Needed: Smoke Detector Innovation

In this age of innovation and advanced digital communication, why haven’t smoke detectors become easier to place and maintain — especially those monitors in the homes of seniors. After all, as seniors age, the potential for falls increases and smoke detectors are always installed way up high on their home ceiling.

smoke detector

Our Newest Device

Adequate smoke detecting devices are important tools when it comes to saving lives if a fire should occur in a home. However, some entrepreneur needs to combine knowledge of physics, creativity, and cutting edge digital technology to develop a better device.

A week or so ago in mid-May, a smoke detector went off in the upstairs hall at 1:47 in the morning. We felt no heat anywhere around the device and there was no smoke or fire anywhere else in the house. The battery was not past its replacement date. After we took out the battery (to purchase when stores opened the next day) it took hours to go back to sleep.

I used to be surprised when I’d visit someone’s home and observe a smoke detector’s lid hanging open with the battery removed. Sometimes, if I was caught glancing upward, my friend would explain that the smoke detector kept going off for one reason or another — false alarms.

For years, I could not understand their dilemmas, because at my house we’d spent considerable energy replacing batteries and occasionally relocating devices when false alarms occurred. Once we even had an electrician check the wiring in the ceiling where the false alarms occurred to see if there was any heat from faulty wiring. We always tried to note the battery install day on the device, and more recently on our smartphone calendars. Still, false alarms continued to be challenging, especially in the middle of the night.

Several of the rooms in my house have ceilings that are more than 10 feet high. This means that the smoke detector maintenance requires a ladder for battery replacement. Also, despite our regular attention to batteries, it’s almost inevitable, that the battery in one detector or another decides to chirp or wear out with a hideous screeching noise blast away in the middle of this night. And that’s scary.

We have tried all sorts of strategies to avoid these frightening, middle-of-the-night interruptions. We’ve changed the batteries a few days before one year has passed. But there is always one battery that doesn’t last even for that shortened time. If we are lucky, the device starts chirping during the day, and we replace the battery before it goes haywire. But sometimes the chirping starts at night, when we are deeply asleep, and then goes off, screeching in the middle of the night. That’s the way a smoke detector would warn us about a fire except there is no fire, it’s the middle of the night. This only occurs a few times a year but it is frustrating.

At the battery store, one of those places where you can purchase power cells for any size device — from tiny watches to trucks — one of the salespeople suggested that we buy batteries that are good for five years, which we did, duly writing down dates in the appropriate places. Well, some lasted five years but others did not, so it was back to a few of those middle-of-the-night wake-up calls. We had been told that we could return them to the store, but that was not much consolation for the scary way we were awakened.

What is frustrating here is that as people age they will need effective smoke detecting devices that are user and location friendly and efficient, and if possible, devices that do not need to be placed in such unreachable locations.

Suggesting that aging adults pay for a handyman to come and climb the ladder does not seem like the best solution for the long term, because most people won’t pay.

I understand the physics of placing the detectors on ceilings, but innovation is needed, especially given the fact that so many seniors are aging and will need to maintain dependable devices in their homes


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