29 people died in Ireland as a result of a fire related incident in 2020[1]. And although the advice is to test our smoke alarms weekly and carbon monoxide detectors once a month[2], many Irish households don’t check either of these even once a year.

This is according to a new survey from Peopl.ie, a nationwide provider of home and life insurance, which found that 38% of households haven’t checked their smoke alarm in over a year, if ever, while this figure soars to 42% when it comes to carbon monoxide detectors.

The insurance provider is urging people throughout the country to take 5 minutes out of their day this week to run a few checks that could prevent a Christmas catastrophe, particularly as many of us will be using our gas boilers extensively over the winter period, and Christmas lights and candles will be commonplace in homes the length and breadth of the country in the coming weeks.

The survey of 1,000 respondents, conducted by iReach, revealed that although both preventative tools can be the difference between life or death, most people really give them very little thought – if at all.

Peopl.ie report that while smoke alarms are more prevalent in homes nationwide, installing carbon monoxide detectors and maintaining their use is still not widespread. The survey reveals that while 4% of households don’t have a smoke alarm, as many as 22% don’t have a carbon monoxide detector – with some respondents saying they don’t even know what it is.

Commenting on these findings, Paul Walsh, CEO of Peopl Insurance said: “Christmas lights, candles, late nights, and lots of cooking – all ingredients for the fun festivities most Irish households enjoy this time of year. However, without wanting to sound too like the prophet of doom, they can be also a recipe for disaster in some homes. 

“In light of this, the survey findings are quite startling in the face of the damage that can be done to homes by accidental fire or the dangers posed by carbon monoxide from heating systems and fuel burning appliances. In 2020, there were over 5,000 fires attended by the fire brigade in homes around the country[3] – with 562 of these being in Cork City and County alone[4]. Chimney fires and hot ashes, electrical issues, cooking and heating appliances, and smoking materials were all primary causes of these accidents.

“People do not always appreciate how quickly a fire can start and how they can become disorientated with the volume of smoke, even from a small fire. If someone is asleep in a room where a fire starts, the chances of coming out of it are very slim without a working smoke alarm. It’s all very well to have a smoke alarm installed but if it’s not working properly, it will not protect you or your family.

“Thankfully, it’s easy to check our smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and it only takes a few short minutes to gain that peace of mind.”

The Peopl.ie survey also found that older people are twice as likely to check smoke alarms than younger age groups.

“Worryingly, more than 1 in 10 young adults never check their smoke alarm – this could be because they rely on their parents to do so, but some of these people will also be living in rented accommodation with others in their age group – which begs the question who in the group does check these things?”

It seems our sense of responsibility and/or caution increases as we age, with the survey finding that those over 55 are the most likely to regularly check that both their fire alarm and carbon monoxide alarm are working properly. According to the survey, women are also marginally better than men at checking regularly, and those living in Connaught and Ulster are the most proactive in keeping their alarms up to date. 

CO2 Dangers 

The Peopl.ie survey revealed a need for greater discussion around highlighting of the dangers of CO2 poisoning in Irish homes.

Mr. Walsh continued: “Carbon monoxide exposure presents a range of dangerous health risks, even death, so it’s startling to find that 22% of people don’t have a monitor or alarm for this gas in their home, and that 4% don’t even know what one is. Six people die in Ireland each year as a result of unintentional poisoning[5], I think if people knew this, most would see the absolute need for a detector in their home.”

Tips for maintaining your alarms

Peopl.ie have the following advice for households this Christmas:

Mr. Walsh advised: 

  • “We might all be familiar with a beeping or chirping sound coming from our alarms – don’t ignore this or be tempted to remove the batteries and just leave it at that. It might be a sign of malfunction or that the batteries need to be changed. Make a habit to change the batteries in your alarms routinely.
  • Ideally, there should be a smoke alarm on every level or floor of your home. When placing them, be sure to keep away from windows, doors, and ducts. Use the hoover to pick up any dust and debris which can collect around the alarm and interfere with the sensor. Some registered gas installers will supply and fit carbon monoxide alarms. If fitting the alarm yourself, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.” 
  • When it comes to maintaining heating appliances and preventing build-up of carbon monoxide in the home, don’t take any short cuts when it comes to preventing carbon monoxide build up. Make sure all your fuel-burning appliances are installed by a qualified installer and get your boiler serviced every year. Ensure chimney and flues are swept/cleared annually and check that air vents in rooms and exterior walls are clear, open, and working properly. Don’t use any appliances you suspect may be faulty and try keep any areas for storing fuel well ventilated.”

Mr. Walsh concluded: “When putting up your Christmas lights this year, maybe introduce a new habit of checking that the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your home are working properly, or to install these if you haven’t already. Remember, these alarms could save your life.”

[1] Gov.ie – Fire Fatality Statistics (www.gov.ie)
[2] Gov.ie – Fire detection in the home (www.gov.ie)
[3] Gov.ie – Locations of Fires Statistics (www.gov.ie)
[4] As (3) above
[5] https://www.carbonmonoxide.ie/causes/