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Why Your Fire Alarm Goes Off Randomly

Posted: October 02, 2017

Smoke detectors offer an inexpensive way to protect your home and family from fire hazards. Smoke alarms can be triggered randomly by dirty sensors and a number of other elements. Here are some other common causes of false smoke alarms:

  1. Smoke from burnt food or cooking

  2. Fireplace smoke or outdoor campfires blowing indoors

  3. Steam from cooking food

  4. Shower steam

  5. High humidity

  6. Water leaks

  7. Malfunction

  8. Batteries need changing

  9. Excessive dust

  10. Debris on sensors

  11. Chemicals

  12. Bugs (Yuck!)

  13. End of life

Those pesky smoke alarms. Almost everyone, children and adults alike, know the sound of a smoke alarm—that loud wail that has been known to wake homeowners in the middle of the night. Do you ever find yourself cringing when that high-pitched siren screeches its way down from the ceiling? You’re not alone. But thankfully, there are many times when that warning sound emanates as the result of a false alarm.

Before we get into the causes behind false alarms, it bears reminding that you should always check for a fire first. Even if you strongly believe that you have a false alarm situation on your hands, check for a fire before doing anything else. If you suspect that you have a fire for any reason, evacuate immediately and call the fire department.

Now, let’s assume you are certain you have a false alarm situation on your hands. What can you do about those smoke detector false alarms? Luckily, most of these problems can be fixed with relative ease. Check out these false smoke alarm solutions.

Placement of fire alarm

If you are faced with persistent false alarms, you might want to consider the placement of your smoke detectors. If they are directly positioned over an area that produces a large amount of steam or smoke, you could move them to save your ears some ringing. Large amounts of steam from showers or stovetops and smoke from cooked food can often be enough to set your smoke alarm off unexpectedly. Maybe yours is even sensitive enough to catch a whiff of a campfire blowing in through the windows.

Take a good hard look at where the fire alarm is installed. Is it positioned directly over the stovetop? Is it directly outside of a bathroom which produces a large amount of steam? You might consider moving your smoke alarm for optimal placement. These areas are ideal for smoke detectors:

  • Each bedroom needs a smoke detector
  • Hallways are ideal areas for smoke detectors
  • Position smoke detectors near fire hazards, such as fireplaces
  • Put a smoke detector near the kitchen, perhaps in an opening or hallway leading to the kitchen
  • Place a smoke detector near any stairways

Kitchens are frequent offenders when it comes to smoke detector false alarms. Burnt popcorn or overly cooked remnants in the bottom of toasters seem to be particularly troublesome. Keeping your smoke detector a safe distance from these items can help. But remember, smoke alarms are meant to be sensitive so that they are effective. Their purpose is to catch a fire in your home before it becomes life threatening. Don’t position your smoke alarms so far away from these fire hazards that they have the chance to cause bigger problems.

clean bugs and dust

Clean bugs and dust to prevent nuisance smoke alarms

Bugs and dirt are not pleasant, but they are fairly easy to remove from your smoke detector. The movement of tiny eight-legged intruders or the presence of dust can be just enough to set that fire alarm sounding.

Dust can reflect the light particles, similar to smoke, which gives you a false fire alarm. To clean, simply remove the outer casing. Remove any large pieces of dirt or debris. Use a vacuum attachment or electronic aerosol cleaner to remove smaller particles, paying close attention to the sensors. Use care and avoid being rough with the sensors.

Bugs love those dark corners in your home. A smoke detector might just be the place for bugs to take up residence. If bugs are an issue, you might consider using pest control sprays around your smoke alarms. However, you will want to be careful not to spray directly on the smoke detector itself. The electronics can become damaged. Leave a careful amount of space between the smoke detector and bug spray.

Keep in mind that harsh chemicals can also cause smoke detectors to go off. If you find this is a problem with your bug spray, try these natural remedies. In addition, try to keep areas vented when painting or using harsh cleaning chemicals.

check battery life and connection

Check battery life and connection

If you don’t discover any critters or dirt, it’s time to check the battery. Smoke alarms may give off a false alarm if the battery life is fading or if it isn’t properly connected. To check the battery, remove the outer casing and check to ensure that the battery is properly connected. If so, it’s a good idea to replace the batteries. If you have recently replaced the batteries and you are still experiencing nuisance alarms, you might consider an upgrade as this may signal that it’s time for a new fire alarm. 

Dealing with humidity

Humidity often mimics the effects of smoke and can cause false alarms in smoke detectors. If you know that you will experience high humidity or steam near your smoke detector, try using fans or windows to dissipate the steam. In bathrooms, the overhead fan is usually sufficient. In kitchens, you might consider a vent above a stove top or opening a window near the cooking area.

If a smoke alarm is placed near a water leak, humidity might still be your culprit. Water leaks can lead to the humidity that may trip a false alarm. Unfortunately, if water gets into the inner workings of your smoke detector, you will probably need a replacement.

consider a smart smoke detector

Consider a smart smoke detector

Sometimes, smoke detectors will give false alarms when they have reached the end of their life span. Fire alarms have a lifespan of about 10 years, after which they will need to be replaced.

Smart smoke detectors can help eliminate some of the annoyances related to false alarms. Many come equipped with notifications that will let you know when batteries are running low. In addition, the connectivity with smartphones helps you disable false alarms more quickly. Another advantage is the ability to be integrated with other systems. For example, you can add a smoke detector that ties into your home security system, allowing you to check the status in your home and notify emergency services if an incident should occur.

Read this post to find out more about the smart smoke detectors and how you can prevent house fires.

Contact us to find out how we can add fire detection to your home security package.