How to Troubleshoot Smoke Detector Problems

We pass under our smoke detectors each day, running in and out of our homes without giving them a second thought. When the seasons change, stop and take time to test your smoke detector. It does not matter how much you spent on a smoke detector, or whether it is hardwired or battery operated. A moment's worth of maintenance could save your family's life.

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Step 1

Take precautions to safeguard yourself and your family when your smoke detector sounds. When the fire alarm sounds, do not immediately assume it is a false alarm. Move your family to safety and contact your local fire department immediately.

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Step 2

Troubleshoot your smoke detectors only once you have determined, without a doubt, that there is no danger of fire in your home.

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Step 3

Turn off all the power in your home before working on any hardwired, interconnected fire alarm systems.

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Step 4

Remove the smoke detector(s) from your ceiling and check that: 1) Dust or bugs are not causing a malfunction; 2) All wires are securely attached; and 3) The battery is securely fitted into the smoke detector.

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Step 5

Vacuum out your smoke detector and change the battery. Dust, dirt and grime can build up in the smoke detector and lead to malfunctions. Even something as small as a bug lodged in your smoke detector can cause problems.

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Step 6

Test your smoke detector by pressing the test button located on the face of your smoke alarm to see if you have fixed the problem. For interconnected fire alarm systems, pressing the test button should cause all fire alarms to sound within 3 seconds. For battery powered fire alarms, test each individual smoke detector.

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Step 7

Look at the lights flashing on your fire alarm. The lights signal what is happening with your alarm. Each fire alarm manufacturer has different code sounds or flashing lights to help you troubleshoot problems, but generally the sequences are as follows: 1) One solid green light: alarm is functioning and power is on; 2) One churp, solid green light and a flashing red light: battery is low; 3) Horn sounds continuously, green light solid, red light flashing: evacuate immediately.

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Step 8

Remove and replace all your smoke alarms after 10 years. At the ten year mark, your smoke detector has monitored your home for over 3.5 million cycles. Smoke detectors older than 10 years have a much greater chance of malfunctioning.

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Step 9

Move fire alarms away from appliances and areas of your home that drop below 40 degrees. Locating alarms in these areas can lead to excessive false alarms. Contact an electrician to move hardwired fire alarms.

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Step 10

Relocate your fire alarms away from areas that normally have a high level of humidity or moisture. Water buildup in the smoke alarm will cause a false alarm or malfunction.

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Step 11

Examine the smoke detector for any water or moisture buildup. If your smoke detector is located in a dry area of your home, check the area for roof or plumbling leaks that can cause the alarm to malfunction.