Fewer than one-in-two New Zealanders regularly check their smoke alarms despite the Fire Service recommending they be tested at least once a month.
A new survey of 1500 renters and homeowners aged 18 years and over showed about half of all Kiwis relied on their smoke alarm beeping before testing the device.
A further six per cent of respondents admitted to never checking their alarms, according to the AA Insurance poll of 1500 renters and homeowners aged 18 years and over.
New Zealand Fire Service chief executive and national commander Paul Baxter said working smoke alarms were a family's best chance of escaping unharmed from a fire.
"Fire moves incredibly fast. If you're asleep or out of the room where the fire started, you need that warning to escape.
"If you have ordinary smoke alarms it's vital that the battery is tested every month or so and that it's changed for a new one about every six months," Mr Baxter said.
Long-life smoke alarms which lasted up to 10 years were also recommended.
Suzanne Wolton of AA Insurance said the survey results were a "wake-up call", especially considering 80 per cent of fatal fires attended by the New Zealand Fire service were cases where smoke alarms were either not installed or not working.
The survey also showed 15 per cent of New Zealanders have had some form of house fire, with the majority starting in the kitchen.
In addition to this, twice as many kitchen fires were reported in the North Island (52 per cent) as in the South Island (26 per cent).
Several people insured with AA have had close calls in home fires.
One customer, whose house caught fire after their electrical multi-board became overloaded, was woken by a smoke alarm.
The six-plug multi-board was connected to an extension cord, which was plugged into another multi-board that had numerous appliances running from it.
While the fire service extinguished the blaze, it reignited later causing the roof to explode. That claim amounted to nearly $265,000.
Another claim involved a woman who had left her pan on the stove unattended. The woman, who rushed back to the kitchen after her smoke alarm sounded, found the pan on fire. She was able to extinguish it by putting a lid on it.
AA Insurance claims for home fires already total more than $2 million this year. About 25 per cent of those related to kitchen fires, the company said.
The average claims for house fires was about $56,000, which covered damage to the property only. Loss of household belongings was extra, AA Insurance said.
Kiwis and smoke alarms:
* 44 per cent check the devices regularly
* 50 per cent checked them when they beeped
* 91 per cent of people had them in their homes
Source: AA Insurance