Home Smoke Alarm Tests

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					The following research report can be found at the National Institute of
Standards and Technology Fire Research Division web site.
Firefighters use such research for public education programs. Notice the
options available for the reader. A reader can view only the web page
overview, or look specifically at the executive summary, final report, or
table of contents. The web site also provides links to test data.

Home Smoke Alarm Tests

While there is no question that smoke alarms have successfully prevented thousands of residential
fire deaths, their beneficial effect may be beginning to plateau. It is recognized that reducing the
number of non-working alarms may produce some further reduction in fire deaths. Further,
introducing more effective alarms in residential dwellings could have a greater impact in reducing
deaths. However, there seems to be little incentive to produce and install better residential fire
alarms until performance improvements can be demonstrated through objective, realistic, and
accurate testing.

In co-operation with the United States Fire Administration (USFA), other sponsors, and U.S.
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), NIST has conducted an evaluation of current and
emerging smoke alarm technology responses to common residential fire scenarios and nuisance
alarm sources. The research was performed at by the National Institute of Standards and
Technology (NIST), under the general guidance of a steering committee of the sponsoring

Final Project Report
The results of the project provide details of the response of a range of residential smoke alarm
technologies in a controlled laboratory test and in a series of real-scale tests conducted in two
different residential structures. These are intended to provide both insight into siting and response
characteristics of residential smoke alarms and a set of reference data for future enhancements to
alarm technology based on fires from current materials and constructions. Several areas of focus
were included in the project:

       Evaluate the performance of current smoke-alarm technology.
       Test conditions representative of current fatal residential fires.
       Evaluate the efficacy of current requirements for number and location of smoke alarms.
       Develop standard nuisance alarm sources to be included in the test program.
       Examine other fire detection technologies in combination with smoke alarms (example:
        residential sprinkler and heat detectors).
       Obtain data on the potential for improvements in performance by new technologies.
       Include fuel items that incorporate materials and constructions representative of current
        residential furnishings.
       Fully characterize test detectors and alarms in a consistent manner to facilitate
       Utilize fire models to extend the applicability of the test arrangements and maximize the
        test instrumentation.
       Make all of the data collected as widely accessible as possible.
       Provide opportunities to enhance public fire safety education.
Smoke alarms of either the ionization type or the photoelectric type consistently provided time for
occupants to escape from most residential fires, although in some cases the escape time provided
can be short. Consistent with prior findings, ionization type alarms provided somewhat better
response to flaming fires than photoelectric alarms, and photoelectric alarms provide (often)
considerably faster response to smoldering fires than ionization type alarms.

Escape times in this study were systematically shorter than those found in a similar study
conducted in the 1970's. This is related to some combination of faster fire development times for
today's products that provide the main fuel sources for fires, such as upholstered furniture and
mattresses, different criteria for time to untenable conditions, and improved understanding of the
speed and range of threats to tenability.

The final report, executive summary, and table of contents are available. Table 27 on page 240 of
the report has been changed to reflect a correction of a rounding error and to add a footnote for
the best-case scenario; the corrected table is available. All of the documents are in pdf format,
requiring Adobe Acrobat Reader to access the files. To install Adobe Acrobat Reader, click
here. (Posted July 2004).

Test Data
    Data from the manufactured home tests are available as NIST Report of Test FR 4016.
       (Posted October 2001)
    Data from the two-story home tests are available as NIST Report of Test FR 4017.
       (Posted May 2002)
    Data from nuisance alarm tests are available as NIST Report of Test FR 4019. (Posted
       November 2003)
    Data from alarm calibrations are available as NIST Report of Test FR 4020. (Posted
       November 2003)

Project Sponsors
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, www.cpsc.gov
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov
U.S. Fire Administration, www.usfa.fema.gov
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Healthy Homes Initiative, www.hud.gov
Underwriters Laboratories, www.ul.com
National Fire Protection Association, www.nfpa.org (In-kind contribution)
National Research Council Canada, scitech.gc.ca/ (In-kind contribution)

For further information, contact Richard W. Bukowski, richard.bukowski@nist.gov, (301) 975-
6853, fax: (301) 975-4052

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