Only One-Third of "10 Year" Smoke Alarms Functional at 10 Years


An evaluation of lithium-powered smoke alarms installed 8-10 years ago found that only 33% were present and operational. Thirty-seven percent (37%) were missing and 30% were present but nonfunctional.  NCHH reported that a number of factors play a role in why alarms are missing or present but nonfunctional. These include tampering with smoke alarms, removal of lithium-powered batteries, and smoke alarms installed in the kitchen area. To prevent the likelihood of residents interfering with alarm operability, NCHH encouraged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which administers the Smoke Alarm Installation and Fire Safety Education (SAIFE) program, to have local agencies install tamper-proof, sealed, lithium-powered smoke alarms. Many of the CDC’s current grantees are now using these sealed alarms for their installation programs. Other research has documented that smoke alarm installation programs are an effective component of a community-wide healthy housing effort.

NCHH recommends that anyone who installs 10-year alarms select products with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) mark. Installing alarms with end-of-life indicators would also help occupants recognize when alarms need to be replaced. State health departments should work with fire departments to schedule periodic visits to homes after smoke alarm installation to assess the alarm functionality.

CDC funded NCHH to evaluate a subset of homes that received smoke alarms between 1998 and 2001 to determine if the lithium-powered smoke alarms were operational 8-10 years after installation. NCHH randomly selected 427 homes from states—Georgia, Virginia, Washington, Kentucky, and Oklahoma—for enrollment in the project and hired inspectors in each state to note whether the original smoke alarms were present and operable and the reason for a nonfunctioning smoke alarm. Inspectors replaced both nonfunctional smoke alarms and alarms nearing the end of their estimated lifespan with new models.

Alarms were more likely to be missing from rental properties than owner-occupied homes. Eight percent (8%) of the alarms were missing batteries, 19% contained lithium-powered batteries, and 44% had non-lithium powered batteries; the battery type was not reported in the remaining units. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of the smoke alarms having lithium batteries were functional, compared to 53% of smoke alarms with non-lithium batteries. Evaluators installed a total of 708 new lithium-powered 10-year smoke alarms in the homes.

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