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My smoke detector has been poked at so much with the end of my broom that you'd think it would just stop working out of sheer protest. At one point, the constant false alarms had me jabbing the broom stick at the reset button almost daily. Frustrated, I would sometimes take the smoke alarm down -- often when I was cooking -- and put it on the counter just so it would stop making noise.

I admit it the way I was managing these false alarms was nothing short of dangerous. Most people experience one of three main issues with their smoke alarms:

- It chirps constantly
- It has false alarms
- It does not sound at all


Here's how to troubleshoot these common problems.

My Smoke Detector is Chirping All the Time

If your smoke detector beeps or chirps constantly -- or goes thorough periods of random, unprompted beeping -- it's probably time to change the battery. Batteries should be changed yearly. Even hard-wired detectors have back-up batteries that should be replaced every year.

It is also possible that the presence of dust or bugs is causing the dreaded false alarm. Simply vacuum the smoke detector to clean the area around it, and rid it of any debris.

My Smoke Detector is Too Sensitive

The trouble with alarms that beep at the slightest provocation is that we stop paying attention to them. This is really dangerous, especially if you have children in the house who see you routinely ignore an alarm. Avoiding false alarms will help you take each alarm seriously, and save the nuisance of dealing with it on a continual basis. Here are some of the ways to avoid false alarms:

- Do not place smoke detectors immediately outside the bathroom. The steam from a shower can falsely trigger the alarm. Moving it over just a few feet should manage this.

- Avoid placing alarms near fresh paint. The chemical fumes might set it off.

- Use a different type of smoke detector in the kitchen.
False alarms typically occur in the kitchen. This is also the most common place for a fire to start, so it's important that you don't just turn it off out of frustration from all the false alarms. Some experts recommend that you have a heat detector in the kitchen instead of a smoke detector. The idea is that it will still detect a fire, but will not go off at the fist bit of smoke wafting from your stove. This recommendation has been criticized, though, with warnings that heat detectors don't give enough warning for life threatening fires. Instead, a photoelectric smoke alarm is a popular choice for the kitchen as opposed to the more sensitive ionization smoke alarm. While neither the ionization or photoelectric alarm is necessarily better at detecting fires, they use different methods, and the photoelectric alarm is less likely to go off without cause. Still, what works for the kitchen might not work in the workshop or garage. Photoelectric alarms may have false alarms if the area around the alarm is too dusty. An ionizing alarm goes off at the first sign of smoke. This makes it a good choice for bedrooms, where any amount of smoke probably indicates a bigger problem.

My Smoke Detector Doesn't Sound When Being Tested

If you ignored the first problem and now it doesn't sound when it's supposed to, chances are your batteries are dead. If that isn't the case, it might be that the wires have become loose or damaged. While it's tempting for a DIYer to fix this, it's recommended that you simply replace the alarm.

If All Else Fails...


Apart from these main fixes, you probably don't want to dig too much into the actual smoke detector. They aren't expensive, so if your troubleshooting doesn't work, just replace it. The user manual for your alarm might have more instructions tailored to your specific device.

Smoke Detector Guidelines

Each jurisdiction has different smoke detector regulations. In our community, the requirements have recently changed, leaving the shelves at local hardware stores empty as people flock to the store and buy new smoke detectors by the basketful. Please check your local requirements, but here are the general guidelines:

- One smoke detector in every bedroom
- One smoke detector every 30 feet in hallways
- One smoke detector at the top of every stairway
- One smoke detector in each main living space
- Test your alarm each month
- Replace the batteries (even if they are not dead) yearly

Unless you're bugged by the beeping (which you now know how to stop), it's easy to forget about the smoke detectors in the home. Add the monthly tests and battery replacements to your calender to make sure you get it done.

SEE ALSO:
All About Carbon Monoxide (CasaSugar)
Smoke Alarm Maintenance (Lifehacker)



  • Sue H.

    Please don't inflame (ha, ha) your reader's anger when the smoke alarm sounds without there being a blazing fire. They are are not experiencing false alarms. The alarm is working properly - something is breaking the beam of light inside the alarm housing. Any molecule as big as a smoke molecule can do it. You are correct, generally it is steam (big water moleules), or dust, or even tiny spiders hatching inside where it is warm. They are not false alarms, as the detector works fine. Also, never put a detector inside a kitchen - of course it will go off. They are more properly placed outside the kitchen at the bottom of staircases to the second floor, or in the hall outside first floor bedrooms. Additionally, carbon monoxide detectors are very sensitive to humidity, which is why they often sound during the summer in a damp basement.

    Reply
  • aldrin

    Just to avoid those nuisance chirping sound in the kitchen "don't install smoke alarm in the kitchen" by NEC code it's ok if you don't have one in the kitchen anyways.

    Reply
  • Gary  Volpe

    This article does not get to the real problem that of unreliable detectors. Most of them should be recalled. I have 14 new units throught the house and every few weeks one of them goes off for no reason. Interesting that the one near the kitchen has never had a false alarm. The batteries are new and they are the 110V type so the batteries are not normally in use.
    Even replacing the batteries does not help.
    I have replaced several units from time to time but most are unreliable.
    I would guess that a lot of users just take these off line because of this problem leaving a problem in case of a real fire.
    If you read reviews of the different detectors most or all have lots of false alarm comments.
    Since government codes require these the code agencies should address this serious problem.

    Reply
  • Charles Carter

    Hey, my smoke detector is my cooking timer.

    Reply
  • Larry Caldwell

    Hi Charles. Mine serves the same function, lol.


  • daddynuz

    FYI... residential smoke detectors electric powered, battery powered or both only have a usefull life of 10-12 years depending on the manufacturer so keep your family safe replace the old ones every 10 years. In some states it's the law!!!!

    Reply
  • Steve

    I have done some drywall work in my basement finishing and sanding, found out later that the dust caused my smoke detector not to work, it tested ok but did not send a signal to the others that were inter connected through out the house, so beware when doing remodeling to your home......

    Reply
  • xxceylonxx

    I have a fire alarm that had a battery in it and sometimes it would just chirp and keep chirping till the battery would be taken out. Then a new one would be put in and it would do the same thing. Any ideas?

    Reply
  • John Zylka

    One thing this article fails to mention is how to TEST a smoke detector. Most people believe you simply depress the test button. This istotally false. This gives you a false sense of security if it goes off. Many people have died in fires in rooms where the detector actually tested OK when the button was pressed but failed to alarm during a fire. This is because there are 3 main components to a smoke detector; the power source, the alarm unit and the sensor. Pressing the test button only tests the power source and the alarm - NOT THE SENSOR. The only way to properly test a detector is with a can of artificial smoke. This will give you an accurate test without leaving a residue on the sensor. These cans are available at some stores and online and can be found by searching for "Smoke Detector Tester".

    Reply
  • Laura

    I live in a rahter small apartment. Just about everytime I cook something the alarm goes off.
    And then management calls me to see if there is a fire.. This pisses me off a lot.
    The kitchen is small there are no windows or ventilation, not even a fan. And the alarm is just
    outside of the kitchen, so it is inevitable that it will go off.
    The manager does nothing.. I think they do not want you to cook here.
    Its a royal pain in the arse,,!!

    Reply
  • mr wonderful

    I don't know what state ou live in but most states require a vented hood over the stove ... If you don't have one check your local laws and you can make your landlord install one or pay for it yourself and deduct it from your rent


  • lauraluv896

    I live in a rahter small apartment. Just about everytime I cook
    something the alarm goes off.
    And then management calls me to see if there is a fire.. This pisses
    me off a lot.
    The kitchen is small there are no windows or ventilation, not even a
    fan. And the alarm is just
    outside of the kitchen, so it is inevitable that it will go off.
    The manager does nothing.. I think they do not want you to cook here.
    Its a royal pain in the arse,,!!

    Reply
  • lauraluv896

    live in a rahter small apartment. Just about everytime I cook
    something the alarm goes off.
    And then management calls me to see if there is a fire.. This pisses
    me off a lot.
    The kitchen is small there are no windows or ventilation, not even a
    fan. And the alarm is just
    outside of the kitchen, so it is inevitable that it will go off.
    The manager does nothing.. I think they do not want you to cook here.
    Its a royal pain in the arse,,!!

    Reply
  • cole

    New Universal Platinum series smoke detector works but has both green & red light on. I have yet to find any site or articles addressing light indications. I'm guessing that red indicates weak battery. In case you, my reader, are wondering; new home, can't locate any owner instructions for this unit. PS - all other detectors are green only. Anyone within a ten thousand mile radius that may know the solution?
    Danke

    Reply
  • 14 Comments / 1 Pages
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