Can a House Fire Alarm Go off for No Reason?
In a word — YES. House fire alarms may sound off for several reasons, both real and false. Knowing how to diagnose why your alarm sounds and taking the appropriate action is excellent information. We explored the topic thoroughly. The result is the following information. At Stratagem Security, we hope to help you know when your alarm is being finicky or alerting you to a real fire.
The Most Common Culprit
“Chirp” We’ve all heard the desperate cry for help from a smoke detector as it politely requests a new “Chirp” battery. The rhythmic and steady “Chirp” seems to come from everywhere in the house and nowhere. It usually begins at a ridiculous hour in the wee hours of the morning, makes the dog bark, and might seem like a part of your dream just as you’re drifting back to deep sleep. “Chirp” as it reminds you again that it is feeling neglected.
Although the low battery warning is a familiar annoyance that we all live with, you can correct that by replacing the battery. But the alarm sounding full-blast is another indicator of low power you may not be familiar with. Every fire and smoke detector has internal power sensors. When the power level drops, it signals the sensors and causes the alarm to sound. The reason the sensors react this way is that, during a fire, smoke in the air will reduce the current. Unlike our noses, the alarm can’t smell smoke, but it may think the power loss from a low battery is a potential fire, so it does its job and makes noise.
Please put a new battery on your shopping list if you changed the battery when you moved into your house and haven’t touched it since.
Location, Location, Location
Where you mount your smoke detector makes a difference in how well it works or how often it screams out about nothing. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), smoke alarms should be mounted in specific places to supply the greatest functionality.
The basic instructions include mounting a detector in each bedroom and outside sleeping areas in hallways. It is best to have them on every level of your home. Don’t neglect the attic and the basement. Install alarms in a living room, den, or near the stairwell in homes with no sleeping areas on one level. More is better, so if you can’t decide where to place your detectors, add them to the suggested locations.
In a basement, a detector should be installed on the ceiling near the bottom of the stairs. If you have a utility room, closed storage areas, or additional recreational spaces, you should also consider installing units in those areas. Always install alarms on the ceiling or as high on the wall as possible. No unit should be more than 12 inches from the ceiling in any room.
Smoke detectors near your kitchen should be at least ten feet from your cooking appliances. Burnt toast is a frequent cause of false alarms, but excessive steam from everyday cooking can also cause problems. Another area where steam may cause false alarms is outside the shower. When a detector is mounted too near the bathroom, steam from a hot shower or bath can cause the alarm to sound.
Remodeling and Painting Requires Airflow
The things you do when you are performing remodeling, painting, or other household maintenance may cause false alarms. The sensors may activate due to the dust, paint fumes, or sawdust produced during the repairs. That does not mean removing or disconnecting your smoke detectors when performing these tasks. You should be aware that if you hear the alarm, it could just be signaling too much dust in the air or interrupted sensor connections due to paint fumes.
To ensure that you don’t accidentally set off a false alarm, be conscious of the dust, keep your work area clean, and open windows or run fans to maintain adequate airflow.
Understanding How Smoke Detectors Work
You don’t need to know the complete inner workings of smoke alarms. However, a general understanding of their function will help troubleshoot false alarms. It is fascinating and involves a byproduct of nuclear fuel (don’t worry, it’s 100 percent safe).
Let’s start by exploring the guts. The inside of your detector includes a tiny radiation source of Americium-241. The substance emits alpha particles. The particles collide with air molecules, which breaks them apart. Some pieces become positively charged, while others receive a negative charge. They will be attracted to the corresponding terminals on the installed battery. The movement of the particles is an electrical current.
When smoke is present, it interrupts the movement of the particles, which reduces the amount of current, causing the alarm to scream its warning. The NFPA reports that a malfunction causes as many as 32 percent of all false alarms.
Have a Plan If Your House Fire Alarm Goes Off
Most families have a fire safety plan. If you don’t, you should consider sitting down with your family members and developing one. It only takes a few minutes but can be integral to keeping your family safe.
Steps to Follow If There Is No Fire
If the alarm sounds, verify if there is smoke present. Check any closed doors for heat before opening them. Your nose will tell you if there is smoke in many cases. Trust your nose and leave the house immediately (even if you’re not entirely sure what you’re smelling is smoke).
You can head back inside if you have verified that there is no fire and your alarm is just being annoying. We’ll discuss why you had to get up at 2:47 am and run outside in your jammies.
Troubleshooting Process for Battery-Operated Detectors
- Press and hold the reset button.
- If the reset button does not quiet the alarm, take the unit down and remove the batteries. Don’t forget to replace the batteries and reinstall them as soon as possible.
- If your detector has long-life lithium batteries (you can’t remove those), wrap it in a blanket and place it in your freezer until the beeping stops.
Troubleshooting Process for Hard-Wired Smoke Detectors
Unlike individual, battery-operated units, when one hard-wired unit sounds, they all yell at you. Figuring out the offending unit becomes a process of elimination.
- Press and hold the reset button on each unit until the alarm stops.
- Turn the system breaker off, then back on again.
- The last resort involves removing each unit from the system and removing the batteries until you find the offending unit.
Determining what Caused the False Alarm
Once the alarms are quiet and you can think, it is time to figure out why you experienced the false alarm. Some things that can cause false alarms include:
- Spiders or other insects making themselves at home inside the alarm
- Dust or debris collecting on the sensor
- Dead batteries or other electrical disturbances
- Moist conditions, including steam from showers or cooking
- Kitchen mishaps that ruin dinner but remain under control
A good habit for your routine home maintenance is to schedule regular battery changes. Many people use the time changes into and out of Daylight Savings Time (DST) as a reminder. While changing the batteries, use a can of compressed air to blow dust and debris out of the unit. While this step may also cause the alarm to sound, it will keep it quiet at 4:00 am.
If you can’t determine the cause of the false house fire alarm, it may be a worn-out detector. Most smoke detectors last for 10 to 15 years. If you bought your house with the installed alarm system, consider upgrading your entire system. It isn’t too great an expense to ensure your family’s safety.
Consider Upgrading Your House Fire Alarm System
Stratagem Security offers complete SmartHome systems to protect your family from intrusions, house fire alarm systems, and more. Contact our team to find out what we can do to help keep your family safe. We can be reached to schedule using our online Contact Form or by calling (914) 777-8000. Our knowledgeable team can work within a budget to provide your family safety and security.