Beware faulty smoke detectors
Fitting a smoke alarm is a must. But what happens when it bleeps constantly?
"I know this sounds odd," writes MSN Money user Caroline, "but my mains-connected smoke detector just beeps all the time and keeps waking me up. Shall I return it?"
Well it might sound odd to some people, Caroline, but not to me. I have had exactly the same problem and it drove me crazy for months. It's also potentially serious if ignored.
The smoke alarms in question are sealed units with built-in batteries. In some cases they are mains-connected and like mine, might be plugged into a light fitting with a bulb fitting included.
Mine went up about four years ago and was fine. It made complete sense to get a mains-connected detector and I thought it would be foolproof. It was in a room that is not used very much and so when it began to beep - about once every three months or so - I would just switch the light on for about an hour to recharge it.
A couple of months ago, it just wouldn't stop beeping unless the light was left on continuously and so I removed it and now have another ordinary, battery-operated detector instead.
But Caroline and I are not alone. And there is a very serious side to all this, as I have just discovered.
Earlier this year, fire brigades in several parts of Britain issued warnings to homeowners about potentially faulty mains smoke detectors, which they say are putting lives at risk.
Many of the detectors were actually installed in homes by fire prevention officers as part of fire safety campaigning. A company called Dicon is one of the main manufacturers of this type of alarm.
They are sealed units with built-in batteries and are supposed to last a decade. The incessant beeping has become a widespread problem, pointing to potential faults with alarms that are just a few years old and the worry that people - like me - will get fed up and take them down.
Greater Manchester fire service reported calls from 200 people a month complaining about the devices earlier this year, while Lancashire fire service was receiving 500 calls a month. Merseyside and Dorset fire services have also received similar calls.
Dicon has launched its own investigation, but has no plans to issue a product recall. A company spokesman declined to say how many of its detectors had been fitted in the UK.
The company says it will replace unsatisfactory devices if the customer can provide a receipt (just don't try posting the alarm back to them as it might just be destroyed by Royal Mail as a suspect package if it bleeps en route).
There is a lighter note to end of my beeping alarm story... and that involves getting rid of the dreaded thing. When I took it down, it went totally quiet for a couple of days and then went off in the middle of the night (why do they always go off in the middle of the night and never during the day?). It seems the built-in battery limps on longer than expected. The next morning I decided it had to go. I didn't want it going off in my wheelie bin so I decided to douse it in water. It didn't like this and beeped throughout as if it had a life of its own. Terrifying.
But if you think my 'drowning' tactic was unusual, I heard from Daniel on Twitter who said he smashed his up (with some difficulty). And one of my colleagues who heard me mentioning this in office confessed: "I had exactly the same problem. In the end I took it out and buried it in the local park one evening."
Comedy disposal aside, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to replace any smoke alarm you get rid of and to check batteries regularly (read the manual on how to test - usually there is a light to show it has power or you press a button).
Last year the government launched a campaign urging householders to ensure they had a smoke alarm. The advert warns that "two to three breaths of toxic smoke will affect your ability to breathe, a sensation similar to drowning". Government studies show the reason that almost half of all smoke alarms fail is missing or flat batteries but you are twice as likely to die in a fire if there is no working smoke alarm.
Advice on choosing and maintain a smoke alarm from Direct.gov.
Have your say... have you had problems with your alarm? Share your comments below... I'd love to hear from you.
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