Any engineers out there?
January 27, 2012 7:53 PM   Subscribe

I want to rig up a way to cover and uncover my fire alarm with ease. I cannot cook in my apartment, at all, without it going off, and I am too short to climb up and cover it every time. Any engineers out there? I'm thinking a wall aligned contraption like what would be on a very high window...does that make sense? Parts? How-to?
posted by Hannahesque to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why can't you cook? I think most rental places are required to have a stove vent to the outside. Might want to check on that with your local 311 corollary.
posted by sanka at 7:58 PM on January 27, 2012

yeah, talk to your landlord. If you can't cook without your smoke alarm going off, something is wrong. Don't cover up the alarm.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:02 PM on January 27, 2012

Yeah, I didn't even mention that above, but I have worked several cases in duplex/single rentals where people detached their smoke/CO alarms and ended up dead. Don't be that guy, it's pretty awful.
posted by sanka at 8:16 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the past when I've had this problem, I taped a dishtowel around the smoke detector (which I assume is what you mean by the fire alarm?). Probably not the safest thing in the world, but I figured if there really was a fire, then the smoke should be able to get through the towel and trigger the alarm for real -- never got to test my theory though. And now that I've had a fire in my building (not my apartment though thank god) where the alarm didn't even go off, I'm not sure I'd do that again. But I'll just throw the idea out there anyway. You milage (and life expectancy) my vary.

So that being said, call your landlord first before resorting to more drastic measures; the alarm might be faulty or too sensitive and need fixing.
posted by cgg at 8:30 PM on January 27, 2012

[Folks, questioning the OP is fine, but keep answers looking sort of like answers please.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:35 PM on January 27, 2012

We have a similar problem caused by our toaster. Can the fire detector be replaced with an optic photoelectric model? They are less prone to being set off by cooking.
posted by saradarlin at 8:43 PM on January 27, 2012

You should probably just get your landlord to replace the smoke detector - lots of times as they age past their service life, a smoke detector's failure mode is to give more and more false alarms. I bet if you check the replacement date on your detector you'll find it was years ago.

In a kitchen, you definitely want a photoelectric detector rather than ionization, so there's less likelihood of false alarms from steam.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:43 PM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Elastic bowl covers
posted by Max Camber at 8:45 PM on January 27, 2012

A caution - should you rig up a device, and should a fire occur, your insurance (if you have it) likely wouldn't cover damage, and I would imagine that your landlord could sue you. I vote for getting a different alarm.
posted by purlgurly at 8:48 PM on January 27, 2012

Is your smoke detector just really sensitive? I had a more modern model in one place that would go off even if you lit a candle, but I got my landlord to swap it out with a less sensitive model as no apartment I've lived in have had a stove vent or an exhaust. I would talk to the landlord before you do anything, as they might have a reason for having such a sensitive model. Or it could just be failing. Or you could be cooking things prone to set it off - frying things? Or just boiling water? Any windows you can open?

As I am also not a tall person I simply keep a broom handy. Funking around with the smoke detector doesn't appeal to me from a safety or liability standpoint.
posted by sm1tten at 8:52 PM on January 27, 2012

There are different models of smoke alarms - I forget the specifics, but one kind (ionising?) is far more sensitive to cooking related steam than the other.

A short term solution could be some kind of a bowl on a stick that you could wedge against the floor to cover the smoke detector. Please don't tie anything around the smoke detector - if there's the slightest chance you'll leave it there when you stop cooking it's far too dangerous. The extra thirty seconds it takes for smoke from a real fire to activate it could well be the last seconds of your life.
posted by twirlypen at 9:03 PM on January 27, 2012

Get into the detector, too, and put in a brand new battery and really clean out all of the dust that accumulates in all the nooks and crannies in there. It can definitely influence the trigger-happiness of the alarm.
posted by argonauta at 9:13 PM on January 27, 2012

Hot glue or tape a strong magnet to the outside of the smoke alarm then find a pan lid or shallow cookie tin which is magnetic and fits over the detector so that the rim of the lid or tin is pressed into the wall surrounding the detector and the bottom comes close to the magnet but leaves a small air gap between tin and magnet.

The magnet will pull the lid or tin snugly against the wall or ceiling, and it will exclude smoke, but should be very easy to take on and off, because it not actually sticking directly to the magnet.
posted by jamjam at 9:15 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I also recommend that the smoke detector needs replacing. I've experienced this a number of times...they have a limited life. Talk to your landlord regarding this. It should not be going off with normal cooking that isn't producing a lot of smoke.

Rigging something to prevent it from going off is dangerous.
posted by HuronBob at 9:22 PM on January 27, 2012

Could you mount a small fan by the smoke detector? I imagine it could be turned on by plugging it in to an outlet while cooking and it keeps the air moving away from the detector but it's still easily turn off-able and wont affect the smoke detector.
posted by raccoon409 at 9:55 PM on January 27, 2012

Smoke detectors shouldn't be placed in or near the kitchen because they may result in nuisance alarms, which lead to folks dismantling or covering their detectors. I'd recommend working with your landlord to see if the detector can be moved further from the kitchen. In the meantime, my suggestion is to aim a small fan at the detector and run the fan while you're cooking - just be sure to turn the fan off as soon as you're done cooking. This isn't a good solution since cooking is the primary cause of fires in the home, but I think it's better than taking the batteries out or covering the detector.
posted by kbar1 at 10:02 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it's just an isolated smoke detector (i.e. not wired into a building alarm system), couldn't the OP just cover that one permanently AND install one in say the living room so it's not right by the stove?
posted by Jahaza at 10:16 PM on January 27, 2012

I have the same problem every single time I open my oven--even when the oven is spotlessly clean. The square footage on our main floor is small enough that there is literally no place to put the smoke detector that would be useful for its smoke detecting purpose and far enough away from the kitchen to not be set off.

I bought this remote controlled model. It still goes off every time I open the oven, but at least I don't have to balance on a stepstool at the top of a steep flight of stairs to turn it off.

In a previous home I had one that you could pre-hush in 20 minute intervals. It would chirp every few minutes to let you know it was hushed but not sound even if there was smoke. I actually prefer this option to the remote, but couldn't find on when I was smoke alarm shopping.
posted by looli at 10:18 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came in to say something like Jahaza. Disconnect or cover that one, then put one/some elsewhere near the bedrooms.
posted by Kerasia at 10:20 PM on January 27, 2012

This past Monday I called 911 because I smelled smoke in my apartment. Before making the call I went downstairs to investigate and saw the ground floor apartment in my duplex was filled with smoke that was slowly leaking out of fully closed windows. While in a panic and talking with the operator, I knocked on the door and to my great surprise my downstairs neighbor groggily answered and said he had fallen asleep with beans on the stove. Thick smoke was pouring out the front door, far from his kitchen. I'm not really sure how things would have turned out had I not been home.

He is one of two professional chefs who live in that apartment and I'm skeptical that their smoke alarm failed. I wonder if they got tired of it crying wolf and decided on some clever solution of their own. I do know that the property manager was very clear when he called to check in with me about the incident that they're on the hook for any remediation costs as maintenance of smoke alarms is a part of the lease they signed. My apartment still smells pretty horrible and I'm guessing it won't be cheap to make the smell go away.

I would advise you to make sure that whatever solution you come up with, that it has the explicit approval of your landlord/property manager. Aside from saving your life, it will also save your bank account.
posted by funkiwan at 2:08 AM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Where I live, the fire department will come over and give your home a safety-check. I'd make an appointment ASAP.

Meanwhile, use a broom handle to reset your alarm. Nthing that it is probably on its way out, losing battery power, dusty, or not intended for use in the kitchen. Tampering with it is not the answer.
posted by tel3path at 5:55 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is the smoke alarm actually in the kitchen? If not (like, it's in an adjacent hallway) can you block off the door to the kitchen with a sheet or towel or something?

I use a shower cap, myself, but my ceilings are only 7 feet so it's easy to put it on and take it off. You might be able to teach yourself to hook one on and off with some kind of poking/hooking device (broom handle with a hook on the end, tongs, one of those grabber thingys).
posted by mskyle at 8:43 AM on January 28, 2012

The cup from a sink plunger fits on the end of a broom handle and makes a pretty good smoke alarm grabber/twister.
posted by flabdablet at 9:59 AM on January 28, 2012

We had this problem, where the smoke detector was placed in the direct path of normal kitchen activity, and too high to reach.

We bought a wireless smoke detector and put it in a better location, just a few feet away from the original, but a bit further from kitchen exhaust, and positioned over stairs so it's easier to reach if we do need to shut it off. Then just permanently disconnected the original.
posted by nadise at 11:39 AM on January 28, 2012

Firefighter here. Don't cover up your alarm. It's there for a reason.

Or, if you do, cover it or disable it more permanently and get a new one--it'll cost less than most contraptions you could build. I would recommend a battery smoke/CO, unless your municipality requires that they be hard-wired--in which case, talk to your landlord. Put it somewhere far from your kitchen and bathroom but close to your living space.

Get one with a reset/nuisance alarm button so that if this one also has problems, you can hit it with a broom handle.

I would also recommend thoroughly servicing/cleaning whichever kitchen appliance is throwing enough particles to set off your alarm.
posted by skyl1n3 at 12:25 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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