Why Your Smoke Alarm Is Chirping (and How to Fix It!)

published Jan 2, 2023
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Credit: Sarah Crowley

It’s the middle of the night, and you hear an annoying beep every few minutes — you don’t have to get out of bed because you know the cause — it’s the smoke alarm. There’s nothing you can do about it now, so you cover your head with a pillow and will deal with it tomorrow morning. It’s a common house problem, like pests or water leaks, that many homeowners face and need to fix, sooner rather than later. Even though it is annoying, a chirping smoke alarm is a potential safety concern and needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. 

Amy Acton, past board chair of the The National Fire Protection Association and CEO of Phoenix Burn Society For Burn Survivors, says the inconvenience is necessary. “The smoke alarm chirp is designed to help you manage your smoke alarm and assure they are working if a fire occurs. The fact that the chirp often happens in the middle of the night or when least convenient is not part of the design, but it is important to get up and address the chirping,” she says. 

Below, experts weigh in on common reasons why your smoke alarm is chirping (and of course how to fix it!). 

The battery needs to be replaced. 

Sometimes the problem with your smoke alarm isn’t complicated. If the chirp happens pretty regularly, it may indicate a low battery. The battery will keep chirping until it’s replaced. “The chirp indicates that you need to replace your battery. If that does not fix the issue you will likely need to replace the alarm,” Acton says. Before replacing the alarm, double check to see if the batteries are not loose inside the alarm. 

The alarm sensors are blocked. 

Over time the sensors may attract dust and spider webs, which potentially cause chirping. Martin Boonzaayer, CEO of The Trusted Home Buyer, says a smoke alarm will go off at the sight of any particle. To remedy this situation, “You may also try cleaning and vacuuming the alarm to remove any dust and dirt,” Acton says. Other ways to clean the alarm can include spraying compressed air toward the alarm. 

The alarm has improper electrical wiring. 

Wiring issues could also potentially cause chirping. Some smoke alarms aren’t operated by batteries and require wiring. E.W. Bratcher of B & W Fire Security Systems says, “If you have a hard-wired smoke alarm, check the connections to make sure they are tight.” You could also call an electrician if that doesn’t solve the issue. 

The alarm is defective. 

If you’ve replaced the battery, cleaned the alarm, checked the wiring, and the chirping still continues, it is likely time to replace the smoke alarm. According to Acton, “alarms need to be replaced every ten years so check the date on the back of the alarm as it may be at the end of its lifespan.” If you have an older smoke alarm, it is likely time for a replacement. 

The alarm’s location is problematic. 

If your alarm is located where it may trigger the smoke alarm, it is likely a good idea to reconsider the location. For instance, if your smoke alarm is placed near an oven, even the slightest smoke could trigger the alarm or chirp. According to Boonzaayer, areas like bathrooms with high humidity (steam) created by a hot shower may cause chirping or a false alarm.