoke alarm installed on every level of your home and if you are unsure if you need to install more then the answer is yes, you do need more.

How should I maintain my smoke alarms?

All smoke alarms have a limited life span and as such have an expiry date.

Most alarms are good for 7-10 years but all newer alarms will have an expiry sticker attached to the alarm. If there is no expiry sticker assume it is expired and replace it.

Change your batteries in the alarms when the clocks change and test the detector at the same time with ‘Smoke In A Can’ aerosol to check the detection hardware for operation.

Press the check button on the alarms between every guest to check the audible alarm and ensure that interconnected alarms are operating correctly.

If you notice dust build-up take down the detector and vacuum with a soft brush attachment as needed.

Here is what we recommend!

Now is the time to go and take a look at what you have in your property and ask yourself these questions:

1. Are there smoke alarms on all levels of the home?
2. Are all alarms within their expiry date (must have a date on the alarm. If no expiry sticker assume the alarm is expired).
3. Do not downgrade your alarms (If hard-wired you must replace it with hard-wired. You cannot replace a hard-wired alarm with a battery-operated one).
4. Change the batteries if you do not know when they were last changed and test the detector hardware with ‘Smoke In A Can’ to ensure activation.
5. Test the smoke alarms by pressing the test button for audible alerts between every guest.

Do you have any questions?

Safety equipment and the choices to make can be overwhelming.

Feel free to contact us to have one of our trained consultants come out to your property and help you make the best decisions.

Also, leave your comments below to let us know if this was useful and if you think there is anything we should add.

We hope this helped you to be a little more #RentalSafe.

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