(originally posted 1/27/2014)
My wife and I learned something Friday night, After we went to bed. And were half asleep.
Smoke/Fire alarms 'wear out'. And get noisy when they die. And they like to die in the middle of the night. (one Lowe's consumer review mentioned the "Midnight Fire Alarm Club").
Our house has 'hard-wired' fire/smoke alarms. This means there's a dedicated circuit connecting all the fire alarms in the house, and if one goes off, they ALL go off. That's a good thing -- if there's a fire downstairs we might not hear the alarm down there; Allyson (whose apartment is downstairs) might not hear a fire alarm going off upstairs.
According to the firemen who 'visited' us Friday, the alarms have a useful life of about 10 years. Ours had a manufacture date-stamp of 2001. And, per the nice firemen, when one 'hard-wired' alarm dies, it sends a signal to all the others and they all shriek. The US Fire Administration (part of FEMA) also says replace after 10 years.
In our case, all EIGHT of the alarms.
And there's no way to shut them off -- no 'breaker' on the electrical box says 'fire alarms' (which is also a good thing because there are dummies who would switch them off) but even if there were one, the battery back up in each would keep it shrieking.
So after 14 1/2 minutes of shrieking (we couldn't find any fire, smoke, gas, etc.) we called the fire department and they kindly responded, getting to our house about 2 minutes after we called.
And 90 seconds after the 15-minute 'automatic reset' in the alarms shut them off.
Saturday I went to Lowes and bought 8 replacement BRK/First Alert (tm) alarms (and there's a 20% discount if you buy 6 or more, so I paid $15 for each $19 alarm); it took only 30 minutes to switch all of them out because they had matching 'plugs' to connect them to the house. The alarms 'twist' in and out of the retaining/trim ring, while the new alarm had a different ring, all I did was loosen two screws holding it in, jiggled it out and jiggled in the new ring, tightened it, plugged in the new alarm and twisted it into the new ring. The hardest part was moving the ladder from alarm to alarm.
So, folks, the bottom line is look at your alarms - if they were made before 2004 you need to replace them. And consider doing it anyhow if they were made in 2005 or before.You'll sleep better (literally and figuratively)
FOLLOWUP - 4/7/2014.
Today I got the following email from a friend:
Yesterday afternoon while my husband and I were enjoying a quiet and relaxation time, all of a sudden the smoke/fire alarms started sounding off all throughout the house. We both bounded up and went dashing through the house and I was feeling of walls and sniffing. We have a nice staircase to the attic and I ran up there and there was nothing anywhere. Well, of course, what did I think but the conversation that we had about something similar happening to you. I hardwired alarms have been in service about ten and one-half years. I went to the electrical box and there was a breaker that said “fire alarms”. I tripped it off and the alarms were still sounding. I thought good grief what will we do? My husband is not the least bit mechanically inclined! AND then it stopped. I said to him, this is not the end of it. He got the step ladder and proceeded to tell me we should replace the batteries. Hummmmmm….not a fix I thought, but I went along with it.
The long and short of it is that they sounded again, and then again. I determined that the breaker did turn off the electricity to all of them, but the batteries made them still sound off. Then we removed the newly inserted fresh batteries. AND then we had silence, but no protection. We made a quick trip to Lowe’s and bought the six pack you described. NOW like I said my husband is not the least bit mechanically inclined and certainly not trained in electric matters. He wouldn’t touch them and he dared me to. I googled it and I know that it is matter of turning off the juice and connecting the black wire, the white wire, and the red wire and reattaching them – but I was under orders not to touch them.
FOR NOW, we have the circuit breaker off and the batteries removed. I have one sole alarm/carbon monoxide unit in the middle of my one-story house and am praying for nothing to happen until we have someone in the house later this week that I think will replace them for us.
I AM A ROSS HART BELIEVER NOW! Thank you.