Friday, February 25, 2011

The Freaking Bleeping Smoke Detector

I'll start off by saying that smoke detectors save lives, everyone should have them, the batteries (if they have them) should be changed regularly, and they should never be disconnected.
But, what if.....?
When we did a major addition to our house, starting 15+ years ago, and we ain't done yet, we had to put wired in smoke detectors in the new part.  At the south end of the house we added a ground level family room and a single car garage next to it.  There is a gas fireplace in the family room, that is on non stop from the cool weather of Fall, until we get some warm weather in the Spring.  That and the wood stove are the only heat in the house. The family room ceiling is vaulted and the stairs go up from there to the dining area on top of the garage.  There is a rail along the 8' opening in the dining room, and it is open to the family room below.  To pass the building inspection of the new addition, we had to put a smoke detector on each level.  The smoke detectors have to be wired to a house circuit, and to a circuit that it has a lot of things on it that are used regularly.  That means that you can't turn the breaker off for the smoke detector without it affecting other things that you need on a regular basis, like lights and electrical outlets.
The smoke detector in the dining room became an issue right away. It was located on the slightly peaked ceiling  just out of sight looking from the kitchen.  Just about every time we made toast, that smoke detector went off, and it was most annoying.   When we climbed up to check it, within the workings of the smoke detector itself, there was a little plug thing.  It got unplugged, and has remained unplugged ever since.
Last night I had planned on going to bed early.  I spend too many late nights on the computer, which is in the family room.  Anytime before midnight would be early.  After posting my 365 photo, I got sidetracked into looking at wood furniture  (we are looking for a couple of night tables).  About 11:30 I'm heading to bed, still early for me.  The smoke detector in the family room went off briefly.  I did recall that before when we've had really cold overnight temperatures we've had issues with it.  Thought nothing more of it and went to bed.  At 12:30 I'm woken by the smoke detector beeping, which is at the other end of the house.  I ignore it, it stops. I try to get back to sleep.  It starts again. Repeat the previous three sentences ten times or so.  Jake has come into the bedroom. Jake HATES/FEARS the smoke detector.  I hear him rustle every time it starts beeping again.  Finally I stagger out of bed, walk through the dark house to the family room.  First I turn the gas fire down, and then instead decided to turn the ceiling fan on.  It is set on low.  I go back to bed.  All is quiet.  All is good.  I try to fall back to sleep.
It goes off quickly.  I fall into some weird dream.  It bleeps again.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  I wonder how the bleeping man can sleep through all this bleeping bleeping.  I get out of bed, stagger a bit, and I am a little confused. It takes me a few seconds to figure out how to get out of the bedroom.  We changed the bed around and this is only the second night in the new spot, so now instead of having to walk around two sides of the bed to get to the door, I have to walk around three.  I am next to the window though (bonus!). It's now about 2:30am.
This time I turn the gas fire down very low.  I figure I'd rather be cold when I got up after a decent night's sleep (or what's left of it), than not get any sleep at all. Repeat the above paragraph, minus the finding my way  to the door. It's now 4am.  The bleeping man is still sleeping. This time I had to find a chair to stand on to pull the chain on the fan to get it run on high speed. 
Stagger back to bed.  All is quiet.  Then it starts all over again.  4:30 am.  This time (Hooray!) bleeping man wakes up with a start, likely wondering if the house is on fire. (I do seem to have a thing for not wanting to wake people up that are still managing to sleep).  Obviously I can't count on him to wake up when the smoke detector goes off, the first time.  I recount my story in the self pitying, suffering way women can.  He gets up to see what he can do.  Then I hear David thumping up the stairs.  His room is next to the family room.  I wonder if it has actually taken him this long to hear it.  Yay for men who (finally) react in an emergency.  I hear a call for the ladder, and Larry says it is out in the barn.  I shout that it is outside the bedroom door, where he put it when we were working on the closet.  We've only been walking past it for too many days.  David goes up the ladder, can't find anything to disconnect, so they all go back to bed.  Silence for a while.  Then it starts again.  I said that there is a plug thing in the dining room one, there must be a plug in the family room detector.  Surely we bought them at the same time from the same place.  Seems like we didn't.  He still couldn't find anything to disconnect, but he did manage to break one of the tabs on the cover, so now that the cover stayed off, we got silence and it stayed silent.  Well until I got up before 8, turned the fan off that was blowing cold air around the family room, went down and sat at the computer, and the smoke detector started beeping.  So here I am with a blanket wrapped around me.  Jake says the only safe place in the house is the bedroom.

Update:  Yes the smoke detectors are the same.  After balancing at the top of the step ladder in the middle of the family room, and then on the dining room table upstairs, I realized that you don't take the top off off the smoke detector.  What you do is grab the top, and unscrew it and the base from the ring that is attached to the ceiling.  The plug is behind that.  It is unplugged, and the stepladder will remain in the middle of the family room to remind us to plug it back in when this cold snap is over.  All I can figure is that the gas fire is burning more vigorously because it's so cold, and something is setting of the smoke detector.  It's not a carbon monoxide detector, so it's not that.
Oh yeah, the bleepingness of the husband may have been exaggerated in the telling of this story:)
We had to coax Jake out of the bedroom this morning.


  1. Oh the dreaded beeping smoke detector. When we first moved into our house 28 years ago I was pregnant. Hubby was at work one night when our hallway detector started an intermittent beep. I was big as a house and only 5 feet tall. No climbing on a chair for me and no lugging a ladder upstairs. I went into the bedroom to try to ignore it which wasn't really working.
    This was the backup battery warning system. Eventually the intermittent beeping turned into a solid scream.
    I figured I could get the battery out using a broom but the cover was not coming off easily. Finally I just started to beat the heck out of it with the broom until the cover fell open and then I whacked it over and over until I dislodged the battery and it shut up. It wasn't a pretty site.
    Do yours have backup batteries in case of power outages? Is there any steam in the house? I know that some of ours would go off if I was using a steam iron even. In one of the bedrooms it would go off if there was a breeze coming in the window or off of the ceiling fan.

  2. You know there are two types of detectors? One is ionization & the other photoelectric. I can't remember now exactly the diffs. but I do know that depending on area, one is better than the other. For ex. we had one which was triggered by steam. Having it right outside the bathroom door was an issue & it just needed to be swapped for the other kind.....

    But also, the thing that bugs me about them is that they're all made in China & I do not trust them at all. A few months ago I read on a blog from a woman in the Fraser Valley that her regularly tested, with good battery detector didn't go off when her place filled with smoke. I suspect that they fail - just like all the Christmas lights now fail after a short use.

    Sorry you lost sleep!

  3. we don't know about all that detector stuff but they are good to have
    Benny & Lily

  4. Many years ago ours went off during the night. No fire. I'm yelling, "don't be scared, Daddy will fix it." Daughter #1 went outside as taught to do. Daughter #2 slept through it. Daddy, quite sleepy, went into the closet and shut the door. I nearly died laughing. End of story.

  5. I have no idea which kind of smoke detector this is, but there is no steam close by, and it does not have battery back up. I figure it is something the gas fire place is giving off because it's burning hotter with the cold nights. (It does have some sort of thermostat, so is able to regulate itself a certain amount as needed, the gas fire that is). I think the dogs would probably be as valuable as smoke detectors if something goes wrong. I do remember years ago when it went off in the middle of the night, and having enough sense about me to feel the bedroom door before I opened it. Now it is open most of the time anyway, which is not the best option.

  6. PS Lori and Gram Mary - It's always great to hear other's funny stories:)

  7. It must be a building code in Canada that says they must be hard wired. Ours are located on both levels..we have a Gas Fireplace too..and the Detectors never go off..we just replaced them because the old ones were ten years we have the Carbon Monoxide/Smoke combo ones.
    I irritate my husband by insisting that the batteries be changed when Day Light Saving Times starts and stops.
    They do save lives..a fire can smolder for hours before breaking into flame..and the smoke will kill you.
    I had one in my kitchen years ago, it went off everytime I cooked..the girls would come running to grab a broom and wave it around so it would stop beeping:)

  8. We used to have one in the hallway near the kitchen, and every time I opened the oven, it would go off, and quite often when we made toast. Our black lab (who also feared the beeping detector)was so smart that she connected the sound of the the oven clicking on when it was heating again, and the sound of the toaster being pushed down, with the smoke detector going off. When she heard that click, she would get as close to your legs as she could. If she was outside and heard the smoke detector, she would head over to the neighbours. We did eventually have to move that one.
    We used to wave a dish towel under the detector, not a broom:)
    Yes, smoke detectors DO save lives, no argument about that.
    Perhaps we should check into replacing ours.

  9. I had a smoke detector just outside the bathroom in our last house that would go off every time we took a hot shower...the steam when you opened the door would set if off. Funny the first couple times running about in a towel to make sure the house wasn't on fire!

  10. I agree with what Hornblower said. There are two types of smoke alarms – ionization and photo electronic smoke alarms. Photoelectric is less sensitive than ionization as the latter reacts to even a slight change in the amount of electronically charged particles (ions) in the air. So, she’s right that depending on your area, one is actually better than the other.

    Odessa Hanton

  11. It's annoying, right? You're having a good night's sleep and the smoke detector suddenly goes off even when there's no smoke. I see that the two types of smoke detectors were mentioned already. But have you also checked for dust? It can actually trigger nuisance alarms. Try cleaning your device and see if it works.

    Troy Brown @


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