An open letter to whoever built our smoke detectors

Dear smoke alarm company:

Two years ago I wrote what could have been considered an open letter regarding your product line. In the months since I have seen no improvement, only regression. Here is another letter because I hate you.

We recently had guests visit our home, guests who included two boys, 2 and 5 years old. As they slept—as we all slept—at around 3 a.m. I was greeted with the all-too-familiar sound of “Beep … … … … … … beep … … … … … … beep.”

The Arizona weather had dipped below freezing, which is to say it had plummeted to an overnight low of 60 degrees, making it an absurd 73 degrees inside our home. As such, the extreme cold had drained the battery on one of our smoke alarms—one of your smoke alarms.

I jumped out of bed in a panic and ran to the hallway to try and determine from which of our 28 smoke detectors the beep was coming. Luckily for me, the beep was not coming from the room where our guests’ boys were sleeping. (Lucky for you, too, because if it had been I would be filing a lawsuit instead writing this pleasant letter.) Instead it was coming from the room where my own girls slept.

I retrieved the ladder from the garage because that is a fun thing to do at 3 a.m. and I lugged it upstairs. My efforts to quietly enter my girls’ room were rendered moot when I saw both of them sitting up and quaking back and forth in fear saying, “What is that noise daddy, IS IT A MONSTER?”

I assured my girls it was only the faint beep of one of your terribly inefficient products and I climbed the ladder to change the battery. The old battery slid out of its holder and hit me on the head to add injury to insult, although it did lighten the mood of my daughters. As usual, the alarm continued to beep for about 5-10 minutes even after the new battery was installed because you have somehow managed to manufacture a line of products that must adjust to the reality of a new battery rather than be positively affected right away. One of my daughters’ dinky, plastic, talking toys is more adaptable than your product, which is supposed to be life-saving.

Oh, and guess who was now wide awake and ready to play? I tried calling a representative of your company to come to the house and watch our girls while my wife and I slept, but nobody answered. Maybe the batteries on your phones died.

A week later, as my wife was leaving the house, a different smoke detector above where our dog stays during the day starting beeping. Because this noise scares the crap out of our dog, my wife had to move him upstairs for the day so that all of his hair didn’t fall out and he didn’t experience post traumatic stress syndrome and have to see one of those dog therapists. Before leaving, my wife had to put the heat on in an attempt to silence the beep, as this is a strategy that has worked in the past. Congratulations on your contributions to energy-efficiency.

That evening I changed the battery on that smoke detector, and when I did it sent a shockwave of extremely loud and dramatic beeps throughout the house that sent the dog and children running for the exits. I imagine this is the sound the alarms are intended to make when activated by actual smoke, but I agree that it's equally important they make the same noise when a battery is changed. All of this makes sense and is convenient.

I now sit in anticipation of the winter months, and one-by-one each smoke detector emitting a faint but maddeningly consistent beep in the wee hours of the night. As I wait, I urge you to look into designing a product that does not rely on a battery that drains when exposed to temperatures considered ideal in most locales. I am also submitting bills for reimbursement for batteries, our heating, and dog therapy. You’ll know it’s from me because I will include the note, “Beep, beep mother beeeeeeeeeeeep.”


Note: This column appears in the 12/12 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/13 issue of the Peoria Times.