Our origin story / Should you replace your smoke detectors?

Smoke Detector

Confession: I have always been a little anxious about changing my smoke detector batteries.

Do you ever come across something that leaves you with a weird taste in your mouth left over from childhood?  Something that you dreaded as a kid, or that made you anxious, and now it still puts you on edge even though you’re an adult and there is no rational reason why the thing in question should cause a problem for you?

That’s how I feel about changing smoke detector batteries.

I think there are two main reasons for this.  The first is pretty mundane. As a kid, I hated the loud noises the smoke detectors made when my parents tested them.  I was easily startled, and even though I knew it was coming it didn’t startle me any less. It’s like the scene in Elf right after Buddy finds out he’s a human when he’s testing all the jack-in-the-boxes.  He knows they’re going to pop at some point, and that puts him on edge.

The second reason I dread messing with my smoke detectors is a random memory I have from when I was about ten.  One of the smoke detectors outside my bedroom started chirping in the middle of the night, and my parents could not get it to stop.  I think this memory stands out because one of my parents had a doctor’s appointment the next day, but my brother and I were out of school that day so we had to go with them. The weirdness of the smoke detectors going off all night was tied to the weirdness of having to go to the doctor’s office with my parents, and the sum of it all is that memory stands out.  Since then, I have always been nervous that in the process of changing my smoke detector batteries they would start chirping and I wouldn’t be able to make them stop.

Fast forward to this past Thanksgiving.  It was my husband Greg’s and my first Thanksgiving as hosts.  In a series of events that panned out like an adult version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” pulling my Grandma’s china set out of our Harry Potter closet led to me carrying a ladder around the house two days before Thanksgiving, changing the batteries in all our smoke detectors.  And then I heard it. That insistent, unceasing chirping.

After trying several different batteries and attempting to resync the smoke detectors multiple times, I finally did what any twenty-something adult would do when faced with a home maintenance question.  I called my dad.  

Before finally diagnosing the problem, we tried the following Steps You Should Do If You Can’t Get Your Smoke Detectors to Sync So One Keeps Chirping Like a Demented Finch:

  1. Remove the smoke detector from the wall (this involves unplugging the wire at the back if your smoke detectors are hard wired into the wall).
  2. Take the battery out of the smoke detector.
  3. Hold down the button on the detector to drain any lingering charge.  The device should make a sad, feeble sounding beep that will fade as the charge drains.
  4. Repeat with all the other smoke detectors in your house.
  5. Once all detectors have been detached and drained of charge, reattach them to their wiring and to the wall.  Make sure they have fresh batteries. DO NOT PUSH ANY BUTTONS YET.
  6. Once all the detectors are back on the wall and adequately powered, hold down one of the buttons until they all ring, the way you would after changing a battery.

From here, if you’re lucky, all the smoke detectors will be synced, which should stop the chirping.  If you’re still hearing chirping after this point, you’ve come to the moral of this story. It was a shock to me because no one had mentioned it to me, ever.  Are you ready?

Smoke detectors only last ten years.

If your smoke detectors are more than ten years old, and especially if they’re more than ten years old and they aren’t syncing, they need to be replaced.  This was a fun discovery for us two days before Thanksgiving. Our house is about twenty years old, so our smoke detectors were manufactured before the dates were printed conveniently on the sides like in the pictures above.  We had to take them all off the wall to see the sticker with the date of manufacture on them because it was on the back of the detector, adjacent to the wall.  They were also original to the house, so we’re glad we found out they needed to be replaced.  We wouldn’t have known about the expiration date otherwise, which brings me to my next point…


Amanda celebrated Thanksgiving with Greg and I this year, and after sharing this story with her we decided to create a way to share all the random tidbits of knowledge we’ve learned along the way of our attempts at adulting.  We each have our own things we’d like to share in hopes that they’ll make life a little easier for anyone reading them. Some are things like smoke detector life spans that are fairly universal in application but not frequently discussed.  Others are solutions we’ve found for problems, big and small, that we’ve tackled. There are also a handful of things we’ve created along the way that we’d just like to share. Hopefully this can be useful for you. If it’s ever inspiring, we’ll count that as a win.  And in the meantime, good luck with your smoke detectors.

2 Replies to “Our origin story / Should you replace your smoke detectors?

  1. Thank you Erica!! I, like you, had no clue smoke detectors ever had to be changed beyond their batteries. Ours are original to the house and 21 years old……guess we better budget that in this year 🙂

  2. Like you, smoke detectors cause me anxiety-I can’t even explain why. And unfortunately I have given into that anxiety and have therefore always found a way to get out of changing their batteries (either the roommate, the boyfriend, or nowadays the husband took care of it). Like I didn’t even know they all had to be synced! Thank you for teaching me something new! But seriously, why all the anxiety over something this basic?!

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