Survey: Americans Continue To Have Misunderstandings About Smoke Alarms

According to a recent survey among 1,004 adults commissioned by the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and conducted by Harris Interactive by telephone in September, Americans continue to have misunderstandings about smoke alarms, including how many they need in their homes, and how often they should be tested and replaced.

Smoke alarms represent a key component of home fire safety. When working properly, they alert people to fire in time to escape safely, and can cut the chance of dying in a fire in half. This year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, “Smoke Alarms: A sound you can live with!”, works to better educate people about the importance of smoke alarms, emphasizing newer requirements and recommendations for smoke alarm placement, installation, testing and maintenance.

NFPA’s survey shows that most American homes include a base level of smoke alarm protection. Almost all adults (96 percent) have smoke alarms in their homes, with more than two in five (42 percent) owning two to three; hallways are the most popular area for people to place them, while 42 percent reported having one in each bedroom. NFPA recommends at least one smoke alarm on every level of the home, including the basement, as well as outside each sleeping area and inside each bedroom. Larger homes may need additional smoke alarms.

“Over the past 30 plus years, we have seen a significant increase in the number of homes that have at least one smoke alarm, which represents a big step toward increased home fire safety,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of communications. “But with those gains, this survey demonstrates that confusion about smoke alarm placement, maintenance and testing persist, which ultimately put the public at continued risk to home fires.”

Interconnected smoke alarms provide the best level of protection -- when one alarm sounds, they all do. However, survey findings show that less than one quarter (24 percent) have interconnected smoke alarms. And while smoke alarms should be tested monthly, a large portion of the population doesn’t check them as often as they should.

More specifically, survey findings show:

  • 40 percent of smoke alarm owners test their smoke alarms at least every few months, while about a quarter (24 percent) only test them twice a year, and 11 percent rarely or never check them.
  • Most adults (71 percent) reported having a home fire escape plan, but more than half (53 percent) said they never practice it.
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