National Association of State Fire Marshals
Science Advisory Committee
Recommendation on Updates to the NASFM Smoke Alarm Guidance Document
Regarding the Use of 10-Year Long-Life Batteries
In the fall of 2011, the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) Board of Directors
asked its Science Advisory Committee (SAC) to consider whether NASFM should revise its
Smoke Alarm Guidance Document (most recently updated in early 2010) to include a
recommendation on smoke alarms powered by long-life (10-year) batteries. The current NASFM
guidance is silent on the question of 10-year batteries.
This review of the issues includes the results of a literature search supplemented by a discussion
held by the SAC at its meeting in January 2012. At that meeting, the SAC invited technical
representatives from smoke alarm manufacturer Kidde, which is part of UTC Fire, Controls, and
Security, and a Sustaining Partner of NASFM, to answer questions and update the group on the
latest advances in technology and standards regarding 10-year smoke alarms. Recommendation
The SAC recommends that NASFM revise its Smoke Alarm Guidance Document to advise that
battery-operated smoke alarms be powered by 10-year batteries. Further, the SAC recommends
that the smoke alarm contain the 10-year battery in a tamper resistant, sealed unit to prevent
consumers from disabling the alarm or replacing the 10-year battery with a regular 9-volt battery
or AA batteries, and so that both the unit and its battery would be replaced at the same time.
To provide guidance to consumers who may find the cost of the 10-year smoke alarms too high
to purchase for installation everywhere that fire safety professionals recommend, the SAC
suggests that the highest priority should be at least one long-life battery smoke alarm per floor,
including the basement. Second priority should be outside every separate sleeping area.
The SAC also recommends that NASFM consider the research questions at the end of this paper
as areas for possible future study.
Background/History of Smoke Alarm Issues Leading to This Recommendation
The purpose of smoke alarms is to provide early warning in the event of fire, to enable occupants
the time to escape before the fire grows to the point where conditions in the home become
Though a few communities have required some type of fire detection system in homes as long
ago as the 1950s, it was not until 1970 that the first single-station battery-powered smoke alarm
was invented (then referred to as early-warning fire detectors or smoke detectors). In the mid-
1970s, smoke alarms for the home became widely available in the United States (“White Paper:
Home Smoke Alarms and Other Fire Detection and Alarm Equipment,” Public/Private Fire
Safety Council, April 2006). The initial push to get smoke alarms installed in every home was
spurred by the landmark America Burning
report of the National Commission on Fire Prevention
and Control (1973), which urged Americans to protect their homes with smoke alarms;
recommended that insurance, tax and other incentives be provided for Americans who protected
their homes with early warning detection; and for improvements to be made to the technology of
home fire detection (pp. 118-121). UL 217, the first standard for certification of smoke alarm
products, was introduced in 1976. The Life Safety Code® (NFPA 101) first required smoke
alarms in codes in 1976, and the regional model building codes in the U.S. required smoke
alarms in all one- and two-family dwellings by 1979.
In the 1970s, the fire service -- led by the newly formed National Fire Prevention and Control
Administration (later renamed the U.S. Fire Administration) -- embarked on a widespread
educational campaign to encourage model codes to require the devices in homes, to encourage
communities to adopt smoke alarm requirements, and to encourage homeowners to purchase and
install smoke alarms. In the mid-1970s, fewer than 10 percent of homes in the United States had
at least one smoke alarm, while by the mid-1980s, nearly 80 percent did (“You Can‟t Hang On
To Your Smoke Detector Forever,” Minnesota Fire Chief
, March/April 2000). Efforts to develop
codes and performance standards for smoke alarms and to improve smoke alarm technology
increased as their use became more prevalent.
Overall, smoke alarms have been cited as a great success story in this country‟s efforts to reduce
fire death rates, and have been one of the major factors contributing to the progress made since
1980, the first year in which national estimates of specific fire problems were available
(according to NFPA, in its “Home Structure Fires” report of May 2011, home structure fire
deaths fell 51% from 5200 in 1980 to 2565 in 2009). But persistent problems have been
identified along the way that have resulted in changes to smoke alarm technologies, policies and
education. While initially the push was to get smoke alarms installed in all residences, greater
emphasis in recent years has been focused on ensuring that those alarms are maintained in good
A report in the early 1980s by the International Association of Fire Chiefs Foundation (“An
Evaluation of Residential Smoke Detectors Under Actual Field Conditions, Final Report,” March
1983) confirmed anecdotal reports that a disconnected power source was a major reason behind
smoke detectors that failed to alarm in a fire. In response to continuing reports of smoke
detectors failing to operate in fires, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission embarked on a National Smoke Detector Project in 1991 that was jointly sponsored with the U.S. Fire Administration, the Congressional Fire Services Institute and the National Fire Protection Association. Among the findings of this multi-year research was that nearly 60 percent of all detectors that did not alarm in fires were not connected to a power source at the time (“Fire Incident Study, National Smoke Detector Project,” U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, January 1995, p. 23). For those detectors that lacked a power source, 35 percent of consumers reported problems with the detector, primarily related to nuisance alarms from cooking. A related Smoke Detector Operability Survey as part of the same project reported that in addition to removal of batteries due to nuisance alarms, “about 40 percent forgot to replace the batteries or did not check to see that they had power, with an additional variety of explanations such as „no batteries in the house‟ or „removed for other purposes‟ ” (Ibid, p. 21). The International Residential Code, a model code available for adoption by jurisdictions, was updated in 1996 to require new homes to have interconnected, hardwired battery backup smoke alarms. The 2007 and 2010 editions of NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®, recommend that new homes have hardwired, battery-backup smoke alarms that are interconnected, so that when one sounds, they all sound. Almost 2/3 of U.S. residences, however, still have smoke alarms that are battery operated only, according to the 2009 American Housing Survey, and the death rate per 100 reported fires is twice as high in fires with smoke alarms powered by batteries compared to fires with hardwired smoke alarms (“Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires,” NFPA, September 2011). A much-publicized and long-running campaign to “Change your Clock, Change your Battery,” sponsored by International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and Energizer Battery, began in the 1980s. The campaign encourages homeowners to change the batteries in their smoke alarms twice a year, when the clocks change to Daylight Savings Time and back to Standard Time. Research into smoke alarm operability determined that failure rates for smoke alarms increased with the age of the alarm. Experts determined that at 10 years old, approximately 30 percent of smoke alarms were inoperable. NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®, first required replacement of smoke alarms after 10 years in 1999. Now the fire service was faced with not only getting people to replace the batteries in their smoke alarms regularly, but also to replace the entire unit after 10 years. In the mid 1990s, smoke alarm manufacturers began to offer 10-year lithium batteries for use in conventional ionization-type detectors, to address both the issues of battery replacement and of smoke alarm replacement. Manufacturers have also attempted to address the issue of nuisance alarms: Newer technologies have added a silencing/hush feature to alarms to reduce the problem of consumers disabling smoke alarms due to nuisance causes such as cooking. In response to a modification of smoke alarm sensitivity requirements in UL 217 to reduce the susceptibility to nuisance tripping, manufacturers adjusted the sensitivity of newer devices accordingly. The challenges to ensure adequate smoke alarm coverage and operability in U.S. homes continue nearly 40 years after the initial recommendations about smoke alarm use were issued. According to the National Fire Protection Association (“Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires,” September 2011): “Almost all households in the U.S. have at least one smoke alarm, yet in 2005-2009,
smoke alarms were present in less than three-quarters (72%) of all reported home fires and
operated in half (51%) of the reported home fires. („Homes‟ includes one- and two-family
homes, apartments, and manufactured housing.) More than one-third (38%) of all home fire
deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms, while one-quarter (24%) resulted
from fires in homes in which smoke alarms were present but did not operate. The death rate per
100 reported fires was twice as high in homes without a working smoke alarm as it was in home
fires with this protection.” NFPA, in its “Home Structure Fires” report (May 2011), noted that
the primary reasons smoke alarms failed to operate in home structure fires were a
missing/disconnected battery (50%) and dead/discharged battery (23%). Kidde representatives
have confirmed that their research on consumer behavior and attitudes toward smoke alarms
indicate that all consumers dislike having to replace batteries.
A recent special report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) entitled,
“Disparities in the prevalence of smoke alarms in U.S. households: Conclusions drawn from
published case studies” (Journal of Safety Research
42  409-413), acknowledged that
while “smoke alarms are one of the most effective interventions to prevent residential fire
deaths….There is evidence that homes at highest risk of fire deaths lag behind national averages
in smoke alarm use and maintenance.” The researchers compiled and summarized a
comprehensive list of published case studies that have examined the prevalence of smoke alarms
in high-risk households (with “high-risk” defined as households in which “residents included
young children, older adults, persons with disabilities, and those living in poverty, substandard
housing or rural communities”). They identified “substantial gaps in both smoke alarm presence
and functional status between high-risk homes and national average estimates.”
An April 2012 report to be published in the journal Injury Prevention
entitled, “Validity of
smoke alarm self-report measures and reasons for over-reporting,” from researchers at the Center
for Injury Research and Policy of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found
that one in three households in Baltimore misreports its smoke alarm coverage. Of those that
misreport coverage, the vast majority over-report the number and working status of their alarms.
The study‟s authors concluded that relying on self-reports of smoke alarm coverage is not an
accurate measure of whether homes are protected, and further, that researchers and firefighters
attempting to determine smoke alarm coverage must confirm smoke alarm status with actual
testing of alarms. Issues and Considerations Specific to the 10-Year Smoke Alarm Battery
While few studies have specifically looked at the effectiveness of 10-year smoke alarm batteries,
the National Center For Health Housing issued an “Evaluation of the „10-Year‟ Smoke Alarm
Project” in 2008. This project, conducted for the CDC, evaluated a subset of homes that had
received CDC grants to implement Smoke Alarm Installation and Fire Safety Education (SAIFE)
programs beginning in 1998. The grantees were required to install 10-year lithium battery smoke
alarms in homes at high risk for fires and injuries. The evaluation concluded that lithium
batteries will last 8-10 years if not tampered with; 78% of smoke alarms that still had lithium
batteries were still functional at time of evaluation. The report also pointed out that most of the
smoke alarms distributed in the CDC grant program did not have sealed battery chambers, which
allowed occupants to remove the 10-year battery. The study found that the lithium batteries were
replaced by non-lithium batteries in 2/3 of cases, and that smoke alarms near the kitchen area
were most likely to be disabled. Among the recommendations of the study were to install smoke
alarms with tamper resistant features, sealed battery chambers and end-of-life indicators.
Additionally, the researchers suggested that manufacturers consider making smoke alarms with
lithium batteries compatible with non-lithium batteries to improve long-term performance and
Dr. Shannon Frattaroli of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health worked with Baltimore Fire
Chief James Clack from April 2010-April 2011 collecting follow-up data from homes in the city
to check the effectiveness of smoke alarms with 10-year batteries. These results should be
available in the Spring of 2012. The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has been
encouraging fire departments to distribute smoke alarms with 10-year batteries and has collected
good data on maintenance. The City of Baltimore has been installing smoke alarms for 30 years
and has an aggressive canvassing program of distributing and installing smoke alarms. The
department recently received an Assistance to Firefighters Grant to install 10,000 10-year
tamper-resistant smoke alarms. Most of the funding for Baltimore‟s program comes from the
CDC‟s SAIFE program. Even with very intensive intervention, many homes are not protected.
Baltimore is discovering that, in a minority of homes where the fire department has not installed
the smoke alarms, residents have not installed them correctly in a way that activates the alarm –
leading to a false and potentially deadly sense of security that the alarm will work when needed.
Dr. Frattaroli said that anything that makes installation easier would be helpful.
The Public/Private Fire Safety Council, in its April 2006 report on “Home Smoke Alarms”
recommended the use of 10-year lithium batteries rather than 9-volt batteries as one strategy to
achieve increased power source reliability of smoke alarms. The Council also recommended
making smoke alarms more difficult to disable, for example, by sealing 10-year batteries into the
smoke alarm unit (p. 15).
In August 2011, the California State Fire Marshal Smoke Alarm Task Force issued an Analysis
and Recommendations on “Understanding, Utilization and Effectiveness of Smoke Detection
Technology including Ionization, Photoelectric, and other Technologies.” Among the Task
Force‟s recommendations are that “Regulations should be revised to require conventional
ionization smoke alarms that are solely battery powered to be packaged and sold with a 10-year
battery and have a silence feature. This will address problems with occupants disabling smoke
alarms to silence low battery signals, or not replacing smoke alarms with dead batteries.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency‟s Fire Prevention & Safety Grants disseminated
through the Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program gives high priority to funding smoke
alarm programs that purchase and install long-life alarms/batteries (“Fiscal Year 2011 Assistance
to Firefighters Grant Program Fire Prevention and Safety Grants Guidance and Application Kit,
Section 1,” February 2012, p. 7).
A recently published study entitled “Network Meta-analysis to Evaluate the Effectiveness of
Interventions to Increase the Uptake of Smoke Alarms” (Epidemiologic Reviews 2012
looked at a series of published studies that considered interventions to increase the prevalence of
functioning alarms in homes. The researchers used a statistical analysis that enabled
interventions to be compared and evaluated among studies. The network meta-analysis
determined that the more intensive level of intervention – providing education, low-cost/free
smoke alarms, installation and home inspection – had the highest probability of increasing
functional alarms, compared with lesser levels of intervention or no intervention. The analysis
also showed that “ionization alarms with lithium batteries had the highest probability of being
the best intervention for increasing possession of functional alarms” (Ibid, p. 40). Recent Advances in Smoke Alarm Technology
In order for manufacturers to claim that their batteries last 10 years, they must prove this by
testing the battery for a full 10 years before Underwriters Laboratories will grant a list ing under
UL 217. A provisional listing can be obtained in the meantime, but if the product fails before 10
years the product will be subject to a recall.
Lithium metal batteries (usually referred to simply as “lithium batteries”) used in smoke alarms
do not have the safety problems that have been observed with lithium ion batteries used in
computers and other electronics. When a smoke alarm chirps for low battery, there is still energy
left in the cell. Some newer smoke alarms (e.g., Kidde) deactivate at the end of their life, and the
battery is drained of any remaining energy.
A report by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (“Final Report on Lithium Batteries
[Ultralife, ANSI 1604] Used in Residential Smoke Alarms,” Dec. 2002) presented the results of
analyses conducted on a brand of removable 9-volt lithium batteries involved in premature low-
battery chirping of 10-year smoke alarms that were given away as part of the CDC grant program
mentioned above. The CPSC concluded that the battery failures were limited to a specific
timeframe, and the manufacturer attributed the failures to a manufacturing problem that was
subsequently corrected. No other safety, performance or reliability issues have been raised with
long-life lithium batteries.
The Third Generation Residential Smoke Alarm Project, jointly funded by the USFA and the
CPSC, is a new phase of research that is intended to improve nuisance alarm immunity, response
time, and the awakening of sleeping occupants. Technology development work by smoke alarm
manufacturers has shown that multiple sensors provide significant opportunity for reduction of
nuisance alarms. A change in NFPA 72 for the 2013 edition will require smoke alarms installed
near kitchens to be nuisance-free, so this research is timely.
Since smoke alarms first became widely available, the sensing technology in the alarm has been
either photoelectric or ionization. But the newest generation of smoke alarms use
microprocessors, which run on lower voltages and can allow for more sophisticated functions.
Thus, rather than dual photoelectric/ionization technology, it has allowed for the development of
an “intelligent algorithm” that combines, for example, ionization and carbon monoxide detection,
resulting in more effective fire detection and a substantial reduction in nuisance alarms. Some
smoke alarms contain both smoke detection and CO detection, but not all of them combine the
technology into an “intelligent” alarm. It can function just as a CO alarm when that technology is
needed, but when it functions as a smoke alarm, it combines the technologies.
Considerations Discussed by the SAC in Connection with a Recommendation for 10-year
Batteries in Smoke Alarms
What sort of re-education of consumers would be required about changing their smoke alarm
batteries if they have the 10-year type? The IAFC/Energizer “change your clock, change your battery” campaign has been around for a long time. Consumers are used to hearing it and may forget that the message does not apply to them. This would require a reeducation of consumers – or perhaps an adjustment to the message put out by IAFC/Energizer. A smoke alarm with a sealed long-life battery would discourage tampering or attempts to change the battery unnecessarily.
If 10-year batteries are installed in smoke alarms, should the unit and the battery be
considered as one, so that there is no difference between the age of the unit and when the battery is installed?
What are downsides to a technology that allows consumers to put the smoke alarm on the
ceiling and forget about it for 10 years? The fire service, manufacturers and the media
continually tell consumers to maintain and test their smoke alarms. Are we creating a
problem by disincentivizing consumers to check their alarms? Changing the battery
periodically gives consumers an opportunity to interact with the alarm. But a majority of
consumers do not take advantage of that opportunity today, which has resulted in too many
alarms with dead or missing batteries. At least with the 10-year battery, there is a better
chance that the smoke alarm will function for a longer period of time. UL standards require
smoke alarms to pass robustness tests for dust, humidity, vibration, etc., requiring worst-cast
scenarios, to increase the chance that the alarm will function even if neglected.
How does the cost of a 10-year battery smoke alarm compare with cost of a standard
ionization alarm that requires the battery to be replaced twice a year? An ionization smoke alarm with a 9-volt battery on average retails for $10-12. Sealed 10-year lithium battery-operated smoke alarms can be purchased for less than $20. By not having to purchase batteries for the 10-year smoke alarm, consumers can achieve some savings; Kidde representatives estimate that consumers can save up to $40 on average over the 10-year alarm life if they otherwise would have purchased 9-volt batteries twice a year. The initial cost may be too expensive for some consumers – particularly those at highest risk -- to protect their homes at the level of coverage advised by fire safety professionals. With this in mind, it would be appropriate to prioritize their use, to provide guidance to consumers on a limited budget. The SAC suggests that the highest priority should be at least one long-life battery smoke alarm per floor, including the basement. Second priority should be outside every separate sleeping area.
In determining cost feasibility, is it realistic or feasible for fire departments to purchase and
install long-life or “intelligent” units vs. less expensive units? Smoke alarm manufacturers such as Kidde have programs collaborating with fire departments to provide smoke alarm units for installation. This has resulted in over 1 million alarms donated to fire departments in recent years with 30-40 percent of departments requesting long-life alarms exclusively.
What happens when a smoke alarm is at the end of its useful life? Will residents know to
replace the entire alarm, especially if they were not living there when the alarms were originally installed? For example, a Kidde 10-year smoke alarm at the end of its life will chirp without stopping; it cannot be deactivated and cannot be remounted after it is removed. Dr. Frattaroli pointed out that consumers do not always know what the chirping means, and described her experience with consumers who thought there was a cricket in the house, or who thought their smoke alarms were working properly because
they were chirping. More recent products are beginning to replace the chirping with a human voice that says, “It‟s time to replace this smoke alarm.” Such explicit messages and warnings would help avoid consumer misinterpretation of an alarm‟s signals.
What is the best way to test people‟s smoke alarms for them without relying exclusively on
the fire service, which may not be able to devote the resources to checking every home in their jurisdiction? Dr. Spivak has encouraged fire departments to enlist trade associations of professionals who are in people‟s homes regularly providing cleaning services, or other services, who would agree to test smoke alarms and change batteries as part of the free included service. This still would miss the highest risk people who do not hire people to provide such services. Kidde‟s Safe Home program has targeted electricians, HVAC workers, carpet cleaners and others to help with testing smoke alarms. Landlords of rental units may check between tenants. Many jurisdictions require landlords to ensure working smoke alarms and make them subject to liability if they do not; this could be the best enforcement mechanism for high-population dwellings. Prof. David Purser recalled a Building Research Establishment project in the U.K,, in which technicians going into council houses (public housing) to check other appliances also checked the smoke alarm, and said it was a very cost-effective effort. Can faith-based organizations be recruited to reach low-income residences?
Can fire departments provide incentives for residents to maintain/service their smoke alarms
on a regular basis? One idea would be to announce that if a firefighter visits a home in a high-risk area at random and finds the number of smoke alarms sufficient and operational, the resident will receive some sort of prize.
Possible Areas for Additional Research
Will the recommendation for a 10-year smoke alarm be consistent with smoke alarm
requirements at the state and local levels?
What research may be needed on the human factors aspects of smoke alarm use and how
consumers interact or don‟t interact with their smoke alarms – are new education
programs/messages needed in light of a move toward 10-year smoke alarms?
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