Smart Smoke Detectors

Forget the smart phone. What I want is a smart smoke detector1. I’m not talking about a Nest device. That’s too smart. The one we have in the hallway turns on a dim light when it detects motion. This foils my attempts to sneak off to the kitchen undetected for a late-night snack.

My smart smoke detector would be like the average smoke detector. If you saw them sitting beside one another at a bar you wouldn’t be able to tell which was the smart one. But my smart smoke detector would do one crucial thing that the average smoke detector can’t seem to do: when the battery runs low, my smart smoke detector would wait until daylight before nervously twitching and chirping about it. After all, you’d think the last think you want to do when power is draining is waste that power on frivolous chirping.

We all know that smoke detectors announce low battery power at night when everyone is asleep. There are good scientific reasons for this. Last night the detector in our bedroom chirped sometime after 1 am. It’s an odd feeling when it happens. I lay there for a moment, and think to myself: Did I just hear the smoke detector chirp? Or did I dream that? I lay perfectly still, thinking that if I don’t move, my smoke detector won’t chirp anymore, but thirty seconds later–CHIRP!–and now there’s nothing to do but get up and rip out the battery.

The makers of smoke detectors might make a product that save lives, but they are sadists at heart. It’s not enough to chirp battery warnings in the middle of the night. When I went to remove the battery so that the entire family could get back to sleep, I discovered that door to the battery slot was held shut by a screw! Now, I had to trudge downstairs to the utility closet and make my best guess at which screwdriver would be the right one to get that screw out. I took the offending device into my office at the opposite end of the house from where everyone had been sleeping peacefully minutes earlier. The screwdriver fit! I unscrewed.

And unscrewed. And unscrewed. In the time it took me to get that screw out, the detector chirped twice, as if to say, “Come on man, what’s taking so long? Don’t you know we’re all trying to sleep around here?” Who puts a screw on a battery case for a device known to chirp when the battery is dying? Who makes that screw 3/4th of an inch long? Sadists, that’s who! After all that effort, it took me another hour before I could finally fall back asleep.

If I can tell my smart phone (so-called) not to disturb me until morning, I should certainly be able to find a smoke detector that can do the same. I’m not asking for much. These are, after all, lifesaving devices, and I recognize that. It’s for this reason that I freely give designers of future smoke detectors the following simple requirement to follow:

Do not disturb me for anything–unless the building is on fire.


  1. Is it a smoke detector or smoke alarm? What is the difference, I wonder?

3 comments

  1. Seriously. Also, there should be a light on the one that’s chirping. I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out which one is chirping. But honestly, if I had a smart smoke detector, it would be smart enough not to go off every time I use the oven!

  2. Mine is chirping now. If it was truly “smart”, it would chirp once and send a reminder to my task manager and order the correct battery size from some online website. It would set the date of the reminder to one hour after the battery arrives. That is smart, automated.

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