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Performance of Home Smoke Alarms, Analysis of the Response of Several Available Technologies in Residential Fire Settings.



Richard W. Bukowski, Richard D. Peacock, Jason D. Averill, Thomas G. Cleary, Nelson P. Bryner, Paul A. Reneke


This report presents the results of the project and provides 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. The data developed in this study include measurement of temperature and smoke obscuration in addition to gas concentrations for a range of fire scenarios and residences. The results 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. Smoke alarms of either the ionization type or the photoelectric type consistently provide 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 provide 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.
Technical Note (NIST TN) - 1455
Report Number


smoke detectors, residential buildings, detector sensitivity, fire tests, heat alarms, ionization alarms, photoelectric alarms, building fires, ionization detectors, photoelectric detectors, fire alarm systems, detector response, temperature, smoke, gas concentrations, scenarios, occupants, residential buidlings


Bukowski, R. , Peacock, R. , Averill, J. , Cleary, T. , Bryner, N. and Reneke, P. (2003), Performance of Home Smoke Alarms, Analysis of the Response of Several Available Technologies in Residential Fire Settings., Technical Note (NIST TN), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed July 20, 2024)


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Created December 1, 2003, Updated February 19, 2017