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Preventing False Alarms from a Smoke Detector

Tilottama Chatterjee Nov 18, 2018
There may have been times when you have been woken up by a fire alarm which turned out to be false. This information lists the likely causes that can keep a smoke detector beeping, and ways to prevent this from recurring.
A smoke detector is an electronic device that detects smoke as a warning sign of a fire.
The ones used in commercial buildings and mass residential units are connected in a manner that enables them to send a signal to a fire alarm system. This system could be automatically or manually activated (or both).
Most residential smoke detectors resort to an audible alarm when smoke is detected. Sometimes, as with all electronic devices, these alarms are tripped when there is no indication of smoke or fire, resulting in what is known as a false alarm. This could happen for a number of reasons, the most likely of which are listed here.


Occasionally, you may find the smoke detector going off even without the evidence of smoke. Most often, this will happen when you're cooking or if you have a fireplace. Stray smoke from these may trigger the alarm system by default. However, there may be times when you find that it keeps beeping without any obvious reason.
Most homes have such devices installed in each room to ensure safety. These are generally interconnected, which means a single unit going off can trigger all the others. If this is a false alarm, it can be more than vexing.
More often than not, dirt accumulation in the detectors can lead to this situation. They are generally designed to last for 5-7 years. However, once they're up there, it's not uncommon to forget about them totally. Over time, they may require cleaning, and if this is ignored, embedded dirt may cause intermittent triggering.
The best way to clean them is to use a can of compressed air to blow the dirt and dust out of the device once it is opened. Make sure that the power is turned off before you do this. Some electricians or personnel from the fire alarm company may also do this on request.
The sensitivity of these devices can differ from model to model. Some may detect heat levels as well as smoke, while others may also have inbuilt sensors for carbon monoxide danger levels. However, these devices form an important component of home security systems.
In some homes, the placement may be such that alarms are triggered by commonplace events. Typically, placement near kitchens exposed to smoke from cooking, bathrooms exposed to steam, or areas prone to dust or exhaust fumes like attics and garages can lead to detectors going off for no reason.

Avoiding False Alarms

To ensure that you don't face such a problem, the following are some pointers to keep in mind. While you may not always be able to change the placement or make any electrical changes, certain conditions can ensure that you reduce false alarms to a minimum by preventing exposure to agents that may trigger the system.
There are different types of smoke alarms which are designed to serve specific purposes. Installing the right one in the right place will ensure that you're not disturbed.
  • Installing detectors in kitchens can be counterproductive. A heat detector is a better bet for kitchen as smoke from cooking can frequently trigger the alarm and keep it beeping. To avoid this, open windows to ensure quick dissipation of smoke.
  • Don't install them in garages. The exhaust fumes that they are regularly exposed to can lead to a false trigger.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors are better suited than smoke detectors for installation in places where there are open flames, like fireplaces and gas furnaces.
  • Avoid installation in bathrooms since steam and mist can trigger them.
It's important to clean them occasionally to get rid of dust and dirt that may be lodged inside. Replace batteries regularly to ensure that the devices are in proper working condition. Since smoke rises, these detectors are generally mounted high on walls or on ceilings, and the difficulty in reaching them may be a reason to put off a cleaning ritual.
You may as well get a step ladder. These tools are installed for fire safety, so take care to ensure that they are able to work well and serve their main purpose.