Smoke & Fire Alarms

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi - please share any advice or tips if you've had a sprinkler system installed (indoors) in your home due to renovations being >50%. Fire Department just reviewed and returned our plans requiring this and would love to hear from anyone who's gone through it! TIA.

    This remains a sore point for our completed renovation. We installed the sprinklers, of course, because we had no choice. No only was it expensive, it got in the way of some of our building goals. For instance, we have a movie room setup in our garage where they put the riser and other equipment. You wouldn't believe the random sounds it makes. This is not what we wanted while watching a movie.

    I don't know about you, but we were required to apply for and construct a separate water line to the house from the street's water main. More permit$, delay$, digging up the $treet and $idewalk, not easy or fun. At the end, you get two separate water bills from now to forever, even if no water runs through sprinklers.

    Then there were the false alarms. Due to a radio malfunction by the monitoring company, the alarm went off non-stop for two days! This affected all their houses in their network, so the technicians couldn't help everyone fast enough, and the piercing sounds could be heard by neighbors, who were already angry about the renovation. There was nothing I could do about it, least of all sleep. I don't who cried harder, me or my baby.

    For all this, you get the honor of paying the monitoring company cartel a monthly fee twice as much as we pay for high speed internet. Frankly it's criminal. They require you to plant (and pay for) an expensive bomb in your own house and demand payment to keep it on. If you cut wires or try to disable it in any way, the fire department will automatically be dispatched at a fee to you. A great business model for the fire department, a nightmare for homeowners "lucky" enough to do an extensive remodel.

    If you can avoid installing a sprinkler system that would save you in your project costs and long-term maintenance.  We reduced our project renovation to 49 percent to avoid this requirement since we have a fire hydrant 40 ft from the house and avoid future maintenance issues.

    I want to echo the previous responses on fire sprinklers. We were unlucky enough to submit our building permit plans during a month that Berkeley started requiring sprinklers a few years ago.

    We were forced to put them in a small ADU - it cost us $5000 for the sprinklers and thousands more to re-route our water line. We aren't against making things more fire safe but after some research learned that fire sprinklers don't often save lives (in a small building, people hear alarms and leave) but they can be helpful in not having the fire spread to other buildings - that is, they can help with property damage. Our building was far from other structures and basically 2 rooms, so we appealed to the Fire Marshall to exempt us. It was denied ("no exceptions!") and we ended up putting the system in. Then about 6 months later, the city decided it would no longer require sprinklers for the type of project we were doing.

    The sprinklers have never gone off and we hope they never will, but we worry about it.  We do get a small discount on our homeowners insurance since we have a system. 

  • False smoke alarms — help!

    Feb 15, 2021

    Has anyone dealt with ongoing nuisance/false smoke alarms? We live in an old Berkeley stucco split-level, and the alarms in the two back/upstairs bedrooms have been going off at random for weeks. There’s no pattern — sometimes they go off in the middle of the day when all the curtains have been open for hours; sometimes (more often) they go off in the middle of the night. They beep 1-5 times and then stop. It’s maddening, and wakes everybody up. So far we’ve tried moving the units further from the heat vents, replacing a unit, turning the heat down, turning the heat up, leaving a window open, running a dehumidifier. Nothing seems to work. If anyone has thoughts I’d really appreciate it! They’re photoelectric detectors.

    Hi, since it’s heating season and many smoke alarms these days also detect carbon monoxide, I wonder if maybe they are detecting CO and you don’t know it? Just a few years ago people died here in Berkeley from CO poisoning from their heater. Please make sure that’s not the case here. If they are truly only smoke detectors and they are going off at random, I would get new ones of a different type and/or call the manufacturer.

    This happened to me and the problem was dust.  I took the alarms down and apart and dusted thoroughly, and it stopped!  Good luck.

    We have this problem.  It happens when the alarms reach the end of their useful life of ten years (but for certain brands can happen earlier, typically starting around year 8).  The most effective and safest way of dealing with this problem is to replace the alarm.  Note that if your alarms are hardwired or communicate with each other and if you cannot find the identical make and model —and there have been significant changes to alarm availability since some companies were acquired by competitors— you will have to replace ALL hardwired alarms with the same new model.  Until you can do that task it helps to minimize dust in the air and you may want to vacuum the alarms.  

    This may be too simple and you've already tried it, but have you changed the battery? Smoke detectors are sensitive to electrical surges, so a low battery (or fluctuating power for a hard wired device) can cause this.

    same issue here.  our next try after replacing ALL of them is to vacuum them for dust.  fyi~ ours are hardwired in.  the worst is when it happens after midnight.  gah...

    I would recommend replacing both units, because if they are interconnected one might trigger the other. Hope this helps, it must be frustrating having them go off in the middle of the night. All the best!

    I have, its horrible!   After years of dealing with false very loud alarms on my hardwired smoke detectors, plus a good chunk of money spent with electrician to replace all alarms just to have it keep happening, I finally switched to smart alarms (google nest).  I installed them myself and can control everything from my phone.  Its been a few months and no false alarms...hoping this is finally the solution.

    How frustrating indeed! Smoke alarms have a limited life span of approximately ten years. If the alarms in your home are older than that, they should be replaced, both to stop the nuisance and for safety. Note that current building codes call for combined CO2 / Fire detection. Units are readily available at any home supply store. While you're at it, splurge for the ten year lithium batteries and the units should be maintenance-free for another ten years.

    Ugh, we've been having the exact same issue at our place. I've been monitoring your post in hopes of a rational explanation for this frustrating occurrence! 

    I've done some research for similar issues, and first question would be to see if they are hard wired. If so, maybe the electricity has fluctuations and causes the beeping. If that might be the case, I'd just ditch them and get battery powered units. Other options are the alarms are old and are malfunctioning and need to be replaced, or there could be dust or other gases/particulates. If that might be the case, maybe an air filter would help!

  • Does anyone have experience in getting schools to turn down the volume of their dangerously loud fire alarms?  I am looking for advice, literature, personal experience or professional expertise... anything that can help me motivate the school to turn down the alarm volume.  I don't want to have to turn this into a legal battle, I just want the alarms turned down.

    Background: My teen has chronic tinnitus (24 hour a day non-stop ringing in his ears caused by exposure to an explosion).   His tinnitus is exacerbated by loud noise which can also potentially cause more permanent damage to his hearing and permanently louder ringing.   The school tested the sound levels and subsequently admitted to me that the noise level is 35-45 db higher than required by law, but they have not turned them down.  Fire alarms continue to go off at the school for no reason (4x so far in two months which were not planned drills and not in response to fire or smoke) and my child comes home distraught with more intense ringing in his ears.  I resent having to send my child to a school where he is exposed to dangerous conditions.

    Any advice is appreciated.

    Easier solutions to simple problem. Please keep noise-cutting headphones inside his desk at all times. There are announcements before there’s a fire drill conducted in schools and staff has prior information. Inform them of your son’s requirement and am sure they’ll have him with his headphones before the alarm sets off. There are serious downsides to low volume fire alarms as there are kids with hearing problems also. These drills are in place for real emergencies, that can realistically occur anytime. 

    How about equipping him with earplugs or noise canceling headset for these occasions?  They would have to be kept handy to grab, which might take some planning or practice, but with tinnitus it seems helpful to carry earplugs in a pocket. I recommend “sleep leight” for comfort, searchable on amazon. You can still stay in conversation with the school; possibly the parent board could pursue the matter; and your child is protected in the meantime.

    I don't really know anything about fire alarms. But I have a couple of ideas to get things moving. One is to find out about the alarm and how to turn it down. It may simply be that no one has taken the time to read the manual. The other is to figure out who has the power to turn it down. It may be that you are talking to the principal when a side conversation with a maintenance person may be more productive. The third thing is to find other concerned parents. If there is a whole group of you putting it the pressure on, it may help. Good luck!