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Chatham Emergency Services Update

By Carey Ruppert - cruppert@chathames.org
Chief, Southside Division

Smoke Detectors: Why We Love and Hate Them

When it comes to the safety of your home, smoke detectors play an important role in warning you and your loved ones of immediate danger. That is why we love them. Sometimes, however, your smoke detector alarm goes off repeatedly for no apparent reason – usually in the middle of the night. And sometimes you can’t determine which detector is making that infernal racket! That’s why we hate them.

Beeping or chirping when there is no hazardous situation often is an indication that something is not right with the system, such as a dead or dying battery or a malfunction in the alarm’s components. A quick way to locate which detector is emitting the beep or chirp is to look for a flashing red light. A properly operating detector should display a solid green light. The following are a few ways you can troubleshoot and hopefully fix your problem.

First, after determining that there is no hazardous situation causing the alarm, locate the reset button on the surface of the smoke detector. Hold the reset button for 15 to 20 seconds and then release it. Wait for a couple of minutes and see if the beeping or chirping continues. If the beeping stops, the problem is solved. If the noise continues, here are some possible causes:

Battery Issues

A consistent beep every 30-to-60 seconds often is the sign of a dying battery. An inconsistent beep can be an indication that a battery was installed improperly or that a connection is not secure. Put in a new battery and ensure that its terminals are in full contact with the detector. A low battery also can be an issue even with hard-wired models. If your backup battery is low, your hard-wired detector or detectors may beep until you change the battery.

Dirty Sensing Chamber

Foreign matter inside the detector’s sensing chamber can cause intermittent chirps or even a false alarm. Such foreign matter includes dirt, dust, and cobwebs. Dust produced by cutting drywall during construction is a frequent culprit in false alarms. Follow manufacturer instructions to clean dust and debris from detectors, which generally include directions to vacuum or gently use a small brush. Always cut power to hardwired detectors at your circuit box before cleaning.

Environmental Interference

Environmental factors such as humidity, steam, or extreme temperatures can cause smoke detectors to beep. Extreme heat or cold might interfere with the proper operation of smoke detectors mounted in non-climate-controlled areas such as attics and garages. These extreme temperatures also can have an impact on the battery lifespan and effectiveness. A heat-sensing smoke detector mounted in a hallway adjacent to a bathroom shower can be triggered by a sudden onrush of steam when the shower door is opened. This is particularly prevalent in the summer when the temperature differential between the air-conditioned space and the escaping steam tricks the heat sensor into a false alarm.

Hardwire Power Reset

Once a hardwired smoke detector has been triggered, it may require rebooting through a power reset to stop the beeping. If the reset button on the detector does not stop the beeping, turn off the power to the detectors at the circuit box. Leave the power off for a minute or two. Once the power is back on, listen for additional beeping. Press the test button after resetting to make sure the system is working correctly.

End of Life

If your smoke detector is 8-to-10 years old, the beeping may be a sign that it’s time to replace the detector. Check the backside of the detector for the manufacture date. Over time, the components that make the smoke detector work start breaking down, and the detector loses effectiveness. In fact, according to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), you should replace all smoke detectors every 10 years. If you have smoke detectors that are connected, replace all of them at the same time, even if only one has developed a problem.