Chirping Smoke Alarms - No Music to Pet’s Ears! (Part II)

Few events shatter a companion animal’s serenity more than loud and abrupt noises.

Thunder rumbling, fireworks popping and siren screaming have been known to make dogs dive under couches or bolt from backyards. There is often a spike in local animal shelter populations after inclement weather, holiday celebrations and local disasters that summon a fleet of emergency vehicles.

Our Boston terrier, Lilly, was shuddering like a kid in a haunted house last week when our smoke detectors started chirping. Her shudders became cowering whines as “phantom” chirping persisted, even after we had disarmed every detector in the house by removing the batteries, pressing the reset buttons to diffuse any residual charge and disconnecting each detector from its wall mount.

Turning our circuit breakers off and on multiple times gave Lilly, my wife, Susan, and me a temporary reprieve from the shrieking bursts. But the chirping inevitably resumed in ernest minutes or hours later. Following our handyman’s suggestion, Susan and I tore apart every closet in the house - to no avail - looking for a rogue smoke detector.

One electrician suggested that I pull down the wiring from inside the ceiling, take a picture and text it to him. Lilly and I had just returned from a walk and I had taken off her leash but not yet closed our front door. A lull in the chirping was broken just as I snapped the photo causing Lilly to shoot out of our condo.

Susan and I ran down the hall toward the elevator but could not find her. We sprinted back to the stairwell nearest our unit, burst through the door and called out to Lilly who stood on the first-floor landing, shaking like a leaf in the winter wind. That she was able to push open that heavy door into the stairwell and scamper down the stairs was testament to her terror. Our four-day sleep depravation paled in comparison to Lilly’s trauma induced by the off-and-on chirping.

A loving and hospitable neighbor-friend offered us sanctuary on the fifth night. The following morning, a home-improvement specialist we had called did a walk through of our condo with my wife. Lo and behold, they found the culprit: an old CO2 detector, with one dying battery in its chamber, sitting in a box slated for donation to our favorite charity.

The nightmare was over but Lilly shook for a few days whenever we returned home from an outing with her. As I began to unfold the ladder to re-install the smoke detectors this morning, Lilly began trembling. So much for anyone claiming dogs don’t have episodic memory!

And so much for claims that a dog’s threshold for comfort of high-pitched noises is 25,000 Hertz (Hz). At 3,000+ Hz and 85 decibels, smoke detector chirping was shrill enough to rattle our happy home.

There is an alternative. The Nest smoke and carbon monoxide alarm displays color-coded signals and emits a motherly, yet call-to-action voice to alert home dwellers of elevated smoke/CO2 levels. In non-emergency conditions, the alarm can be silenced with a wave of the hand. Multiple units in a home can communicate wirelessly to one another and send alerts to users’ mobile phones.  At about $130 bucks a pop, the units are 4-5 times the price of standard smoke detectors, but this may be good investment in serenity for four-legged friends.

Vovio Network founder, Joe Crescenzi, suggests improvements to Nest’s landmark idea including a motion and light detector to determine room conditions and cut down on false alarms. Crescenzi also advocates for changing the sound of the actual fire alarm to a doorbell so dogs collect at the front door instead of under the sofa - an ingenious touch toward getting everyone out alive!

Things to consider about a smoke/CO2 detection system:

  • Most smoke/CO2 alarm systems are hardwired into the main electrical system. As the batteries in one unit fail, all the units will chirp, alternately.
  • With such interconnected systems, it is best to change ALL the batteries at the same time - and keep a record of the date! Batteries should be changed every year or so.
  • If the chirping continues, disconnect each unit by unscrewing the wall mount, detaching the wires on the release clip, removing the battery and pushing the reset button to “expel” any residual charge the unit may be carrying.
  • If the chirping persists, there is likely a hidden smoke/CO2 device somewhere.
  • Consider installing stand-alone units (not hardwired into the electrical) that operate on 10-year lithium batteries. Record the installation date.
  • Be sure to install the minimum number of detectors to comply with building codes (one is usually required in each bedroom and in the hallway in between).

My family is back to enjoying sweet silence - and a safe home.