Last Thanksgiving, we were especially grateful for our smoke alarms. No, we didn't burn the turkey, as you may have suspected! Our chimney malfunctioned when we tried to light a fire in the fireplace, and started to spread smoke through the house. Our neighbor, who is a fireman, heard the alarms and ran across the street to scoop the fire into a bucket and run it outside, inspiring hero-worship among my kids and their cousins.
Shortly after, the street was filled with fire trucks and my home was filled with fireman and industrial fans. Fortunately, everything was fine. The kids thought it was pretty much the best day ever. They even got to sit in a fire truck! And we were grateful that the alarms warned us to get out of the house and start reacting before the adults even realized it was a problem.
But sometimes the smoke alarm goes off for seemingly no reason. And that can be both worrisome and just plain annoying. So if your fire alarm is constantly going off, do some investigating to see if it's because of one of these reasons.
1. Your batteries are low.
The most common cause of beeping is low batteries. Smoke alarms with non-replaceable 10-year batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm right away. Smoke alarms with any other type of battery need a new battery at least once a year. If that alarm chirps, warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.
Make sure to follow the manufacturer's list of batteries on the back of the alarm or its instructions for battery replacement. Manufacturer's instructions are specific to the batteries (brand and model) that must be used. The smoke alarm might not work properly if a different kind of battery is used. In addition, smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years; a smoke alarm will also chirp when the alarm is nearing the end of its natural life.
2. Your oven is dirty.
If your oven's riddled with food splatters and drippings from the last meal you made, they're probably going to burn the next time you turn on the oven. Even if it's not enough smoke to irritate you, it can set off a sensitive fire alarm. (Same goes for food burning on the stove or in the toaster.)
3. You're cleaning with strong chemicals.
If you're on a cleaning binge, the smoke alarm may start chirping when it detects strong chemicals like bleach or ammonia. It's probably a sign you should open up the windows, since it's not good for you to inhale those fumes, either! Even paint can sometimes trigger the alarm.
4. It's super humid.
Sometimes, if humidity is high (approaching 85 percent) it can set off the alarm. So steam from your oven or bathroom can set off the alarm. With that in mind, smoke alarms need to be placed at least 20 feet from permanent cooking appliances and a minimum of three feet away from any bathroom that contains a shower or tub.
5. Or super dusty.
Similar to humidity, dust particles can get mistaken for smoke particles if you're doing a project like remodeling or deep cleaning, or the first time you turn on the furnace or air conditioner for the season.
6. Critters get into the device.
Bugs can actually get into the alarm and trigger it. This isn't particularly common, but if you open up the alarm to check it, you may find an insect or two in there.
7. There's smoke somewhere else.
If you have hardwired or interconnected alarms, when one alarm sounds, they all do. So just because there's no fire in your kitchen, that doesn't necessarily mean there isn't one somewhere else in your house. Don't be super quick to shrug off the beeps!
P.S.: Remember that you should have carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in your home in addition to a smoke alarms! CO is an odorless, colorless gas that's deadly, but smoke alarms are not designed to detect it.
A special thank you to the National Fire Protection Association for vetting these tips — click over to their site for more information about fire safety!