Smoke detector that doesn't buzz?
March 15, 2022 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Since having bell's palsy I've been much more sensitive to high-pitched buzzing sounds many electronics make. The smoke detector above my bed is driving me nuts. I asked to have it replaced (I rent) and the owner did, but the new one is just as bad. Are there smoke detectors that are quiet? It's a wired, but otherwise standard, model.

Alternatively, are there earplugs that stay in while you sleep and work on high-pitched sounds? I regular foam ones, and move too much at night for them.

Bonus question: Should I be seeing an ear doctor about this? I think it's not tinnitus in that it's clearly a sound coming from the smoke detector, but it feels like my normal ability to dampen high frequencies isn't working as well as it used to.
posted by lab.beetle to Technology (15 answers total)
My smoke detectors are absolutely completely silent. But unfortunately I am far away from them, and I can't remember the brand. I still wanted to say that you can get this and you should.
posted by mumimor at 11:58 AM on March 15, 2022

I have never had a smoke detector that made any audible noise when not in an alarm state, so IMO you may want to check with both an ear specialist and an electrician because something is wrong somewhere.
posted by aramaic at 12:05 PM on March 15, 2022 [7 favorites]

How have you verified it is the smoke detector?

Did you unplug the power cord and let it run off batteries? Does it make a sound then?

What if you remove the battery and have it plugged in? Will it make a sound then?

Besides the occasional angry beeps.
posted by flimflam at 12:23 PM on March 15, 2022

Also surprised to learn that the smoke detector makes a noise, as I've also never noticed one buzzing or humming. Given that sounds are difficult to localise, is there any chance at all it's something else, and you're assuming it's the smoke detector because it's an obvious electrical thing right over the bed? In my house it's usually a dimmer switch or a power supply of some kind.

That aside, something's definitely making a noise and it's driving you spare, and I feel your pain. I might be able to help with the ear plugs. How are you putting them in? It took me ages to realise there was a trick to it. Three steps:

1. Roll the plug between thumb and forefinger to compress it a bit;
2. Reach over your head with the other hand, grab the top of your ear, and pull. This opens the ear canal slightly.
3. Insert the ear plug, let go of your ear, and wait a moment; you should feel the plug expand gently into place.

This gives you a much tighter seal than you get if you just push them in with one hand. You may still pull one or both out in the night if they're uncomfortable (in which case, try a few different brands and see if there's one you get on with better), but normal tossing and turning shouldn't be enough to dislodge them.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:27 PM on March 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Smoke alarms only beep when there is an issue. If the unit was replaced, try replacing the battery. Occasional beeps are a signal it's low, even if it's hardwired the battery is used as a backup so it will still beep if it needs to be changed.
posted by ananci at 12:28 PM on March 15, 2022

Best answer: If it's mains powered it's more than likely got a switching power supply in it, and it's probably quite a cheap and shitty switching power supply with almost no load on it, which is probably going to make it cycle at a subharmonic of its designed switching frequency, causing coil whine at a pitch and volume that somebody with hearing sensitised to borderline ultrasonic noises could plausibly be driven to distraction by.

You'll probably find that a battery powered optical smoke detector will be completely silent, because everything inside one of those can run directly off the 9 volts DC supplied by the battery without any form of voltage conversion. Ionization types will have a high voltage converter for the ionization chamber, which could also potentially exhibit coil whine even when running from batteries. That said, my own hearing is still sensitive enough to pick up coil whine from assorted cheap USB phone chargers that little ms flabdablet (17) can also hear though ms flabdablet can't, and I've never heard any noise come from any of our battery powered smoke detectors that isn't clearly supposed to.
posted by flabdablet at 12:29 PM on March 15, 2022 [15 favorites]

You may consider asking your local occupational health provider to help you find improvements for all the things you're dealing with in your house and help you place things like fire sensors in appropriate places. I know that some disabled people have vibrating wristbands they will wear that alert them to fire or other alarms (such as timing your oven) when they can't hear or will be irritated by shrill alarms. Think about what sound could wake you up and save your life if not your current alarm.
posted by parmanparman at 12:39 PM on March 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i just want to chime in and say i believe you. i can hear the stupid wireless charger thing buzzing or humming or whatever when it is actively charging my phone. literally everyone i have told this thinks i am crazy. if it were me, i would unplug the one that is hardwired and buy a 10 year lithium battery smoke alarm. the ones i have are definitely silent.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:17 PM on March 15, 2022 [9 favorites]

Regarding earplugs, Mack's are the best. Be sure to follow the instructions.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:17 PM on March 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Any chance it’s actually your doorbell that’s buzzing? I have a very old buzzer doorbell that occasionally makes a faint buzzing noise when heat/cold/humidity/??? conditions align in the wrong way.
posted by mekily at 1:26 PM on March 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

literally everyone i have told this thinks i am crazy.

To be fair, the ability to hear near-ultrasonics is a bit of a superpower that most people just don't have; I'm not at all surprised when my reality fails to overlap that of others in this way, though it's disappointing when people resort to insults instead of, you know, actual tests.
posted by flabdablet at 3:01 PM on March 15, 2022 [4 favorites]

Second the tip to insert earplugs correctly. Your ear canals roughly point to the opposite eye, up and forward. Decent earplugs inserted correctly don't fall out during the night, they seat well behind your tragus (that little flap on your ear). I can hear electronics, but haven't had a smoke detector make noise (battery or mains+battery) make any noise. But that's just me. So second the getting somebody to come in with equipment that could detect that noise. And/Or disconnecting it for a while to make sure it's the source of the noise. High pitched noise is hard to pinpoint.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:39 PM on March 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

I also have bat-like hearing & pick up on high-pitched sounds that nobody else notices. I've found that running a fan or a white-noise app helps a lot. You might need to try different frequencies; brown noise works better for me than white or pink noise do.
posted by belladonna at 4:56 PM on March 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Wired smoke detectors are required in most rentals to be considered up to code. It is unlikely that your landlord will be able to replace it with a battery model, but that doesn’t mean you can’t! Just make sure you hang on to the wired model so you can replace it for inspection or when you move out.
posted by Bottlecap at 2:08 PM on March 16, 2022

Best answer: I think you’ve gotten a number of very good answers here about the mechanical/technical problem, in terms of the smoke detector and earplugs. I’ll just weigh in quickly in your bonus question and say it is totally within the realm of possibility that the Bell’s palsy affected your sensitivity to high frequency sounds. This was a huge problem for me while I was going through the worst of my own bout of BP, and while it eventually subsided, it took much longer to do so than some other symptoms. Residual BP symptoms can be very idiosyncratic, and while this one hasn’t stuck around for me long term, others have. And I also get migraines (this is independent of the BP) and during a migraine episode I often get hyper-acute hearing, which can be more intense now, after having had BP.

Having said that, I can’t offer any advice as to what a doctor could help with as, (1) IANAD, and (2) I haven’t sought much medical care for my residual symptoms. But I would encourage you to seek out BP patient communities online (for example, I’m a part of one FB group for BP sufferers more than one year out from diagnosis) where you might be able to connect with people experiencing similar symptoms and hear about how other people manage things.
posted by leticia at 7:05 PM on March 16, 2022

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