Smoke detectors mandatory in all new homes from June 2018; existing home owners also urged to comply

All new single-storey homes from next June will need only one device installed in the living room, but several will be needed for homes with multiple storeys. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Smoke detectors will be mandatory in all new residential homes, including Housing Board flats, from June 2018.

In an October parliamentary sitting, the Government had announced that it was studying the move, following an earlier report by The Straits Times on home smoke detectors in August. This is the first time the move - which will affect all homes that begin construction after June next year - is being confirmed.

Speaking at the Fire Safety Asia Conference Singapore 2017 at Parkroyal hotel in Beach Road on Thursday (Nov 16), Second Minister for Home Affairs, Ms Josephine Teo, said the smoke detectors, termed the Home Fire Alarm Device (HFAD), will provide residents with early alerts to smoke or fires.

"Residents can take steps to quell the fire and prevent it from spreading, or if that's not possible, to quickly evacuate," said Ms Teo, who is also a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and the Second Minister for Manpower.

All new single-storey homes from next June will need only one device installed in the living room, but several will be needed for homes with multiple storeys.

For multi-storey homes, each floor will need at least one device, and floors with combined living and dining room spaces more than 70 sq m will require at least two.

Additional smoke detectors can also be installed at the home owner's discretion, but they should not be installed in kitchens and toilets, where smoke and steam from cooking or bathing could trigger false alarms.

Existing homes that undergo fire safety works after June, such as renovations involving a fire-rated door, will also have to follow the latest fire code and have smoke detectors installed.

The recommended type of smoke detector, which features a built-in battery that lasts a decade, costs $50 to $80, based on current market rates.

Residents can also get dry-cell versions that cost $40 or less; however, the battery lasts around a year and will need regular replacement.

These amounts do not include installation fees, which could double the cost for the home owner if an external vendor is brought in.

Checks by The Straits Times on online retailers show that some of these smoke detectors with removable batteries, most of which are from China, can cost as low as $5.

However, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) requires them to be compliant with either European, Australian or American standards for fire alarms - EN 14604, AS 3786 and UL 217, it said in a press release on Thursday.

To provide for needy residents, SCDF, HDB and the People's Association will install HFADs in about 50,000 households in public rental flats for free, with the installation occurring in phases and priority given to households with at least one elderly person aged 60 and above.

Installation of HFADs for these flats will start in 2018 and is slated for completion in 2021.

Ms Teo said that the ageing demographic of residents was an "important consideration" when updating the Fire Code, which is currently in its seventh edition. She was speaking to about 250 participants, including foreign government authorities, fire safety experts and practitioners from the building industry.

Last year, there were 2,818 reported fires in residential premises. In the same year, fires resulted in 62 fire injuries - 26 smoke inhalation cases and 36 burn cases. There was one fatality as a result of a residential fire in Hume Avenue in April last year.

SCDF received the highest number of emergency medical services calls in the first half of this year, compared with the same period in the past five years - there were 81,686 in 2015, 88,182 in 2016 and 91,384 this year.

Of these, people aged 65 and above accounted for more than one-third of the calls.

Ms Teo encouraged existing home owners to also install HFADs even if they are not required to do so. The rules are not retroactive to existing flats that do not undergo any renovations.

Said Ms Teo: "HDB will be installing HFADs in many of its ongoing public housing projects even though these new projects already have building plans submitted before June 2018. I hope, of course, that many private developers and existing home owners do likewise."

One public housing project, Kampung Admiralty, an integrated development meant for the elderly, already features fire alarm devices that are connected to a central alarm system.

This is already more stringent than the impending requirement, which does not need the devices to be centrally connected.

Ms Teo also said that the new code will make mandatory a Video Image Fire Detection System for non-residential buildings with large, unmanned premises, such as warehouses.

This smart system uses video analytics to detect smoke or fire, allowing building owners and fire safety managers to quickly confirm the presence and extent of a fire.

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