Supporting Studies

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) estimate that the use of smoke alarms in homes has risen from less than 10% in 1975 to its current rate of 96%. During that time, the number of home fire deaths has been cut nearly in half. Thus the home smoke alarm can be credited as one of the greatest success stories in fire safety in the last part of the 20th century.

However, over the past 10 years, home fire deaths have reached a plateau of approximately 2,650 per year. More education and awareness is needed about replacing outdated alarms, i.e. ones that are 10 years or older, and about installing alarms in rooms throughout the home. This document summarizes fire industry studies which support the importance of location-based smoke alarms.

USFA Position on Smoke Alarms

  • Locations of smoke alarms in a home may be more important than the type of smoke alarm present, depending on the location of a fire. Users should follow the owner’s manual on the recommended location of smoke alarms in a home.

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National Sample Survey of Unreported Residential Fires (performed by the CPSC)

  • 82% of the households that had unreported fires and 84% of non-fire households had smoke alarms on every level.
  • Less than one-quarter (22%) of fire households had smoke alarms in all bedrooms.
  • Almost one-third (31%) of non-fire households had smoke alarms in all bedrooms.

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Home Smoke Alarms – The Data as Context for Decision (performed by NFPA)

  • Some portion of the 34% of fire deaths resulting from fires with working smoke alarms may be reduced by changes in smoke alarm placement practices.
  • Requirements for smoke alarms in bedrooms and interconnectivity increases the likelihood that occupants will be alerted to fire in another part of the home.
  • Many homes with smoke alarms do not have alarms on every level.
  • Ambient noise and closed doors can diminish a smoke alarm’s waking effectiveness.

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Civilian Fire Fatalities in Residential Buildings (performed by the USFA)

  • The leading specific location where civilian fire fatalities occur in residential buildings is the bedroom (55%).
  • 55% of civilian fire fatalities in residential buildings occur between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. This period accounts for 47% of fatal fires.
  • 35% of fire victims in residential buildings were sleeping at the time of their deaths.

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Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires (performed by NFPA)

  • Almost all U.S. households have at least one smoke alarm, yet in 2005-2009, smoke alarms were present in less than three-quarters (72%) of all reported home fires and operated in half (51%) of the reported home fires.
  • More than one-third (38%) of all home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms, while one-quarter (24%) resulted from fires in homes in which smoke alarms were present but did not operate.
  • The death rate per 100 reported fires was twice as high in homes without a working smoke alarm as it was in home fires with this protection.

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Residential Structure and Building Fires (performed by the USFA)

  • Nearly 40% of all residential fires are caused by cooking, while smoking is the number one cause of residential fire fatalities (19%).
  • Although fire incidents drop when people sleep, fatal fires are at their highest late at night and early in the morning.

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An Analysis of the Performance of Smoke Alarms (performed by NIST)

  • A combination of ionization and photoelectric alarm technologies is ideal for homes.
  • Vulnerable populations who may require significantly more time to escape than more mobile populations would benefit the most from dual alarm technology or side-by-side photoelectric and ionization alarms with alarm placement following current NFPA 72 requirements.

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Home Smoke Alarm Tests (performed by NIST)

  • Smoke alarms of either the ionization type or the photoelectric type consistently provided time for occupants to escape from most residential fires.
  • Ionization alarms provided somewhat better response to flaming fires than photoelectric alarms, and photoelectric alarms provide faster response to smoldering fires than ionization type alarms.

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Home Structure Fires (performed by NFPA)

  • U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 373,900 reported home structure fires per year during the five-year-period of 2005-2009. These fires caused an estimated average of 2,650 civilian deaths, 12,890 civilian injuries, and $7.1 billion in direct property damage per year.
  • Cooking equipment is the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries, while smoking materials remain the leading causes of home fire deaths.
  • Half of all home fire deaths result from incidents reported between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.
  • One-quarter (25%) of all home fire deaths were caused by fires that started in the bedroom; 24% resulted from fires originating in the living room, family room or den.
  • Almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in which no smoke alarms were present or in which smoke alarms were present but failed to operate.
  • Almost half (47%) of reported home structure fires and more than half (54%) of home structure fire deaths occurred in the cooler months of November through March. This reflects the influence of heating equipment fires.
  • The two leading items in home fire deaths remain 1) upholstered furniture, first ignited in 19% of home fire deaths in 2005-2009, and 2) mattresses and bedding, first ignited in 14% of the deaths.

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Home Smoke Alarms: A Technology Roadmap (performed by USFA, CPSC and Oak Ridge Laboratories)

  • Construction methods and room furnishing materials have changed, dramatically increasing the fire growth rate and reducing the time for safe egress. Arousing occupants in a timely manner can be challenging.

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