Beeping is one sound you might hear from your smoke detector, but the ear-splitting, high-pitched sound from a smoke detector that is the alarm itself. When the alarm sounds, there may actually be a fire, although there are a number of conditions that can cause false alarms. When the smoke detector is simply beeping, it's usually a problem with the battery, and after you fix the problem, the beeping should stop. If it doesn't, there's a specific procedure to make it stop.
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Weak Batteries Usually Cause Smoke Detector Beeping
Both hardwired and stand-alone smoke detectors require batteries, and both types will beep once every minute or so to alert you when the batteries are weak. This chirping can be annoying, but you can usually stop it by replacing the batteries unless they are sealed, which is required in California and some other states. In that case, the chirping means you have to replace the smoke detector.
The cause of the chirping may not be the smoke detector battery itself. There may be a loose connection in the battery compartment, or the door to the compartment may be open. If the unit is hardwired, the chirping may indicate that the circuit breaker tripped or the power went off.
Once you find the problem and correct it, the chirping should stop. If it doesn't, you need to reset the memory.
How to Reset a Chirping Smoke Alarm
Most smoke alarms have a red reset button on the front, and if you can't stop the chirping by pressing and holding this button, here's what to do.
Hardwired (AC) Models
- Turn off the breaker controlling the alarm circuit or disconnect the smoke detector from the circuit.
- Open the cover and remove the battery.
- Press and hold the reset button for 15 to 20 seconds. If the alarm sounds, hold the button until it stops.
- Install a fresh battery and reconnect the smoke alarm back to the circuit. Turn on the breaker if you turned it off.
Standalone (DC) Models
- Remove the battery.
- Press and hold the reset button until the alarm stops. This should take from 10 to 15 seconds.
- Install a fresh battery. The unit should chirp once to indicate that it's happy, and then it should stop.
Dirt on the Sensors Can Cause Smoke Alarm Beeping
Smoke detectors have either photoelectric or ionization sensors, and some have both. They are sensitive to dust and cobwebs, and sometimes the detector will chirp to alert you that the sensors need to be cleaned. Here's how to do it.
- Take the unit off of the wall or ceiling and hold it on its side to expose the gaps between the cover and the wall plate.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a crevice tool to suck dust out from that opening. You can also spray air into the opening from a can of compressed air.
- Remove the battery and reset the alarm before putting it back.
Dealing With False Alarms
The noise from smoke alarm beeping and a false alarm is dramatically different. Whereas beeping is an annoyance, a false alarm is an auditory emergency that needs immediate correction. That's the purpose of the red button on the cover. Press it, and the alarm will stop.
If you're getting frequent false alarms, it may be for one of these reasons:
- Exposure to steam from the shower or smoke from the kitchen
- Placement too close to a heating vent
- Wide and sudden temperature fluctuations in the room
- Dusty air
If none of these conditions apply, you may simply have a bad smoke alarm. It happens. Replace it with a new one.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.