EMERGENCY: can't turn off smoke detector beeps - don't have new battery
April 21, 2018 10:36 PM   Subscribe

My fucking smoke detector is beeping because the battery is dead. I don't have another 9 Volt in the house and it's 12:35 in the morning, so I can't go buy one. It won't stop and my upstairs neighbors are complaining (not to mention I can't sleep). Someone please help me
posted by tzikeh to Technology (47 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If it's beeping with a dead battery it's probably also wired up. Get up on a step stool and turn the detector counter clockwise (or maybe clockwise... I dunno... it's late). It should come out of its holder. It will be connected electrically via a plastic connector that you can easily disconnect.

Once you have it disconnected it should stop beeping. If it doesn't, pull the half-dead battery out as well.
posted by bondcliff at 10:40 PM on April 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

If it's not hard-wired it's beeping because of a low battery, in which case removing the battery should shut it up.

(these late night answers brought to you by me having to pick my kid up at the airport at 12:30 AM. I should be in bed. )
posted by bondcliff at 10:42 PM on April 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

bondcliff has it.
You could also try throwing the breaker to cut the power supply.

But, if it those ideas don’t work, literally smash it. With a broom handle, whatever.
New ones aren’t very expensive and they should be replaced every once in a while anyway.
posted by littlewater at 10:46 PM on April 21, 2018

Response by poster: I removed the detector from the ceiling and from the wires it was connected to. I removed the battery from the detector. The detector is sitting on the top rung of the ladder. The detector is silent. The ceiling is still beeping.
posted by tzikeh at 10:47 PM on April 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you're able to remove it but it continues to beep, you can put it in your freezer. It won't stop it beeping, but it muffles the sound quite effectively.
posted by EKStickland at 10:47 PM on April 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

This exact thing happened to me the other day. I stuck it in the dishwasher, which completely muffled the sound.
posted by bleep at 10:48 PM on April 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Do you have more than one detector in your apartment? It can be very difficult to tell exactly where those high-pitched beeps are coming from. Check out in the hallway, etc. There's got to be another detector.

Also, a detector with a low battery will usually chirp once per minute. If it's doing more than that then you may have some other issue.
posted by bondcliff at 10:49 PM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wait, what is beeping? If you took the detector down then is there a base there? Can you post a picture?
posted by Toddles at 10:49 PM on April 21, 2018

Microwave or oven might also work without potentially damaging it from the cold.
posted by bleep at 10:49 PM on April 21, 2018

Throw your breakers. Leave the fridge on!
posted by littlewater at 10:52 PM on April 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Other ideas:
Is this a system connected thru the entire building? Could be a system fault.

I don’t know anything about low voltage systems but that is popping up in my head because sometimes these big systems run low voltage. Maybe this idea will help someone else find the solution.
posted by littlewater at 10:56 PM on April 21, 2018

Response by poster: Putting the detector in the fridge/microwave isn't going to fix the problem that the CEILING IS BEEPING. Whatever is in the ceiling, with all the wires that connect to the detector, is beeping. The detector is silent.

There is no base. There's just a flat plastic circle that you line up the detector with and then turn it to secure it to the ceiling. There are several wires in the ceiling with long thin yellow caps on them, and then there's the part that would get plugged into the detector if the detector had a new battery and was ready to be reconnected to the wiring in the ceiling.

It's not building-wide; the upstairs neighbors who are complaining are not having the same problem. Neither is the guy across the hall who just came home from a concert. None of them have 9-volt batteries.

There is no other detector in my unit. I've lived here 15 years, so I'm pretty sure I would know. Also I went up on a ladder to disconnect it, and it beeped in my ear; I know where the noise is coming from.

And yes, the ceiling is beeping about once a minute.
posted by tzikeh at 11:01 PM on April 21, 2018

If the ceiling is beeping then the problem is with an electronic device upstairs--not with yours.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:07 PM on April 21, 2018

If you're renting, it isn't CO, and you aren’t contractually responsible for replacing the battery this might qualify as emergency maintenance. I'd plug the detector back in first though.
posted by Verba Volant at 11:09 PM on April 21, 2018

Fascinating and terrible.

Perhaps try finding another 9v from within your apartment? Places to check: alarm clocks, safety/backup radios, old sex toys, the other fire alarm (assuming you have 2), old label makers, garage door openers, your box of leftover electronics stuff that you need to donate or ewaste, bathroom scale, sander/tools/multimeter, etc.
posted by samthemander at 11:10 PM on April 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: If the ceiling is beeping then the problem is with an electronic device upstairs--not with yours.

I promise you, the sound is coming directly from whatever the wiring is attached to in the ceiling for my smoke detector. I'm not stupid. I was up on the ladder while it was beeping. It was right next to my face. I've lived here for 15 years. Please take me at my word. I know this sound.

It is not a CO2 detector. The CO2 detector is further down the hall, same ceiling, big square thing. This is a FIREX brand smoke detector, circle-shaped, takes a 9-volt battery that's dead.

Pictures will be forthcoming shortly.
posted by tzikeh at 11:12 PM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Can you take the 9v out of the co2 detector?
posted by samthemander at 11:13 PM on April 21, 2018

Sorry for so many comments, but one other idea: I once had an issue with our smoke detector beeping too often that was resolved by switching out that unit with another unit in our apartment. I think it worked like a hard reset on the device. Try swapping out this unit with another one.
posted by samthemander at 11:15 PM on April 21, 2018

Is there a 24 hour pharmacy near you? They'll have batteries. Or call your local fire station to see if they have suggestions. They might also have a spare battery.
posted by kbar1 at 11:17 PM on April 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

I get that you can't go out to get a battery - but if your neighbors are bothered, maybe one of them can? Unless the issue with that is that there aren't any 24 hour pharmacies or grocery stores in your area, in which case idek but good luck.
posted by Verba Volant at 11:18 PM on April 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: samthemander, as I said above, I only have one smoke detector. I can't take the 9-volt out of the CO2 detector because it doesn't have one. It's hard-wired. Why one detector is hard-wired and one is battery-powered, I can't say. That decision was made when they rehabbed the building before I moved in.

kbar1, I don't have a car, so I can't go anywhere at 1:23 am. I may end up calling the fire station, though, if nothing else works.


Detector, completely detached from the ceiling and sitting on a ladder rung with its dead, dead battery.

Plastic ring full of wires with me holding the flat bit with the holes for the pins that plug in from the detector when it's functioning. You can't see because they're recessed in the ceiling, but there are more wires than what's visible in the picture. Also, this is the thing that is beeping. I promise. Somewhere in those wires is something that is making this noise.
posted by tzikeh at 11:30 PM on April 21, 2018

Can you call an Uber to go to Walmart and get a battery? They're open 24/7.

Also, have you tried everything (except the replacement battery) in this article? The compressed air and pressing the reset button?


Also, this article has a bit about the test/silent button having possibly been hit?
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 11:35 PM on April 21, 2018

Interestingly, another MetaFilter user once had a similar problem, though I imagine the solution likely not pertaining.
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:38 PM on April 21, 2018

This must be awful; I'm so sorry. As a stopgap, could you muffle the wires / sound-source a bit with a heavy towel?
posted by solitary dancer at 11:45 PM on April 21, 2018

Response by poster: In a fit of desperation, I removed all the yellow caps from the wires and discovered that the caps were the only things keeping the wires connected to one another. Now none of the wires is touching another wire, and I placed all the (now) loose ones on the top part of the ladder, and the beeping has stopped.

I have passed the buck and made a problem for Future Me, but to be fair, she will have the advantage of being well-rested.

Thanks all for your contributions. I'll update tomorrow at some point.
posted by tzikeh at 12:08 AM on April 22, 2018 [51 favorites]

Why one detector is hard-wired and one is battery-powered, I can't say. That decision was made when they rehabbed the building before I moved in.

If they modified the smoke detector setup when they rehabbed the building, is it possible that there is another smoke detector in the ceiling somewhere? You could try following the wiring both ways in the ceiling to see if it leads to another smoke sector nearby that you can't see from below (possibly one accidentally covered over or otherwise entirely within the ceiling cavity).
posted by RichardP at 12:13 AM on April 22, 2018

I think the detector in the ceiling is not a smoke detector, but a 'disconnected smoke alarm detector' designed to prevent people from disabling the smoke alarm exactly the way you're trying to.

Very nasty, and very disrespectful toward residents.

I would be furious if I were you, but I think they've got you, and the only way you'll be able to stop it is by getting a new battery and reinstalling the smoke alarm.
posted by jamjam at 12:35 AM on April 22, 2018 [7 favorites]

Congratulations! I went past your update and didn't see that you got it to stop beeping. That was very resourceful.
posted by jamjam at 12:40 AM on April 22, 2018

I missed that you only have 1 unit! Darn. Congratulations for stopping this chaos.
posted by samthemander at 12:46 AM on April 22, 2018

I don't know anything about wiring but if you removed the marettes (yellow caps) you may now have uninsulated live wires in there, which is a fire hazard (ironic) and a shock hazard when you go to reassemble everything (if the wires touch each other, or metal, or your skin).

So maybe call someone who knows basic wiring to put it all back for you.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:16 AM on April 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

Yeah if the yellow wire nuts are still off, put them back on. Don't twist the wires back together, just put the nuts back on the ends of the untwisted wires so that the bare ends can't touch.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:51 AM on April 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

Glad you got it to stop beeping!

If you or anyone else reading this is searching for a 9 volt battery to pilfer, the bathroom scales might be an option, that's what mine take.
posted by kitten magic at 5:00 AM on April 22, 2018

Whew what a thread, just like a mystery novel that you guess the ending early, I was going "disconnect the wires" "disconnect...." under my breath until I got to that comment, glad I was right and the sound cut out!
posted by sammyo at 6:25 AM on April 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

Seconding call someone who knows wiring to hook it back up. You have LIVE WIRES there that can kill you.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:06 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Turning off the breaker before dealing with the wires would be a good idea. (I saw that you got that advice above re: the smoke detectors, so maybe there's a reason you can't?)
posted by salvia at 7:29 AM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

There was an ANSI/UL code change in 2009 that required carbon monoxide and combined CO/Smoke detectors to have an "end of life" signal. Most CO sensors last approximately 10 years. See where I'm going with this?

Can you check and see if there are any marks on the detector regarding manufacturing or installation date? Why do I have this hunch you have an expired detector that's doing the "beeps even when battery is pulled" thing?
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:40 AM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

So glad you got it resolved, at least temporarily! i just had a similar experience at 2am, and I was down right ready to murder someone. (My smoke detector is that the top of the stairs but impossible to reach... i can juuuuust change the battery but do not have the height/balance/stable step stool to remove it from it's wiring at the best of times, never mind at 2am).

I did not think of throwing the breaker until this thread, so next time, thats what i'm doing as it's probably way safer than the trapeze act I was attempting. And I am cursed as my detectors always die between 1-4am, without fail. But at least now I have a jumbo pack of 9volts in the closet courtesy of uncle amazon's same day shipping.
posted by cgg at 7:41 AM on April 22, 2018

Yes please have someone reinstall and note that your breaker may not control hard wired things like that. So don’t touch live wires unless you have a voltage tester.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:33 AM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

In addition to exposing yourself to live wires, by unscrewing the twist connectors and breaking that circuit you may very well have disabled all the detectors in the building, though since they have battery backups they may still be working.

As others have said, please do not attempt to reconnect the wires unless you are 100% certain the breaker is off AND you've checked the wires to make sure there is no current in them.
posted by bondcliff at 10:30 AM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sometimes turning up the heat will buy some time for a battery warning beep. It’s not a coincidence that smoke alarm batteries chirp for attention in the wee hours when the house is coldest (and then stop during the day, resume the next night, rinse and repeat until someone remembers to buy or install a new battery).
posted by janell at 10:39 AM on April 22, 2018

Response by poster: I'm just dropping in to say I'm still alive. I made sure the wires were bent away from one another before I went to bed; all of their ends are far away from anything that could be a problem. I understand that they're live--the problem with throwing the breaker is that, while all of the breakers are labeled with rooms (and even major appliances), nothing says "hallway" or "ceiling" or "smoke/CO2 detector." We're going to contact the management company tomorrow morning at 9am sharp (they're closed on weekends, so nice) and find out if they have preferred vendors for this sort of replacement.

The smoke detector has an install date of 2001 on it. I'm betting that it's just dead, and we need to buy a new one. Fun. I will come back with a final update once everything is settled. Thanks everyone, and sorry I was snappish with frustration and interrupted-sleep grouchiness.
posted by tzikeh at 11:01 AM on April 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

Glad you're alive! Just for any future situation, it's pretty common that the breaker labels aren't specific enough. Of course, voltage testers are best, but in this case, you could've taken your best guess and then the lack of beeping would've been the proof (and result) that you needed.
posted by salvia at 1:37 PM on April 22, 2018

Too late but, if you could scrounge 6 1.5v batteries of any sort, connect them in series.

I'm just betting that the battery voltage is passed back through into the base and the battery monitor/beep is just in the base and powered by AC

Newer detectors have non-replaceable rechargeable batteries that last the lifetime of the detector.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:46 PM on April 22, 2018

Yes, it's quite likely that none of the breakers in your apartment's panel control the smoke detectors in your apartment. Many apartment buildings, even ones with just a few units, have a separate "house" panel that runs the common areas and the building-wide infrastructure (including smokes). Your apartment's panel probably just does the lights, outlets, and appliances in your unit.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:23 PM on April 22, 2018

I still don't understand how the ceiling was still beeping when the detector was not energized by either power supply. Does someone have an answer for that?
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 5:55 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

The management company needs to fix this for you but they also to provide information to the rest of the building on what to do in this situation. If there is no emergency maintenance number, they need to set one up.
posted by soelo at 8:16 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pig Tail Orchestra: "I still don't understand how the ceiling was still beeping when the detector was not energized by either power supply. Does someone have an answer for that?"

I'm betting there is a another detector hidden someplace. Electrical wires don't beep and the act of disconnecting the circuit made the beeping stop which strongly implies the existence of another detector on that circuit. Maybe it got hidden by a renovation or maybe some disgruntled trades person hid the detector in a wall. It might be a significant distance away from the visible detector; sounds travel well in framing spaces.
posted by Mitheral at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

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