If your smoke detector is beeping or your fire alarm is sounding off without any obvious cause, it can be quite frustrating and in some cases, it could indicate an underlying issue with the equipment, which could be a potential fire safety hazard. So, what causes this annoying chirping and seemingly random fire alarm noises? Read along to find out the answer and find out who you can prevent this very situation from happening. 

Smoke detector beeping vs fire alarm sounding off: What’s the difference? 

Before we dive into the why and how to prevent, let’s start by getting the basic terminology right. First of all, smoke detectors and fire alarms are two different things. The smoke detector detects high levels of smoke in the room while a fire alarm usually contains a smoke detector and is triggered by it to sound off. However, fire alarms can also be triggered by a heat detector and they can also feature other extras, such as water sprinklers and automated notification systems connected to the local fire services. 

There is a lot that can be said about the differences between smoke detectors and fire alarms, but the reality is that, as most fire alarm systems will have multiple smoke detectors in them, the reason for a smoke detector chirping or a fire alarm sounding off inexplicably, are often one and the same, or at the very least – related.   

Why is your smoke alarm making a noise and how to stop it? 

Smoke detectors can malfunction for various reasons, including dirt, insects, oversensitivity, low battery and more. When you hear odd noises coming off from your smoke alarm, the type of noise you hear could be the first indication of what has triggered the issue. Knowing the cause helps you find a way to stop the false alarm. 

Loud alarm sound that doesn’t stop 

If your fire alarm sounds off loudly and continuously, it means that the active alarm mode has been activated. The deafening sound you are hearing won’t go away until the air has cleared and the smoke detector no longer picks up concerning levels of smoke in the air. So, if there is no fire in sight, what could be the issue? Here are the most common causes and how to solve them:

Scenario 1

Issue: A foreign object has contaminated the sensing chamber and is triggering the alarm. This could be anything from a small insect to dust particles and accumulated dirt. 

Solution: You have to open your smoke detector and clean it. 

Scenario 2

Issue: Oversensitivity to environmental factors, such as high humidity or smoke (e.g burning toast, cooking bacon) or a sudden change in temperature (e.g. open oven door), is causing a nuisance alarm  

Solution: You should open the windows and wave a towel under the sensor in order to disperse the smoke. Some fire alarms have a “Hush” function that allows you to silence the alarm for up to 10 minutes. This gives you time to clear out the smoke/humidity. If this is a common occurrence, you should consult with a specialist to find out if the sensitivity of the unit needs to be adjusted.

Scenario 3

Issue: Electrical problem has caused the fire alarm to malfunction (applicable to hard-wired alarms only).

Solution: If an electrical condition is causing the false alarm, you need to reset the alarm but disconnect it from the electricity source and remove the backup battery if your unit has one. Once you reconnect the alarm, it should resolve the issue. If not, you need to seek help from an engineer

Regular chirping

If your smoke detector is chirping constantly on regular intervals (30-40 seconds) you are probably experiencing one of the following issues: 

Scenario 1

Issue: The battery of your smoke alarm is running low and needs to be replaced. Usually, when constant chirping is present for at least 7 days.

Solution: You have to replace the battery inside the unit and use the test button to confirm that everything works as expected. 

Scenario 2

Issue: The alarm has reach the end of its lifespan (for sealed battery fire alarms)

Solution: If you have a sealed-battery model smoke alarm, you cannot replace the power source. You have to have the whole unit replaced to solve the problem. 

Scenario 3

Issue: Malfunction – the red LED light on your alarm is flashing in-between the chirping 

Solution: If you come across the above scenario, you need to test the alarm using the TEST button which you need to hold for a few seconds. If the alarm doesn’t enter active alarm mode when tested, you are either experiencing one of the first two battery-related issues, or there is a technical problem with the unit, in which case you need to seek help from an engineer.

Intermittent chirping

If your smoke alarm is making a chirping noise with no obvious pattern, you should consider the following scenarios: 

Scenario 1

Issue: Various battery issues 

Solution: You have to check whether the battery is installed correctly – check if it may be loose causing a bad connection; if it’s the correct type and it’s not out of date; and if the lid on the battery compartment is closed well. 

Scenario 2

Issue: Humidity, temperature changes and drafts can all cause your smoke detector to malfunction if it’s placed too close to the source. This could be a cooler, an open window causing a draft, a cooking appliance producing heat or a bathroom with a shower. 

Solution: If the smoke detector has been placed incorrectly, you need to change its location to be at least 10 feet away from what’s triggering it.

Scenario 3

Issue: Power surges 

Solution: If the intermittent chirping occurs at the same time every day, then maybe there is an issue with the power grid. You could also notice the chirping appearing when another appliance in the house is turned on. This would indicate that the alarm and the appliance in question are connected to the same circuit when they shouldn’t be. 

Scenario 4

Issue: Old age

Solution: If none of the above three scenarios applies to you, then you should consider whether your entire unit needs to be replaced or not. It’s possible that your alarm has reached its life expectancy and is beginning to show defects. 

The importance of regular fire alarm maintenance and servicing

What’s the use of having a fire alarm if it’s not actually working? Whether the reason for your smoke detector beeping and triggering your fire alarm is a battery on its last legs, accumulated dirt or some other technical fault, in many cases, the chirping or sounding off is an indication that your fire alarm may be poorly maintained. To prevent the issue from happening in the first place, you must ensure that your fire detection system is being serviced regularly by an experienced professional. 

If you are responsible for a non-residential building, such as an office space, warehouse, construction site, dining venue or a public area, it is your legal responsibility (as stated in BS5839-1:2019 – see our comprehensive guide to BS5839) to ensure that your fire alarm system is serviced by a professional engineer every 6 months. Failure to do so will be considered as non-compliance with the industry safety standards and may result in substantial fines and potentially even jail time if a serious workplace incident occurs as a result of a fault with the fire alarm. 

More than that, having a professional inspect your fire alarm and smoke detectors regularly gives you peace of mind knowing that both you and anyone else in that building are adequately protected in case of a fire. Ignoring your smoke decor’s beeping or chirping could be dangerous, as the underlying issue behind the false alarm could lead to a delayed response in a real fire emergency situation, causing significant damages to your assets, your property and the people in it. 

Have a fire alarm in need of servicing anywhere in the West Midlands? Here, at Cardinal Fire Protection, we have a dedicated team of fire safety engineers in Birmingham who specialise in fire alarm inspections and offer regular servicing and maintenance for your entire fire detection system. Don’t wait for your smoke detector to start beeping or for a false alarm to sound off – get in touch with us today and make sure your fire protection is up to standard.