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Testing of RCDs and Smoke Alarms

Testing of RCDs and Smoke Alarms

One question that is often asked by clients is “Do I need an electrician for the testing of RCDs and smoke alarms?” This is a reasonable question and the answer consists of two parts and I will deal with each separately.

Testing Smoke Alarms

If you are the landlord of a residential property then the regulations require that you ‘maintain’ the smoke alarms in your properties in working order. This is not the responsibility of the tenant or the real estate agent, although you may wish to pass on some of this responsibility. Keep in mind though that for your own peace of mind, it might be worth having a professional inspect and test.

When we are asked to test smoke alarms at properties we perform the following:

  1. Inspect to ensure the smoke alarm is within the mandatory 10 year lifespan requirement
  2. Inspect the response of the smoke alarm; for this we use a can of smoke to simulate presence of a fire
  3. Ensure there are no bug infestations or buildup of dust or other foreign object which may cause the alarm to fail

Once this is done, we will provide a report to the real estate agent or yourselves stating the date the testing was performed and what the outcomes were. This way, you will have a written record of a competent person having inspected the alarms and that they were functional should something happen. If you are reliant only on the tenant pushing the test button once every six months, you can’t be sure that they are doing this and when it is done.

One other thing to note on this subject is that there are two different types of smoke alarms in service out there. One is Ionisation and the other is Photoelectric; of recent times, there has been a move to phase out the ionisation alarms in favour of the photoelectric due to their superior ability to react to fires. There have been a number of deadly fires where an ionisation smoke alarm has not sounded due to their delayed response (for more information on this, see our blog post about smoke alarms).

If you have ionisation smoke alarms in your home or in a home you are leasing, it is LS Power’s recommendation that you have these changed to photoelectric. Since the phase out started, the cost of photoelectric alarms have come down and are now not as cost prohibitive as they once were.

RCD Testing

There is no regulation that requires landlords to maintain RCDs in their leased properties, only that there are a minimum of two RCDs protecting all power outlets and lighting points. Again, at the bare minimum you should be requesting that the tenant test these RCDs on a regular basis to ensure they are operational. The test button on an RCD simulates a fault and therefore is considered to be enough of a test.

LS Power however recommends that you engage us to test your RCDs as we use highly sensitive meters and testers and are able to provide test reports on the performance of the RCDs. Without getting too technical, we will perform no less than seven individual tests on an RCD to ascertain its performance and if it is indeed functional. We will be able to provide a report of this to you so you know and again have a report on when the RCD was tested and that it passed.

The four types of test we perform are as follows:

  1. 1/2 x test – this is to prove that the RCD is not tripping at lower than its rated operating current
  2. 1 x test – this is to prove that the RCD trips at its nominated trip current
  3. 5 x test – this is to simulate a ‘more real’ situation and it should trip faster in this type of test
  4. Trip current test – this test will slowly ramp up the current applied to the test to see at what rating the RCD in fact trips.

Additionally to tests 1 – 3, we will perform these tests at the 0 degree and 180 degree mark of the sine wave (for those technical people out there). Needless to say, the report that’s generated from this will be a good indicator of how the RCD is performing and if they require replacing. Just pushing the test button does not show if the RCD is tripping above the 30mA rating that it is required to trip for, nor if it is tripping in less than 300ms which is what is required by Australian Standards.


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