Performance of Home Smoke Alarms

Report Date: February 2008

In the span from 1975 to 2000, the increased use of home smoke alarms is credited as reducing home fire deaths by 50% in the United States. Part of the impetus for the greater prevalence of smoke alarms were the 1976 Indiana Dunes tests from NIST that showed smoke alarms’ ability to save lives. This report from the NIST Fire Research Division Engineering Laboratory, along with other agencies, reexamines the updated technology, use, and efficacy of smoke alarms with live testing in the lab as well as in actual homes with typical furnishings. Residential fire statistics were studied to create the most likely scenarios for fires. The most common included flaming and smoldering furniture and flaming cooking materials. The report also provides insight into the effects on the fire compartment and occupants measuring heat, smoke, and toxic gas production. It details the faster fire development times of modern fires and discusses threats to tenability. Notably, for flaming tests, the average time to untenable conditions was three minutes, as opposed to 17 minutes in the Indiana Dunes tests. This report provides valuable information on smoke alarm response, fire growth, and the fire compartment, but most importantly underlines the importance of residential smoke alarms in saving lives.


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  • National Institute of Standards and Technology

    The NIST Fire Research Division develops, verifies, and utilizes measurements and predictive methods to quantify the behavior of fire and means to reduce the impact of fire on people, property, and the environment. This work involves integration of laboratory measurements, verified methods of prediction, and large-scale fire experiments to demonstrate the use and value of the research products.

    Through its programs in measurement, prediction, systems integration, and the dynamics of fire and its interactions with the built and natural environment, the division provides leadership for advancing the theory and practice of fire safety engineering, fire fighting, fire investigation, fire testing, fire data management, and intentional burning.

Bukowski, Richard W., Richard D. Peacock, Jason D. Averill, Thomas G. Cleary, Nelson P. Bryner, William D. Walton, Paul A. Reneke, and Erica D. Kuligowski. Performance of Home Smoke Alarms: Analysis of the Response of Several Available Technologies in Residential Fire Settings. Gaithersburg, MD: National Institute for Standards and Technology, Technical Note 1455-1, 2008. Retrieved from:

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