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Smoke Detector Going Off for No Reason? Here’s Why (and How to Stop It).

The third leading cause of heart attacks in the United States is smoke alarms going off a 3:27 am. OK, we may or may not have made up that statistic (we definitely did make it up), but you’re with us on this, aren’t you? Few things cause grown adults to shriek and cuss like an unanticipated smoke alarm.

We’re not talking about the polite little CHIRP—the “Hey, excuse me [CHIRP] but could you please [CHIRP] refresh my battery? [CHIRP]” We’re talking about the “BEEEP! BEEEP! BEEEP! BEEEP!” that makes makes your teeth rattle and your dogs bark and your spouse holler, “Make it stoooooop!” In fact, “failure to deactivate malfunctioning smoke alarm” is among the top 10 reasons people file for divorce. (No, not really. Probably not, anyway.)

It’s one thing if there’s an actual fire. In that case, we’re more than grateful to be rudely jolted from sleep. Most of the time, though (thankfully!) our smoke alarms seem to go off just because. In fact, a recent report from the National Fire Protection Association (NPFA) showed about 32% of all false alarms are caused by system malfunctions.

We’d really rather you not have a heart attack or get divorced, so follow these steps to determine why your smoke alarm is misbehaving—and get it to stop.

Step 1: Make absolutely, positively, completely certain there’s not an actual fire.

If your smoke alarms go off, assume there is a fire, and implement your family safety plan.

Step 2: Reset the misbehaving smoke alarm.

When you’re certain the coast is clear, put your fingers in your ears and head back inside for some detective work.

If you have battery-operated smoke alarms that aren’t hard-wired into your home’s electrical system, it’ll be easy to find the offending one, because only one will be sounding. When you locate it, press and hold the unit’s reset switch.

  • If pressing the smoke alarm reset switch stops the madness, go to step 3.
  • If the reset button doesn’t do the trick, take the alarm down and remove the batteries.
  • If your smoke detector has a long-life lithium battery that can’t be removed, wrap it in a blanket or stick it in the freezer until it stops beeping.

If you have hard-wired smoke alarms, you’ll soon discover they behave like Christmas lights: If one goes off, they all go off. That can make it maddening to figure out which one started the problem.

  • Trying pressing the reset switch on every unit until the alarms stop.
  • If that doesn’t work, head to your breaker box, and try flipping the switch off and then back on.
  • As a last resort, disconnect each alarm from the system and remove its batteries until the noise stops.

Step 3: Determine why the alarm sounded.

Smoke alarms sound for all sorts of reasons—beyond actual fires, that is:

  • Dust or other debris on the sensor
  • Spiders or insects taking refuge inside the alarm (Ugh)
  • Humidity, including steam from your shower (And you thought a middle-of-the-night malfunction was bad!)
  • Electrical system malfunctions or dead batteries
  • That one time your spouse forgot about the chicken on the stove

If you notice dust, cobwebs, or other “stuff” on the offending smoke detector, use canned air or a vacuum attachment to clean it out. Fair warning: Moving all that debris around can cause the alarm to sound again.

If you can’t attribute the alarm to dust or a bathroom or kitchen “incident,” there’s a good chance it’s time to replace your batteries and/or detectors altogether.

Could it be time to upgrade your smoke alarms?

Smoke detectors have a lifespan of about 10 years, and they’ve changed a lot over the years. For example:

  • Old-school ionization detectors are great at sensing fast fires with lots of flames. They often don’t catch the slow-burning, smoldering fires that create loads of smoke, though. Since smoke inhalation is the number-one cause of death related to fires, we strongly recommend not relying solely on ionization detectors. (Yes, that’s a real statistic.)
  • Photoelectric alarms are triggered when something (smoke, dust, or bugs) refracts a light source inside the unit. This type of smoke alarm is great at catching smoldering fires without much flame.
  • Dual alarms have both types of sensors. Depending on the unit, one or both sensors need to be triggered for the alarm to sound. The NFPA recommends using both types of alarms.
  • Smart smoke detectors let you know when it’s time to replace the batteries, and they can be disabled quickly from your phone in the event of a false alarm.

Protecting your family and belongings is one of our top priorities, and we’ve been offering Dallas Fort Worth area electrician services with over 12 years. If you have questions or concerns about your smoke alarms, give us a call today!

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