Today I find myself trying to solve one of the most irritating but minor problems of home maintenance, especially for those who live in a multi-level house: It’s figuring out which smoke detector in which location is beeping “low battery.” The problem is made much worse in a house that has far more working smoke detectors than it needs for safety's sake. (For those of you wondering, why not just remove the superfluous ones, well, it’s not that simple to figure out which ones to take down, when there’s no record of when each one was purchased, when its battery was last changed, or whether a particular detector “speaks” to the central alarm system.) In any case, by the time you get to the stage of trying to work out where that damned beeping is coming from, it’s too late for that particular fix.
So here I am, trying to follow the sound of a single, shrill BEEP that seems to be equally loud all over the house….but which won’t sound again for another full hour. At this point, there seem to be just three plausible methods for solving this problem:
Method Number One: Program a reminder in my computer’s calendar to go off about 55 minutes from the time of the last heard BEEP, to tell me it’s time to go and stand on a chair under one of the six smoke detectors in the house. I will keep standing on that chair under the smoke detector for the next five minutes, until it does either of two things: 1. It beeps right in my ear; or 2. It is silent while somewhere else in the house, one of those other smoke detectors goes BEEP. If it’s 2., I can cross smoke detector number one off my list. Then go back to my computer and reprogram the calendar to remind me to check the next smoke detector in 55 minutes. Repeat every hour until I succeed in identifying the culprit, (which, according to some deep cosmic principle, will turn out to be the sixth of the six detectors I check).
Method Two (Same as Method One but with Procrastination): Ignore the hourly beeping. At some point --just about the maximum irritability point of this idiocy-- the “low battery” beeping will ramp up to a BEEP once every ten minutes. That speeds up the check-them-one-at-a-time process considerably. Of course, it means I’ll be semi-awakened multiple times in the middle of the night. And the “low battery” culprit will still turn out to be the sixth one I check after all those ten-minute intervals.
Method Three. When the hourly beeping has annoyed me to the point that I can no longer stick to a patient, one-at-a-time game plan, I can go around the house with a stepladder and take them ALL down. Some of the newer ones have a “test” button to push to reveal whether that is the one with the low battery. Others have two blinking indicators, red and green, and if one of them has stopped blinking…or maybe if one of the lights has gone out, that tells you it’s the one with the low battery. It may be necessary to use Google to look up the brand and model number and find the instructions for reading the red-light/green-light signals. Anyway, by the time I’ve taken them all down and lined them up on the desk and started Googling the brand names, one of them will probably beep right in my ear, outing itself as the culprit.
There is, I have now discovered, a fourth solution – but it’s expensive. If I follow this course of action, I won’t be bothered with this problem for another ten years! Get rid of every damned one of those things and replace them all with new smoke detectors with ten-year batteries. Here is an example of a brand that offers this feature: "First Alert PC910 Photoelectric Battery-Operated CombinationCarbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarm 10 Year "Newest Modal"
What I would really like most, however, is a fifth solution, but it may not exist: This would be a talking smoke detector that tells me where it is when the battery is low. I thought someone already made this, and assumed I could find it by Googling for “smoke detector that tells its location.” But here’s what turns up in response to that search – a smoke detector (First Alert SCO501CN-3ST with Voice Location) that tells you its location only when it detects fire or smoke. The Amazon product description puts it this way: Exclusive Voice Warning with Location will tell you the preprogrammed location of the initiating unit and danger detected. Programmable up to 11 locations (ex. “basement”). When alarms sounds, it will say “Warning, evacuate, smoke in basement” And what about the “low battery” warning? Here’s what you get: End of life alarm signals when it's time to replace the alarm. In other words, a %*&@! BEEP. Once you’ve already put a prerecorded voice announcement in the thing, how hard could it be to have it say “Basement” instead of BEEP when the battery is low? They’ve made Talking Barbies and other smart toys that do far more than that!
If I were the type to pursue a patent, this is what I would be working on right now. If anyone out there wants to run with this idea, it’s all yours – I won’t claim any part of it. All I ask is that you send me an email when this much needed product is on the market. I will run right out and buy four of them, giving up a future of standing on chairs. But for now, I stand patiently and wait for the BEEP.
Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.