Code red: Survey finds 3 in 4 Americans ignore smoke detector safety procedures

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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Summary of findings

The dreaded chirp of a smoke alarm in need of new batteries can be a nuisance, but it can also save your life. However, our recent survey revealed a majority of Americans ignore proper safety measures when it comes to their smoke detectors.

House fires may seem rare, but in the first two months of 2020, a shocking 483 Americans lost their lives in civilian home fires. Since properly working smoke alarms decrease the risk of dying in a home fire by 50%, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends testing your smoke detector once a month to make sure it’s functioning properly.[1]

We ran a survey to see how many Americans were following safety protocols related to their smoke detectors. Our findings revealed:

  • Only 1 in 4 Americans tests their smoke detector monthly per the U.S. Fire Administration’s recommendation.
  • 16% of Americans have never tested their smoke detector and 20% admit to disconnecting it completely.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 Americans don’t have a smoke detector in their home.

A working smoke alarm could be the difference between life and death in a home fire. Additionally, your home insurance policy could be invalidated if your smoke detector isn’t maintained. Below, we’ll take a deeper look at our startling survey results and compare them against other smoke detector statistics.

A majority of Americans don’t practice proper smoke detector safety

The U.S. Fire Administration recommends testing your smoke detector at least once a month.[1] This simple task only takes a few minutes but can play a crucial role in you and your family’s survival, as it provides early warning of a fire and gives you additional time to escape.


Smoke detectors can also help wake you up. Nearly 50% of house fire deaths happen between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when family members are sleeping. This is just one example of why it’s essential to have smoke detectors working properly — yet our survey revealed that only 25% of Americans are testing their smoke detector monthly. 

30% of Americans admit to committing a major fire hazard

Nearly three in five home fire deaths result from improper smoke detector use. Our survey found that 30% of Americans admit to committing a major fire hazard by either disconnecting their smoke alarms (21%) or not having one altogether (9%).


If your smoke detector does begin chirping, don’t disconnect it. Instead, replace the battery once you’ve confirmed that there is no immediate fire danger. Other best practices for fire safety include installing smoke alarms in every bedroom and every level of the home, and making sure all of the smoke alarms are interconnected so that when one sounds, they all sound. You should also replace your smoke detector every 10 years.

The risk of dying in a house fire is cut in half by a working smoke detector

The risk of dying in a house fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke detectors.[2] So why are Americans disconnecting their smoke detectors or ditching them altogether? Perhaps it’s a lack of perceived risk, as many people assume that a home fire will never happen to them. But the reality is that firefighters in the U.S. respond to a fire every 24 seconds, and two-thirds of all home fire deaths occur in homes without a working alarm.


In the first month of 2020, there were 256 civilian home fire fatalities reported by the U.S. media, according to FEMA.[3] Throughout 2019, there were 2,140 civilian home fire fatalities, and over a 10-year period from 2009–2019, there were 16,749 civilian home fire fatalities reported.

Aside from safety risks, not having a working smoke detector can also impact your wallet. Many home insurance companies require a smoke detector to be installed and maintained on every floor of the house, since fire and smoke damage is traditionally covered by homeowners insurance policies. If you remove or disconnect a smoke detector and your home suffers damage, your policy could be invalidated.

You can protect your family, pets, property, and home insurance policy by properly maintaining your smoke detector each month and developing an escape plan. Follow these guidelines from FEMA in the event of a fire emergency.

laptop on fire
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This study was conducted for The Zebra using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no fewer than 1,500 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey was conducted in February 2020.

  1. Smoke Alarms. U.S. Fire Administration

  2. Smoke Alarms in US Home Fires. NFPA

  3. Home Fire Fatalities. NFPA