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Apparent smoke alarm malfunction
Old 01-02-2012, 09:54 PM   #1
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Apparent smoke alarm malfunction

This morning about 6 am my smoke alarm went off briefly, and then stopped. There was no smoke anywhere and nothing was hot, so I went back to bed. But unfortunately I didn't fall asleep again. I thought I might just replace it, but it is wired in. I have several questions that I hope someone can help me with. Is there any reason to keep this hard-wired type alarm, or should I just remove it and wire nut and tape the wires and replace with a battery operated alarm?

I didn't appreciate being waked up early, so think one way or another I will replace this one. Can anyone think why this might have happened?

Ha
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Old 01-02-2012, 10:07 PM   #2
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Check for dust. Mine was going off and someone told me it could be dust blocking the sensors. I didn't really buy it as the house was only a couple years old. I can't remember if I wound up replacing the bad one or if it really was dust, but I don't have that problem anymore.

You can replace a hard wired alarm. I did in another house for some reason and found the same one (easy to swap in) for a reasonable price. Or get a battery one. I don't really know how it'd be different.
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Old 01-02-2012, 10:44 PM   #3
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I've had a few random beeps over the years. Spiders? Never figured them out. Dust it, and if it happens again, replace.

You might want to check code where you are, many places require a hard wired unit. Sometimes they are even 'linked' together, so if one goes on others will sound (usually only in multi-story units I think). I prefer hard wire with battery back-up. But that makes it 'fun' when you have some cooking smoke set it off - you need to pull the battery AND flip the breaker.

Smoke alarms should come standard with a 2-5 minute mute function for cases like these. I think I saw one model that got it right - any standard TV remote could be used to mute it for a few minutes. That way, you could mute it even if it was mounted out of easy reach.

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Old 01-03-2012, 05:40 AM   #4
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I've had similar malfunction, and never during the day. As ERD points out, the hard wired unit is likely a compliance issue and cannot be removed. I had never seen a unit with remote or mute and think it is a great idea.
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Old 01-03-2012, 07:58 AM   #5
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Suggest that you take it down, vacuum it thoroughly and then put it back up.

I had a similar thing happen recently and the conclusion was that the unit was defective and needed to be replaced.

I would keep the hard wired version though (usually with battery backup) as it is code in many areas.

This is not an area to be frugal on - your life depends on it.
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Old 01-03-2012, 07:59 AM   #6
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I've had similar malfunction, and never during the day. As ERD points out, the hard wired unit is likely a compliance issue and cannot be removed. I had never seen a unit with remote or mute and think it is a great idea.
My hardwired unit has a "hush" mode where you press a button and the audible alarm is suspended for 10 minutes and then if the situation isn't resolved the alarm will go off again.
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Old 01-03-2012, 08:03 AM   #7
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I just replaced two battery operated detectors that started randomly blasting. I bet they were dusty. Too bad this thread didn't pop up a month ago.

Well, they were pretty old anyway. Probably better technology in the new ones.
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Old 01-03-2012, 08:34 AM   #8
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All the hard wired smoke detectors in my house have battery backup and will beep when the batteries get low, always at 3 am on the coldest night of the year. Since I have vaulted ceilings in my house some of these detectors require a tall step ladder to get to. I ended up removing the batteries from the hard to get to detectors but still have enough coverage from the detectors with batteries to make me feel safe if there ever is a power outage.
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Old 01-03-2012, 08:42 AM   #9
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We've had them go off due to a spider; and vacuum them biannually. More recent models monitor for smoke as well as other combustion byproducts but seem to be more sensitive to steam from things like hot showers.
Perhaps the antics of yours was caused by a power interruption?
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Old 01-03-2012, 08:55 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by zinger1457 View Post
All the hard wired smoke detectors in my house have battery backup and will beep when the batteries get low, always at 3 am on the coldest night of the year. Since I have vaulted ceilings in my house some of these detectors require a tall step ladder to get to. I ended up removing the batteries from the hard to get to detectors but still have enough coverage from the detectors with batteries to make me feel safe if there ever is a power outage.
I also have a vaulted ceiling and a dog that can hear those low-battery beeps (that I can't hear). The dog drives me nuts when it happens. I finally replaced my batteries with lithium ones so hopefully they will last a little longer.
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Old 01-03-2012, 11:38 AM   #11
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One reason to replace is that you can get a unit that also has a CO2 detector, even one that has voice for fire. That's what I bought from Amazon recently.

Most directions discuss dusting, but I rarely do this.
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Old 01-03-2012, 12:09 PM   #12
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Dust or bugs can do it.

I bought several new battery-operated smoke alarms for my new-to-me house. (And several months later I finally installed them....) Most or all of them have the hush/mute function, which is handy for those of us who can reach the ceiling without a stool or ladder.

I bought one that said it was for kitchens, and it went off the first time I sauteed something, so I got to test the mute function. Luckily running the filtering circulation fan (I don't have an outside vent from the kitchen) while sauteing or frying has kept it from going off again.
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Old 01-03-2012, 12:45 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by donheff View Post
I just replaced two battery operated detectors that started randomly blasting. I bet they were dusty. Too bad this thread didn't pop up a month ago.
Well, they were pretty old anyway. Probably better technology in the new ones.
Quote:
Originally Posted by zinger1457 View Post
All the hard wired smoke detectors in my house have battery backup and will beep when the batteries get low, always at 3 am on the coldest night of the year. Since I have vaulted ceilings in my house some of these detectors require a tall step ladder to get to. I ended up removing the batteries from the hard to get to detectors but still have enough coverage from the detectors with batteries to make me feel safe if there ever is a power outage.
Quote:
Originally Posted by justplainbll View Post
We've had them go off due to a spider; and vacuum them biannually. More recent models monitor for smoke as well as other combustion byproducts but seem to be more sensitive to steam from things like hot showers.
Perhaps the antics of yours was caused by a power interruption?
Smoke detectors use a radioactive isotope that sends a constant stream of decay products across a gap to a sensor. When something gets into the gap and interferes with the stream (smoke, steam, dust, bugs, dew) then the sensor calls it a fire.

In our house, false alarms are caused by all of the above. The dew was particularly annoying because the detector was right next to the ducting of a solar exhaust fan which was open to the outside air. Dew points occur very very early in the morning around here.

We discovered the "steam" issue by having a detector too close to the bathroom while we were using the shower. Again, a very inconvenient time to have the smoke detector go off, no matter what you're doing in there.

A sixth source of false alarms is the isotope itself. After 10 years it's decayed away to the point where there's not enough happening for the sensor to reliably sense it. If you have a 10-year-old detector then it's time to just throw it away and get a new one. I'm not aware of any way to buy a new source, although entrepreneurs have tried. David Hahn - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The hard-wiring is part of the residential building code and may even be national by now. At first the concern was that batteries weren't good enough, so at least one detector should be hard-wired. (Our rental home actually had a fire caused by faulty hard-wiring to the smoke detector. The detector didn't detect it because the smoke never reached the detector.) Now the concern is that homes are big enough for residents to not hear the detector from one end to the other. The "solution" is to hard-wire all the detectors to the house's power, which can also serve as the communications relay network to alarm them all in the event that one of them goes off.

Golly, it's that time of year again. Guess I'd better go buy eight 9v batteries and get motivated...
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Old 01-03-2012, 01:25 PM   #14
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Haha, I have never owned a condo, but be careful. It's possible that a certain type of smoke detector might be required there, and replacing it might be an issue. At least, that would make sense to me, since all the owners have an interest in making sure the building doesn't burn down.

The smoke detector in my (single family, non-condo) house has been hanging open with no batteries in it since I first moved into the house, a decade ago. I really should get up on a ladder and put batteries in it, I know....
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Old 01-08-2012, 08:47 AM   #15
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Thanks for all comments. I dusted it, and the problem has not happened again. Also, if I do have more problems I will stay with the wired in type, as like you say it is probably code in multi-family buildings.

Ha
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