Smoke Detector Beeping and Chirping – Why and how to fix it!

There is a big difference between a chirping bird and a chirping beeping smoke detector alarm. Let’s fix the electronic chirping!

A smoke detector alarm will start a loud and repeating chirping or beeping tone to alert the occupants or property managers that there is a problem, usually to replace the battery or entire device if it is a sealed unit.  Annoying beeping, isn’t it? Exactly! It’s to get your attention and to get you to act. Do not just remove the battery or unit, or let it stay dead! Read below for important details on how to replace the battery or unit.

Our cockatiel bird likes to sleep in and only chirps when we wake up so we’re lucky.

Why do you have a smoke detector or smoke alarm (same thing, really)?

Smoke detectors are a proven and effective tool in identifying the presence of certain types of smoke particles in the air around the device. If used and installed properly, the device can be a life-saving tool to alert the occupants, neighbours, property management, remote monitoring alarm company and/or the fire department itself.

Since our houses and workplaces can be fast burning and fast smoke-producing environments, you want to know of a fire or smoke developing incident as early as possible. You will have better chances of escaping a smoke or fire environment, or perhaps extinguishing the source of the fire and smoke if you have early awareness of the situation.

(I will have a broader article and video in the future all about smoke detectors. As an emergency management specialist and former volunteer fire fighter, please believe me, I am a huge fan of smoke detectors! Also remember that certain smoke detectors have other detecting functions such as for carbon-monoxide (CO), even more reason to ensure the detector is working properly.)

Why do smoke detectors chirp or beep?

Firstly, there are many brands and models of smoke detectors and you really need to consult the manufacturer or the owner’s manual for the specifics of your unit as things can vary greatly from one unit to another. Building codes can differ greatly from one location to another so the unit requirements and particulars can vary, as well.

A smoke detector chirps and beeps to get your attention. It’s been designed to do so. (A baby cries to alert you that they are hungry, thirsty or not well. Good gosh, I won’t be able to address the issue of crying babies in this article but if you want me to, as the Dad of two amazing kids, I can give it my best shot in a future article. Let me know in the Comments section below.) A smoke detector often starts beeping and chirping because it’s trying to alert you or someone that the primary battery or reserve battery is dying. The device will use its last days of power to alert you that the battery is about to die and after once that happens, you have a useless device hanging on your ceiling or wall.

Unless you look up at your device and can see some sort of “all is okay light”, a dead smoke detector looks almost identical to a happy functioning one. A happy smoke detector is more likely to save your life than a sad smoke detector!

But why is my device chirping and beeping?

Again, check the owner’s manual to see if there are different tones or frequencies of tones to represent different problems. Maybe there is 30 second frequency to the beeps to indicate that the battery is dying but there is also a 60 second frequency to indicate something else. Better to know than guess.

Smoke detectors typically have one of the three following electrical power set-ups:

  1. Power only comes from a battery
  2. Power comes from your house’s electrical system (hard wired) and also has a battery in case of a cut in electrical power
  3. Power comes exclusively from your house or structure’s electrical system (hard wired)

Here’s a further point. Some smoke detectors have a replaceable battery while some units have a sealed internal battery (such as a longer lasting lithium battery) and for these sealed ones you must replace the entire smoke detector unit, say every 5 to 10 years.  Those sealed internal battery unit can last a pretty long time but check the unit and owner’s manual to see what the expected lifespan should be.  Remember, a sealed internal battery unit might not last as long as the manufacturer claims, so periodically test it.

Wait, how do I test if a smoke detector is working?

This is pretty straight forward. Some units have a periodic flashing light that indicates it’s working.  Many units have a “Test” button that allows you to press and see if it is working. A small point is that you should alert your fellow occupants (or the remote monitoring service) that you will test the unit. I think it’s a good idea for all the occupants to know what the smoke detector device sounds like as compared to all the devices that beep in our households these days!

You should understand how each smoke detector unit in your residence or facility works. Remember, the devices (and batteries) may be different brands and models and they may have been installed, replaced or serviced at different times. Replaceable battery units can go a year or more before their battery dies. I like the proactive approach of replacing all the smoke detector batteries once a year so that the battery doesn’t die when you are away or that a weak battery delays the smoke detection or something.

Your insurance coverage might even be at risk if you didn’t have working smoke detectors. Play it safe. Replace replaceable batteries every year, such as on your birthday or on New Year’s day.

For this unit, the green lights flashes periodically when working properly.
Many units have a button you can press to test if the device is working properly. (It can be loud!)

I’m really sorry that it’s taken so long into this article to get to the point of what you need to do to stop the chirping and beeping

Let’s do this. Smoke rises and that’s why your smoke detector is likely mounted on the ceiling or high on a wall. If you can not safely access the chirping smoke detector, have someone else help you or do it for you so you do not have a dangerous fall from height!

Well done, we are about to tackle this chirping device! But wait, there are two main ways for a replaceable battery to be accessed:

  1. While still mounted on the ceiling/wall via a little hatch that can be opened, or
  2. The more common type whereby the entire device has to be removed from the wall or its mounting bracket so that you can access the battery.

If the entire sealed internal battery device has to be replaced, hopefully you can find a replacement unit that uses the existing mounting bracket or screws, depending on how it attaches to the ceiling or wall.

Do you have the correct spare replaceable battery?

Always make sure you have some spares of the battery types at home to make quick replacement possible and to avoid any period when you have a poorly-powered or dead smoke detector.

Voltage: It depends a bit in where in the world you live and the device but it’s probably a 9-volt battery (9V) or 3-volt (3V) battery.

Battery code: Any battery should have its code written on the side, such as this rounded CR123A or this rectangle style.

Shape of the battery: There can be others but it’s probably the typical 9V rectangle style or it’s the 3V battery that looks like a short AA battery.

Specific battery model required? The smoke detector unit or owner’s manual might specify certain brand models of a style of battery to be used. Best to stick with what they recommend. Don’t go with super cheap batteries to save a few dollars since smoke detection is an important job!

How do I remove the smoke detector from the ceiling, wall or bracket?

Check the unit specifics but I usually find that the saying “Lefty Loosey, Right Tighty” will apply to your unit as you look at its exterior.  Lefty Loosey means you turn it to the left to loosen it and Right Tighty means you turn it to the right to tighten it.

Most devices are removed from their bracket with “Lefty loosey” and re-installed with “Righty tighty”

If you cannot access you easily, please seek assistance or have someone do it for you. Due to the nature of smoke detectors, they are generally high above us on the ceiling or high on the wall. Do not risk a serious fall!

Now what?

You are holding the smoke detector unit in your hand, you have to replace the battery and ensure you follow the correct polarity: “+” (plus symbol) for positive and “-“ (negative symbol) for negative. Ensure you have a proper connection between the unit and the battery. Test it by pressing the test button.

Remount the unit and re-test it

You are so close to being done. Carefully remount the smoke detector unit and test it one more time to ensure you didn’t break the battery connection while you were handling and reinstalling the device.

What if the smoke detector is still chirping and beeping?

If the smoke detector continues to beep or chirp, that could include because the new battery was dead or weak, or installed improperly (poor connection or installed backwards), or the device may be trying to signal a different problem. Remove the battery and re-install.

If still beeping, check the owner’s manual or online manufacturer documentation for that unit. I find it useful to look at your watch and identify the frequency of the beeping (perhaps ever 30, 45 or 60 seconds), as that can be useful information in identifying what the unit is trying to tell you. Your device may have a type of beeping to signal that it needs to be cleaned of dust.

Well done, you did it!

Mission accomplished and you have a happy smoke detector? Congratulations, I’m very proud of you and so are all those who benefit from your working smoke detectors!

How about checking your first aid kits, too?

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