Hardwired fire alarms are so sensitive we can't make dinner. Help!
November 13, 2017 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm living in a brand-new house with brand-new hardwired fire alarms (this model, I think). The one in the living room - a good 20 feet from the kitchen - goes off almost every single time we cook.

Right now, we have food in the oven, the fan over the stove is on high, we have a window open, and the alarm just went off - the fourth time this evening alone. It's... really, really not fun. There's zero visible smoke.

It's hardwired, so I can't just remove it or just yank the battery like I normally would with an old-style battery type. The alarm itself has no (obvious) calibration or adjustments that I can see.

We're going insane and we're feeling like we're missing something really basic and obvious. Our cooking isn't particularly smoky, and in past houses it's been something that happened, oh, every couple of months, so we'd just yank the battery from the detector until cooking was done. But now we can't do that, and I'm getting very close to wanting to yank the entire hardwired system and replace them with less-safe models with removable batteries so we can get through a few meals in peace.

Is this a matter of cheap crappy builder-grade detectors I can replace with something less insane? Is everybody with a hardwired alarm system living in this shrieking hell and just not talking about it?
posted by Tomorrowful to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We rented a townhouse (built in the 90s) which had the same problem. I placed a cheap hower cap over the alarm when I cooked, as a temporary solution. So while you are looking for a permanent solution, I would try the shower cap.
posted by bessiemae at 4:42 PM on November 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would try replacing the alarm. When we painted, we didn't cover our fire alarm, and it went off randomly after that. $40 later everything is good. These are only semi-hard-wired though (they use a modular plug connector).
posted by Phredward at 4:46 PM on November 13, 2017

Yes, replace. If you twist the body of the detector, it should pop off of the mounting thing and there should be a wire harness that you can unplug.
posted by Mid at 4:49 PM on November 13, 2017

Watch this installation video to see how it comes on/off the ceiling.
posted by Mid at 4:52 PM on November 13, 2017

I would replace it with another one more because there's no CO detector on that model, but there is definitely something amiss if it goes off repeatedly for no reason. In smoke/fire/CO detector brand lingo that's called "nuisance alarms" and most of the newer ones I've seen boast about that not being a problem. (i learned this at 3pm today when mine went off for no reason and was so loud that it triggered both my vertigo and my related explosive nausea.)

It's hardwired, so I can't just remove it or just yank the battery like I normally would with an old-style battery type. The alarm itself has no (obvious) calibration or adjustments that I can see.

even though it is hardwired into the house's electrical system it should also have a backup battery. the battery bay should pop out from the body of the detector without it having to be removed, but it can be extremely difficult to get it to do so. in the past my solution was to hit it with a broom until it was smashed and broken forever but now as an Official Adult i watch youtube videos on how to do it.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:57 PM on November 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

Me, before I purchased a new one, I would swap the one that goes off with another one in the house (they unplug) to see if it is the location or the unit. If it still goes off with the different unit in place, I think that you have to consider the location as well as the brand of smoke detector. Is your system linked to 911 or a monitoring service? If it is, ask them about suggestions.
posted by AugustWest at 5:19 PM on November 13, 2017

That's the same model, or a slightly newer version, of the ones in my house. They're cheap, which is why they're so popular. The side load battery is a horrid design, and the silence button doesn't work very well.

They're terrible for cooking. So many false alarms for cooking. For my house, it is the location. Any one of them I traded spots with did the same thing. I mean, they are hardwired, but with a plug from the house into the alarm. Pull the plug and take out the battery.

I bought a different alarm with the other kind of sensor (photoelectric instead of ionizing). No more false alarms.
posted by monopas at 5:50 PM on November 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it is the one linked, part of the problem is that it's a ionization detector, which tend to have more nuisance alarms due to the way they detect fire.

Replacing it with a photoelectric detector will significantly reduce the false alarms. If course, I believe it has to be the same manufacturer for the interconnections to work.

My city (Worcester, MA) requires for newer homes:
- If the smoke detector is within 20 feet of a kitchen or bathroom (containing a bathtub or shower), the smoke detector is required to be a photoelectric detector.

– If the smoke detector is outside of 20 feet of a kitchen or a bathroom (containing a bathtub or shower), the
smoke detector is required to be either a photoelectric detector or a dual detector (containing both ionization
and photoelectric technologies).
posted by neilbert at 5:54 PM on November 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might try blowing a can of compressed air through it.
posted by mecran01 at 7:19 PM on November 13, 2017

I have those smoke detectors in my house, and I have recently come to the official conclusion that they are The Worst. We replaced ALL of them in the house when we bought it (and it's a big house, so there are more than 10 of them to replace). Within 5 years, I have had to replace 6 of them due to random false alarms and other nuisances. I haven't yet figured out what to replace them with, but I am not pouring any more money into these awful things.
posted by primethyme at 7:21 PM on November 13, 2017

Our (landlord-provided) non-hardwired smoke detector is too sensitive and keeps alarming when we make toast or boil water. We've started positioning a small fan pointing at it when we're cooking, which seems to keep it from going off.
posted by Lexica at 7:48 PM on November 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Pretty sure the answer is to swap the ionization detector for a photoelectric (PE) one in kitchen and bathroom areas. Our local Home Depot barely carries any of the PE type, so even though they're not much more expensive, our contractors put in solely the ionization kind -- with the same results as in your house.

Hardwired just refers to the power source; it's like it's "plugged in." The "plug" is a bit tougher to unplug than a normal electric outlet, but it still just snaps in so it's fairly simple to swap without doing any wiring yourself. First, turn the detector to detach it from its ceiling mount (don't just pull until the mount breaks, like I did the first time). Then, you should be able to see the plug and where to push to unplug it. You could also look closely at the one you buy and how its plug works so you can figure out how to unplug the one that's installed.

While you're at it, I'd get the kind that interconnect to one another so that they all go off simultaneously, especially if your house has multiple stories. This is a requirement in some states for certain kinds of multifamily, so they're easily commercially available. Here's one. They're a bit cheaper if you buy multipacks. You could buy a two-pack and do the one that goes off falsely and one near your bedroom. You want the kind that communicate wirelessly. In new multifamily construction, the ability to communicate gets hardwired in, I believe.
posted by slidell at 8:49 PM on November 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

We had that problem and the sensor was dirty. Seconding the condensed air, or (what worked for us) a wipe with a barely-damp cloth over the sensoring area until it comes clean.
posted by Mchelly at 9:32 AM on November 14, 2017

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