A somewhat surprisingly large percentage of Americans don't know when it's time to replace their smoke alarms.

Don’t know when to replace your fire alarm? You’re not alone

They’re one of the most important safety features in your home or apartment, but unfortunately they tend to be the most forgotten one, too. Fortunately, fire alarms don’t require much in the way of energy, but in a given year, the juice batteries had may not be up to snuff, so swapping them out for a new pair is always a safe bet.

However, the batteries aren’t the only things that need to be replaced from time to time to ensure fire safety in the home – the alarm does as well. Unfortunately, the vast majority of homeowners don’t know when they should actually do this, according to the results of a new poll.

90% don’t know when to replace smoke alarm

Old smoke alarms should be substituted for new versions once every 10 years. Only 10% of adults know this is the case, based on a recent survey conducted by the National Fire Protection Association.

Lorraine Carli, who serves as vice president for NFPA’s Outreach and Advocacy unit, indicated homeowners understand that detectors are a key component to fire safety, but many don’t realize what it takes in order to keep them reliable and in good working order.

“The public generally knows that smoke alarms play an important role in home fire safety, [but] some smoke alarm messages are not as well understood,” Carli explained. “Not knowing how often smoke alarms need to be replaced – or that they even have an expiration date – are among them.”

Battery-powered or hard-wired? Ionization or combination?

Not only do smoke alarms break down over time, but there are several different types. For instance, while some are battery-powered, others are hooked up to a home’s electrical grid. Additionally, the sensors detectors contain – such as photoelectric, ionization, or a combination of the two – play a role in what kinds of fires are recognized. Some are better at detecting actual flames, while others more readily identify smoke.

Because some home maintenance tasks tend to be put on the back burner – smoke alarms being one of them – a number of Americans don’t know how old there detectors even are, the poll discovered. Approximately 20% of respondents in the NFPA survey indicated they weren’t entirely sure when they last put in their oldest smoke alarm. Around 50% of homeowners have three or more alarms. Installing them all at once can make it easier to recall when they were last replaced, but they’re frequently swapped out one at a time.

Carli stressed that keeping fire alarms in tip-top shape can literally be a matter of life and death.

“Working smoke alarms reduce the risk of dying in a home fire in half,” Carli stated. “That’s why it’s so important to make sure they’re working properly.”

If you’re someone who uses the “spring forward, fall back” mantra as a reminder to change the batteries in your home’s detectors, use the time between now and then to learn more about fire safety and what you can do to keep your family protected.

Please be sure to visit NFPA’s website for loads of resources on home fire safety, further clarification on smoke alarms and how to keep them going strong all 10 years long.