The next time you hear your smoke detector beeping, stop and look for signs of an actual fire. It's also possible for a power surge to affect the detector and make it turn on. Problems of this type typically occur with smoke detectors hard-wired into your home's electrical system. Power surges have little to no effect on battery-operated smoke detectors.
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Power surges caused by natural or mechanical means can affect your smoke detector. It may beep until it is manually reset or completely fails.
How Smoke Detectors Work
The design of smoke detectors let the machines scan the surrounding air for temperature changes and smoke, which indicates a fire. You might notice that your detector sounds when exposed to cigarette smoke because the smoke in the air is a sign of fire.
The smoke detector also sounds when cooking smoke reaches the surrounding air, including smoke from burning or burned food. Battery-operated devices run on attached batteries, while hard-wire designs plug into an electrical outlet or run off the wiring system in your home.
Causes of Power Surges
Power surges occur when a system experiences an overload of electrical currents. You can experience a power surge in your own home when you plug too many items into one outlet, after a power outage or when a storm passes through the area. When lightning hits an electrical breaker or in the ground near the breaker, it can cause a power surge.
Manufacturers produce whole house surge protectors that keep most power surges from affecting your electrical devices. However, a direct strike from a lightning bolt can ruin both the surge protector and your electronics. Unplug as many electronic devices as possible when the power goes out and/or lightning storms are in the vicinity.
In addition, loose connections can be as damaging as power surges. If the wiring harness to the smoke detector is loose or the neutral wire is disconnected, the resulting surges of power to the device when it reconnects can permanently damage it, or cause intermittent and annoying beeping. The disconnecting and reconnecting wires and power surges will also run down the backup batteries.
Signs of a Power Surge
If a power surge affects your smoke detector, you should notice the device behaving oddly. The detector might make a beeping sound that continues uninterrupted until you reset the device. On some models, the detector beeps, but only makes the beeping sound every few seconds.
While making the beeping noise, the light on the detector flashes. In some cases, running another electrical device, particularly a large appliance like a washer, refrigerator or window air conditioner, can cause surges that set the smoke detector off, making it beep and flash until you turn off or unplug the other item.
Considerations After a Power Surge
After a power surge or after you notice the smoke detector behaving differently, flip the circuit breaker in your home. Turn the circuit breaker to that room off, wait five to 10 seconds and turn it on again. Flipping the circuit breaker causes the smoke detector to reset itself.
If the detector uses batteries, even as a backup method, replace them. A power surge can ruin the batteries, as the electrical surge pulses through the area. Your smoke detector might feature a manual reset button. Pressing the button down and holding it for several seconds forces the detector to reset itself.
Jennifer Eblin has been a full-time freelance writer since 2006. Her work has appeared on several websites, including Tool Box Tales and Zonder. Eblin received a master's degree in historic preservation from the Savannah College of Art and Design.