Smoke Alarms in Caravans & Camper-vans

Submitted: Saturday, Jul 07, 2012 at 12:03
ThreadID: 96724 Views:2237 Replies:4 FollowUps:11
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Thread 84613 of November 2011 discussed the new NSW legislation for smoke alarms in "Moveable dwellings". I thought it a good idea for the Troopy so installed a photoelectric type.

On the first trip on a dirt road I suddenly had a banshee screaming directly above my head. Presumably, the dust entering the vehicle had set it off. There was nothing for it but to deactivate it by pulling the battery out.

I have just got around to dismantling it and sure enough, there is a coating of dust inside, including within the actual detection chamber. Cleaned it out with a soft brush and air blast and it is working OK. Vacuuming would not have removed the dust from the detection chamber.

In thread 84613 'Gone Bush' proposed the use of a shower cap to shield the alarm when making toast in his van. This may be the way to go in my Troopy whilst travelling, removing the cap when going to bed. I can see no other way.

Has anyone had similar experience or ideas to overcome this problem?

Cheers
Allan

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Reply By: Member - Redbakk (WA) - Saturday, Jul 07, 2012 at 15:37

Saturday, Jul 07, 2012 at 15:37
Hello Allan, ours is just above our bed and I take the battery out and leave it hanging down ( it has a hinge) while we are cooking etc and replace the battery and click it back up all other times otherwise it screams it's head off.

The battery is in while traveling but I could take it out and leave it hanging while traveling or simply remove it while traveling leaving the base up on the ceiling this procedure always reminds me that it is either functioning or not, as I see it missing or hanging especially when I lay down to go to sleep. This way I never miss it and I always know it is active when we are asleep.

I also bought a CO monitor as well, only this unit has a LCD display that tells me the CO levels, if any, at any time and that stays powered all the time.

Can't be too careful.
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Reply By: Member - Bruce C (NSW) - Sunday, Jul 08, 2012 at 00:27

Sunday, Jul 08, 2012 at 00:27
Hi Allan,

In threadthread 84613 down at the bottom of the page there is refference to a "Hush push button" to turn the alarm off for a short period. Not sure how long it is off nut could be the answer.

They are a ruddy problem when cooking in the van aren't they. Wonder how many are running around without the battery in them. Mine is at the moment.

We used a rubber/plastic medical glove on the detectors at the comercial premises where I worked before retirement, if we were welding near them. Stopped the fire brigade coming on a false alarm.

Cheers, Bruce.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Sunday, Jul 08, 2012 at 09:19

Sunday, Jul 08, 2012 at 09:19
Hi Bruce,

Yes my alarm has the 'Hush' button feature. It mutes the alarm for about 10 minutes. This does not solve the dust problem as once it gets in the alarm operates indefinitely. Even after returning home and replacing the battery it went straight off. It only became operative again after dismantling and cleaning.

I guess the plastic 'shower cap' is the answer.

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Allan

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Reply By: Giffo65 - Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 18:53

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 18:53
Different states have different legislation in relation to fire safety (especially with mobile living ).As a career firefighter and fire investigator for 22 years,a smoke alarm is cheap insurance.They will save your life in a time of need if they are installed and WORKING ! Check your smoke alarm batteries please.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 19:16

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 19:16
Hi Giffo, Thank you for your advice.

Considering your experience in firefighting, are you able to comment on the problem of dust entry to smoke alarms causing false operation? Despite your entreaty for them to be installed and working, they will not be if dust promptly causes false alarms.

Despite having thoroughly cleaned mine as said, I left it armed on the bench only to have it go into alarm within 24 hours. No point in reinstalling it into the Troopy. And little point in fitting a brand-new alarm if it is going to malfunction as soon as I drive on an unsealed road.

There seems little point either in legislation to require smoke alarms in 'Moveable Dwellings' if they are unreliable. I look forward to a helpful response from you.

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Allan

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Reply By: AlbyNSW - Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 19:16

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 19:16
How about attaching the smoke detector using velcro strip so you can put it up easily when at camp and put in a plastic bag when traveling ?
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 19:20

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 19:20
Or how about developing a reliable product before legislating for its installation?

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Allan

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Follow Up By: Andrew & Jen - Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 19:26

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 19:26
Hullo Allan
Would it be worth investigating the use of an ionization alarm as, on my limited reading and understanding, this may not be affected as much by dust.
Cheers
Andrew
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Follow Up By: AlbyNSW - Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 19:38

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 19:38
The product is reliable it is just the dust that gets on the sensor and the unit reads that as smoke.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 20:06

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 20:06
Hi Andrew, Yes perhaps ionisation alarms are less sensitive to dust, but certainly not immune, as I found out in my home when sanding renovations!

The downside is that the photoelectric type are preferred for slow smouldering fires as you may get from vehicle wiring faults whereas ionisation type are preferred for fast-burning high-flame fires. Issa problem!

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Allan

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 20:16

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 20:16
Then Alby, it could be concluded that the product is not reliable for smoke detection in a dusty environment.

Thanks for the 'Velcro' suggestion however my alarm is removable from its base by a quarter-turn. But I would consider it easier to use a 'shower cap'.

Nevertheless, it could be interesting if in NSW and explaining to a police officer why my 'required' smoke alarm is wrapped-up in the glove box or fitted with an occluding shower cap.

Cheers
Allan

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Follow Up By: AlbyNSW - Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 20:35

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 20:35
Fair to say Alan that that is the case. They are made for a domestic residential situation and come with a shower cap that gets fitted during house construction and only removed when the owner moves in, they do not like gyprock and carpet layers dust....or bull dust LOL
I suppose you could look at other more expensive alternatives but at $10 bucks I reckon standard ones with the plastic bag option is a good one.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 22:11

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 22:11
Yes Alby, it was gyprock plaster dust that set my ionisation alarms off with the house renovations. What is more, vacuuming & blowing them out with compressed air did not restore their reliability...... it was necessary to replace them.

I think that, for the Troopy, I will go with a new photoelectric alarm and use a 'shower cap' and concern myself with justification if the unlikely event arises.

Thanks for your input Alby.

Cheers
Allan

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Follow Up By: Giffo65 - Tuesday, Jul 10, 2012 at 20:10

Tuesday, Jul 10, 2012 at 20:10
Alan

As mentioned,smoke alarms are primarily desinged for domestic dwellings and not a 4wd in dusty environment.The problem with removing the alarm and putting it in the glove box is it will be forgotten and not used.You are correct in using photoelectric alarms,but the dust problem is hard to manage.If it was my van,I would put a dust cap on it with a cord hanging down so you had to remove it to get into bed or it hung in your face and was annoying to remind you to remove it.We had a smoke alarm in our last van and had no problems,but it was all bitumen driving.The next van will be small and more off road, and I will have this problem as well.The trouble is,dust and smoke are similar,and to build one that detects one and not the other is very difficult.Most importantly,have them installed,even if they annoy you at times.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Tuesday, Jul 10, 2012 at 20:51

Tuesday, Jul 10, 2012 at 20:51
Giffo.

I agree with all you say. The core problem being the similarity of smoke and dust, both being suspended particles.

I fear that even covering the alarm will not be enough as dust is everywhere outback, finely coating all surfaces, and the finest of it is likely to still be in the air within the vehicle long after stopping.

Although not the primary choice for the application, ionisation type may be more reliable. I will test this proposal.

Cheers
Allan

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