Make it stop, make it stop MAKE IT STOP!
June 5, 2006 4:50 AM   Subscribe

All night long, the alarm and/or smoke detectors in our house kept going off. Why?

We live in a pertty average, less than four year old two story house. It has a pre-wired alarm system which we never arm, and the smoke detectors are all wired into that system. When the battery begins to run low on a smoke detector it will start to chirp periodically, just a single chirp loud enough to be noticed but not loud enough to wake you up. This is not what happened last night.

Starting at 2am, the smoke detector alarms started going off randomly. They would blare three to six (or occasionally nine) times, cascading through the entire house, and then stop. It might happen again in five minutes, or go for nearly an hour without a peep. There was no smoke to cause them to go off. I double-checked the alarm system and it was definitely not armed. Regardless, I checked all of the alarmed entry points and they were all closed. There is one motion detector, and it was also not armed (and walking around that room did not trigger anything anyway).

I have had perhaps three hours of sleep and I am a mess. My wife is in equally bad shape. I have no idea where to look next. The last alarm was forty three minutes ago.

posted by Lokheed to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're _positive_ it's not a battery issue? My parents alarm system had an issue over the series of a few nights where the alarm kept randomly going off; it was eventually traced back to a power issue...
posted by inigo2 at 4:56 AM on June 5, 2006

Bug crawling across sensor?
posted by Scoo at 5:00 AM on June 5, 2006

Inigo, at this point I am not _positive_ about anything. It has been almost two hours since the last time it went off, so apparently the evil house only wants to keep us awake during the dark hours. Now that the sun is up, no more alarm.

I am completely at a loss, but in a little while I am going to give a call to the company that installed the system when the house was built (they very nicely left a sticker with their phone number on the system junction box). Maybe they'll have a suggestion.
posted by Lokheed at 5:46 AM on June 5, 2006

I lived in a apartment building where this happened continuously over the summer and it wound up being a problem with the system not tolerating humidity. I'm wondering if your system is having a similar issue?
posted by LunaticFringe at 5:53 AM on June 5, 2006

Ooh, that's possible. This being June in Florida, and the first summer we have been in the house since we bought it.
posted by Lokheed at 5:56 AM on June 5, 2006

I also had the problem when it was humid - right outside of my bathroom. You should be able to unplug the smoke detector from the system - make sure you use pliers with rubber handles though - mine also had a short and I ended up shocking the heck out of myself. The apartment complex ended up replacing both detectors - they said cigarette smoke/tar and dust get in there and gum stuff up after awhile.
posted by blackkar at 6:11 AM on June 5, 2006

You really should call for service from the alarm company.

It could be the humidity, a low back up system battery, a faulty powering wire (there's a technical term for this but I can't remember it) or a couple of other things (I once saw 'dust in detector component' as a line item so you can't ever tell).

**I am not a service technican, just used to work in the billing dept of an alarm company.
posted by jaimystery at 6:20 AM on June 5, 2006

We too have had smoke alarms go off when the weather is extremely humid (in NYC, not Florida, but still).
posted by scratch at 6:23 AM on June 5, 2006

Thanks for posting this question. I had the same thing happen last night and was curious myself. I woke up to the blaring alarms and couldn't find any reason that the alarm should be sounding.
posted by galimatias at 7:21 AM on June 5, 2006

Hopefully they aren't radon or CO2 alarms...
posted by feloniousmonk at 7:37 AM on June 5, 2006

I work for an alarm company, in tech support. What is the brand of the system, and model number if you know it? Something like Radionics, ITI, Caretaker, AES, Silent Knight, Ademco, Omegalarm, NX8, CADDX, etc? Default arm-codes tend to be either 1234 or 8520 (down the center of a 10-key layout).

You can call the installation company and have them advise you how to "power the system down" (for free, which you can do yourself easily so I hear) so that none of it will go off, ever again -- but will require a service tech to come out to power it back up if you ever decide to use it again.

If you have a "command" button, possible CMND or something similar, try hitting either [CMND] then 4 (silence) or [CMND] 4 7 (reset all sensors). If there are wireless smoke detectors with a blinking light or chirping sound, and the batteries are AA, only take out one at a time or the sensor may lose its programming, generating a trouble signal with the keypad and requiring a service tech to come reprogram it back into the system to get it to stop if you hadn't already powered it down like before.

Some systems, notably Caretakers, have an option you can hit of [*] [disarm code] [#] [1] and the system will audibly tell you what the problem is, such as low battery this or that. There is also a large system battery inside the big metal box (likely either red or black) probably installed in your garage or back closet that will need changing every once in a while that keeps the system running for up to 8 hours in the event of power outages. The large ("CPU Batteries") ones tend to drain out every once in a while or generally go bad for whatever reason, and in the event of an extended power outage, very well may make the system go haywire and trip all kinds of panic/fire/burgs/failures/tampers all over the place when no such condition exists because of the flickering power issue.

Generally for smoke detectors, most any kind of humidity or dust particles in it will set it off. Just blow it out thoroughly and/or let it dry and you should be good. If the detector is bad (it happens) it may need to simply be replaced.

If anyone has an alarm system with questions about it, just email me, and I'll try to answer asbestos as best as I can -- be sure to include what brand and model the system is. Even if you have an alarm system and just want to arm only certain zones and such, just shoot me an email (( mjamesmoore3 at gmail )) and I'll get on it. I check it fairly often every day, but it may take a day or two to get back with you. I've got access to all manner of manuals.
posted by vanoakenfold at 1:18 PM on June 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

By the way, systems generally will monitor fire detectors whether the system is armed or not and is not governed by the action of being armed or disarmed.

In my experience with them (5 years this past April) you cannot bypass a fire sensor, only silence it once it goes off. If your system permits a silence and reset seperately, only silence it because reset will enable all sensors again including the troublesome one. Silence will keep the troublesome one quiet while enabling all the rest.
posted by vanoakenfold at 1:23 PM on June 5, 2006

Call the fire department. One, they're experts on smoke alarms. Two, you could have a gas leak or other genuine problem and the smoke alarms (Carbon monoxide monitor?) could be doing its job.

Have the company that installed it come for a visit to check power, and also check humidity; a shower will trigger my smoke alarm sometimes. But don't ignore the possibilty that there could be a real problem.
posted by theora55 at 4:30 PM on June 5, 2006

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