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Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-05-2007, 10:10 PM   #1
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Smoke detector malfunction

We were awaking at 3:00 Am this morning on the loud sound of the smoke detector going off in my house for the first time. The sound was extremely loud but it did the job of quickly getting us out of bed. The alarm stopped after 10 seconds or so and fortunately everyhting was OK on all three levels. My problem is I have a hard wired detector on each floor as well as a battery powered one connected to my ADT alarm. Has anyone had any experience with smoke detectors going bad? Just wondering if I should have an electrician replace all three hard wired detectors.
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-05-2007, 10:17 PM   #2
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

Sometimes dust or an insect can set them off. Smoke detectors are supposed to be replaced every 10 years or so.
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-05-2007, 10:23 PM   #3
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

Quote:
Originally Posted by Corporateburnout
Has anyone had any experience with smoke detectors going bad? Just wondering if I should have an electrician replace all three hard wired detectors.
I've done it twice. Once just a few years after moving in when we received a recall notice and again just a few years ago when one of them went bad. Trying to remember exactly what the symptoms were...seem to recall it was sort of an intermittent noise. Not quite a full blown sounding of the alarm, more like it was being choked to death. Anyway, replacing them was pretty simple and if you have some basic skills you can do it yourself. It's wired just like a light fixture - white to white and black to black (can't remember if they were grounded or not) and you're good to go. Oh, turn off the power first of course. The only complaint I had was that there is no standardization of mounting brackets. They must change models every so many years, so each time I went to buy replacements I could not find the same model that I had to replace. This means that even though the brackets are almost identical, I still had to take the old ones off and put the new ones on before I could wire the new detectors. Minor pain, but a stupid thing to have to deal with.
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-05-2007, 10:40 PM   #4
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

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Originally Posted by Leonidas
Not quite a full blown sounding of the alarm, more like it was being choked to death.
We've had 2 of ours do that over the years (not hard-wired, just battery). It was a little unsettling for a few minutes, until we confirmed there was no justifiable cause for their sounding off. We have 4 detectors in our small 1200 sq.ft. abode, so when one would croak, we just took out the battery until morning and then put in a new detector as soon as the hardware store opened up.

(growing up, my Dad and I always joked that they weren't smoke detectors...they were really dinner bells.....if you heard it going off, you knew that Mom was about to put dinner on the table. She always got p*ssed at us!! )
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-05-2007, 11:30 PM   #5
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

One of my hard-wired ones has a loose connection. That makes it go crazy... seemingly when humidity gets high.

That's all I can offer.

-CC
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-05-2007, 11:34 PM   #6
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
Sometimes dust or an insect can set them off. Smoke detectors are supposed to be replaced every 10 years or so.

WOW... news to me... I guess I will read up on this... thanks..
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-06-2007, 07:10 AM   #7
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

I have six of them in the house and I have one or more go bad each year under high humidity conditions. I seem to recall in the instructions it says they work only up to 90% humidity.

I have had new ones go off for no reason.

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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-06-2007, 03:28 PM   #8
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
Sometimes dust or an insect can set them off. Smoke detectors are supposed to be replaced every 10 years or so.
The polonium (or whatever isotope is used) usually decays enough after a decade that the detector loses its sensitivity.

If you're wondering what happens to the old detectors after you throw them away, you can consider the lessons learned here.

Spiderwebs, high moisture/mist, and varmints chewing through the wiring insulation can also cause the same symptoms. The problem can usually be fixed by dusting the inside of the detector or blowing compressed air into the vented cylinder on the inside.

Of course, the real challenge is carrying out this troubleshooting & corrective maintenance at 3 AM with one eye glued shut, your reading glasses in another room, and your entire family clustering around to offer helpful suggestions.
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-06-2007, 05:17 PM   #9
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

It happens to me annually (around this time of year actually) and it happened yesterday again. My problem is cobwebs. I just get the broom out and reach up to the device and give it a bit if a sweep (I still can not see any webs) and I'm good for another year!

This activity represents my annual safety check/fire drill that is directed by a spider.
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-06-2007, 05:28 PM   #10
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords

Spiderwebs, high moisture/mist, and varmints chewing through the wiring insulation can also cause the same symptoms. The problem can usually be fixed by dusting the inside of the detector or blowing compressed air into the vented cylinder on the inside.

Of course, the real challenge is carrying out this troubleshooting & corrective maintenance at 3 AM with one eye glued shut, your reading glasses in another room, and your entire family clustering around to offer helpful suggestions.
Is that what is referred to as "A Kodak Moment"?
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-06-2007, 06:08 PM   #11
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

Vacuum them once a year when you're replacing the batteries. Locating them near fluorescent lights, extreme temperatures (<50 or >90 degrees) and sudden temperature changes (a foot in front of an air vent) can all trigger false alarms. So can steam or condensation.

Sometimes the 3am alarms are a little condensation from setting back your thermostat at night or the furnace firing to start warming the house up after the setback period is over.


Another common middle of the night problem is a fireplace thats nearly out and has lost sufficient heat to maintain a chimney draft, resulting in some combustion by-products leaking into the house, setting off the detector.
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-06-2007, 08:50 PM   #12
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

Thank you all for your input. After reading all of this I came to the conclusion that my problem may related to the moisture from a humidifire placed in the hallway.
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-06-2007, 08:55 PM   #13
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

Quote:
Originally Posted by Corporateburnout
...humidifire...


...OK, I get it! Someone who FIREs and moves to the Gulf Coast.

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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-07-2007, 05:29 PM   #14
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

Quote:
Originally Posted by Corporateburnout
humidifire
I wanna know how he keeps it lit.

Probably the same method those guys use to smoke ducks and fish. Which must taste terrible, but probably looks impressive.

Thats probably it. Humidity goes up, you set back your thermo at night, little bit of humidity condenses inside the unit, BEEEP at 3am...
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-08-2007, 10:04 AM   #15
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
Of course, the real challenge is carrying out this troubleshooting & corrective maintenance at 3 AM with one eye glued shut, your reading glasses in another room, and your entire family clustering around to offer helpful suggestions.
Been there! The most tempting piece of advice came from my then 7 year-old: "Dad, do you want me to go get the really big hammer?"
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction
Old 01-08-2007, 01:22 PM   #16
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Re: Smoke detector malfunction

I bit OT, but when I was having my heater serviced a few years ago they smoker up the place a bit the smoker detector went off several times and the guy from the service company said to just put an electric fan as close as possible to the device andthat would clear it out and deactive it. His idea worked well.
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