The shrill beeping of a fire alarm when you’re cooking or in the middle of the night is definitely irritating. While the purpose of smoke alarms is to alert you of danger, sometimes they go off when there’s no fire. And there are few noises quite as loud and disruptive in your home than a beeping fire alarm with no apparent cause. If your fire alarm keeps going off, we’ll cover how these smoke alarms work, some of the most common reasons why they might go off, and how to adjust them correctly.
How Do Smoke Alarms Work?
Understanding how smoke alarms work can help with understanding why they might be going off. Two types of alarms use two different ways of detecting smoke: photoelectric and ionization.
Photoelectric smoke alarms use a beam of light in their internal chamber to detect smoke. When particles get into the chamber and fracture the beam of light, the alarm goes off. An ionization smoke detector also has a chamber inside, but this chamber has ions and electrons whizzing around inside. When smoke gets inside, the smoke particles attach to the ions, which changes the chemical structure and triggers the alarm. Smoke particles aren’t the only things that can disrupt the photoelectric light beam or attach to the ions, and that’s why fire alarms can sometimes go off without an apparent fire.
Causes of Smoke Alarms Going Off
Essentially, what makes your fire alarms keep going off is something disrupting the chamber inside of it. But there are a variety of factors that might do that. These are some of the most common reasons why your smoke detectors might be going off:
Smoke detectors should be in every bedroom, in hallways, near fireplaces, near the kitchen, and stairways. But where you put the smoke detectors in these locations could be the problem with your false alarms. Is your smoke detector over a stove? Is it right next to a bathroom where steam from a shower might set it off? Is it above a toaster? Is it directly next to a window or door where outside elements might set it off? All of these questions are worth considering when you’re looking for causes of a fire alert.
Burned food creates smoke, and if that smoke ends up near a smoke alarm, it’ll go off. If your smoke detector is less than ten feet away from the appliances, you could use a fan or install a vent to help suck out some of that excess smoke. If the alarm is far enough away, you might want to look at your smoke detector’s sensitivity.
Steam & Humidity
Steam from your home and humidity from outside work similarly to burned food. You’ll want to check if your alarms are too close to a window, door, or steamy bathroom and see if that’s the source of your false alarms. You can try using fans during showers or next to windows to dissipate the steam and humidity as well. But your alarms might not be too close and still go off whenever the bathroom gets steamy. That, again, might be a problem with the sensitivity.
It’s disgusting but true: insects can get trapped in the chambers inside of a smoke detector. These bugs can then set off your smoke alarm for no apparent reason. It’s worth taking a look inside your smoke detector to see if a pesky insect might be causing your false alarms.
The same little holes that might let a bug in can also let in dust. Over time, this dust can build up and disrupt the sensors inside of the alarm and set it off. It’s worth cleaning out your smoke detectors if they’re going off. But to make sure a dust build-up isn’t the cause, you should try to clean out your smoke detectors at least once a year. A vacuum brush attachment is an easy way to clean it out.
Proximity to strong chemicals can also make your smoke alarm go off. If you store your cleaning supplies right by a smoke alarm, that might be the problem. Or if you’re remodeling your home or painting, that could also be the source of your false alarms.
The average smoke alarm battery needs to be changed every six months. Many people change them each Daylight Savings day to help remember. If your smoke alarm needs new batteries, it will chirp and beep for a prolonged period or repeatedly. To avoid having to worry about changing the smoke detector batteries, there are smoke detectors that run for ten years without needing a switch.
Malfunctions with a smoke detector don’t happen very often, but they can happen. If there seems to be no other cause for the alarm, you might have a smoke detector malfunction. A malfunction signals that it’s time for a new fire alarm.
End of Life
When smoke detectors reach the end of their life, they’ll beep and let you know. Sometimes the cause of the false alarms is that it’s time to get your fire alarms replaced.
Adjusting Your Smoke Detector
If you’re having trouble with your smoke detectors, these are some of the most common ways to adjust them:
- Place them in the right spots. Putting smoke detectors in bedrooms, hallways, stairways, and near kitchens and other fire hazards is important. But you should keep them at least 10 feet away from kitchen appliances, bathrooms, windows, and doors to avoid setting the alarm off.
- Check the battery life and connection regularly. Replace the batteries every six months to keep alarms from going off. If you have smart smoke detectors, check the connection if you’re getting false alarms.
- Adjust the sensitivity. Only adjust the sensitivity with professional guidance because you don’t want to adjust it too far. When you’re ready, you can use a screwdriver to remove the data card and make the adjustments according to the guidance you received and the owner’s manual.
- Consider a smart smoke detector. Smart smoke detectors send notifications to your phone about battery life and any other important information. You can also use your phone to turn off a false alarm more easily. Smart smoke detectors give you more control over your home fire system.
Finding the Right Smoke Detector
Smoke detectors are essential to keeping your family and home safe. Almost every 3 out of 5 home fire deaths happen in houses without smoke detectors. The best smoke detectors provide top-tier protection and control. Here at SafeStreets, we provide high-quality smoke detectors to help keep your family and home safe. Our detectors can detect even the smallest fires, and ADT monitoring professionals will dispatch help your home when they go off. We take fire safety seriously. Check out our fire and life safety products or call us for a free quote to get started finding the right smoke detectors.