How to turn off a smoke alarm

Written by Adam Morris
6 Min read
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Table of contents

Did you know that up to 96% of all homes now have smoke alarms fitted? Over the last 50 years, the number of fatalities caused by home fires has dropped considerably, thanks mostly to the humble fire alarm.

However, whilst most people are fully clued up on the importance of having at least one working smoke alarm in their home, approximately 20% of those alarms are non-operational. It’s a scary fact that three out of five deaths in house fires occur either because there were no smoke alarms, or because the alarm wasn’t working.

Knowing how to turn off a smoke alarm and turn it back on again safely could save your life. Read on to find out how.

Why is my smoke alarm making a noise?

When fully operational and when there are no fires or smoke present your smoke alarm should be silent. However, when it needs attention, it will beep or chirp to alert you to the issue.  Here are some of the common sounds a smoke detector will make:

Continuous beeping

If your alarm is sounding a long, continuous beeping noise then it is telling you it has detected smoke in the air.  If you have a single alarm, the smoke will be somewhere in the region of the alarm. If you have several interconnected devices, you will need to investigate the areas around one or more of the alarms.

Single beeps

A solitary beep every 30-seconds to a minute apart usually means the battery needs replacing. In the first instance replace the batteries with new ones to see whether this resolves the beeping.  If this doesn’t stop the beeping there may be dust or debris on the sensor, or it could mean the alarm itself needs replacing.

Multiple beeps

If your alarm is sounding multiple beeps at regular intervals, it could be alerting you to another issue that will need investigating. You should check your device’s manual for further advice that will be specific to the make and model of your smoke alarm.

Is your smoke detector battery-operated or hardwired?

Battery operated

It probably goes without saying that a battery-operated smoke detector is one that gets its power from batteries.  They are self-contained units that require no additional wiring to install and offer a cost-effective solution for families looking to install a hassle-free alarm. 

A battery-operated smoke alarm will work even when the power has been cut but does require regular testing and battery replacements (usually 9V) to ensure that it is in good working order.

Hardwired

Hardwired smoke alarms can be purchased as single units that are wired directly into your home’s electricity circuit or plugged into a wall socket.  They are usually installed as part of a more complex and comprehensive home security system, including things like security cameras and sprinkler systems.  Hardwired smoke alarms require professional installation and are usually more expensive than battery-operated systems.

How to reset your smoke detector

The easiest way to turn off your smoke detector is to reset it. The reset button is usually located on the front of the smoke alarm in the middle of the unit. In older models, the reset button can be found on the back and accessed by removing the alarm from the wall.

How to disable a battery-operated smoke alarm

If you need to turn off your smoke alarm and it is a battery-operated system, you should follow these simple steps:

  • Open the battery compartment – you may need a screwdriver for this
  • Remove the batteries
  • Press and hold down the silence button for approximately 10-20 seconds, until it stops beeping
  • Install new batteries
  • Listen for a brief beep that indicates the system is operational again

How to disable a hardwired smoke alarm

Hardwired smoke alarms are a little more complex to disable, but with a little know-how you can still turn off your fire alarm.

  • Identify which circuit breaker your fire alarm has been wired into
  • Turn off the relevant circuit breaker, or remove the device from the power source
  • Remove any backup batteries – you may need a screwdriver for this
  • Press and hold down the silence button for approximately 10-20 seconds, until it stops beeping
  • Reconnect the system to the circuit and switch on the circuit breaker

How often should I change the batteries in my smoke detector?

You should regularly check the batteries in your smoke detector around once a month. You can do this by pushing and holding the button labelled test on your device. If the alarm is operational it will beep, if you don’t hear anything this could be because the battery is dead. If this is the case replace the batteries and test again.

Smoke alarms with non-replaceable ten-year batteries are designed to be operational for ten years. If the battery warning beep sounds, the entire alarm should be replaced immediately.

Smoke detectors with any other kind of battery should have the batteries replaced at least once a year.

What is a fire control panel?

In larger buildings, such as an apartment complex, your smoke detectors are most likely to be connected to the building’s central fire control panel. If you’re experiencing problems with your alarm, you will need to contact your landlord or building maintenance contractor in the first instance. If there are multiple alarms going off in the building, you should contact the fire department so they can investigate any issues with the fire control panel.

Making a fire escape plan

Smoke detectors are designed to give you an advance warning about fires in your home. However, fire can spread incredibly quickly, and you may only have a couple of minutes to escape safely once the fire alarm goes off.  

Making a fire escape plan is a great idea, particularly if you have young children.  This plan should be practiced twice a year, making the drill as realistic as possible. After practicing a few times during the day, hold a drill at night while they are sleeping – it’s important to know whether your family can quickly awaken to the sound of the smoke alarm.

A final word on turning off smoke alarms

We all know how annoying those ‘false alarms’ can be, going off when you burn the toast or blow out a candle. But, knowing how to turn your smoke alarm off and reset it means you won’t have to cover your ears for too long!

It’s important to listen to the messages your smoke alarm is trying to give you, it may just save your and your family’s life.

What’s the difference between battery-operated and hardwired smoke detectors?

A battery-operated smoke detector is a self-contained unit that gets its power from a battery. A hardwired smoke detector is one that has been wired directly into the electrical circuit. Battery alarms are cost-effective and easy to install. Hardwired alarms are usually installed by a professional

How often should I replace my fire alarm?

Recent research concluded that both battery-operated and hardwired fire alarms should be replaced every 10 years, or sooner if they don’t respond correctly when tested. People are generally aware that battery-operated alarms should be replaced regularly but are under the impression that hardwired systems will last forever – this is not the case.

Why do I need to replace my smoke detector?

The older smoke detectors get, the less reliable they become.  With contaminants like dust, insects, and nicotine filling up the chamber, the alarm will become less sensitive to smoke which will either lead to lots of false alarms or mean the device is unable to detect smoke in the atmosphere

Do smoke alarms need cleaning?

Smoke alarms should be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis to ensure they are in good operational order.  You should carefully dust the outside of the alarm using a microfiber cloth before using a paintbrush or duster to clean the inside and the air vents of the unit. Care should be taken to avoid causing damage to the circuit board. Finally, close the lid and test the unit.

Where should smoke alarms be placed?

It’s very important to make sure you have enough smoke alarms for your house. Having the right amount of smoke alarms is essential to ensure you have enough escape time. As a minimum, alarms should be placed inside each sleeping area, in the kitchen, and on every level of the home. The units should be placed in the center of each room, at least 300mm away from walls and light fittings. This is because air doesn’t effectively circulate in corners and objects such as light fittings can stop heat and smoke from entering the sensor chamber.

What does a smoke detector do?

Smoke detectors save lives! They detect fires at a very early stage by sensing small particles in the air and beep loudly to give people a clear warning which gives people time to escape from the building safely.  

Appliances made simple. 

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