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It happened again last night. It was that magical time of night when both my husband and daughter were asleep and I had the whole house to myself. I had just settled down on the couch with a fuzzy blanket and a book when I heard it. Chirp!

I tried to ignore it at first. If I pretend I don’t hear it, perhaps it will go away. Chirp!

This is my me time. It will not be interrupted for minor household maintenance. Chirp! 

The third chirp did it. I could no longer deny what was happening. Somewhere within my home a smoke detector was calling me with the persistence of a cranky toddler. It would not be refused. 

Why, you may ask, is this a problem? Just change the battery. I wish it were that simple. 

Several years ago when we added on to our house, we upgraded to comply with new fire codes. As a result, my home has fifteen hardwired smoke detectors scattered around. Changing the batteries is easy. Identifying the offending appliance is next to impossible. Chirp!

I believe that the manufacturers of smoke alarms get some perverse pleasure from torturing people like me. Let’s be realistic. Technology today surely would allow for some kind of visual clue to accompany the annoying tweet. A blue light would do nicely. Even a flicker of the ever-present red light would suffice. No. Instead I am reduced to racing around my house frantically trying to track down that irritating sound. Chirp!

Last year the chirp haunted me for days. It started much the same way this one did, with the exasperating chime echoing up and down the stairs until it seemed to come from all directions and none at the same time. When racing from detector to detector failed to reveal the culprit, I tried a more systematic approach. I patiently and carefully surveyed each unit, one by one. I stood stock still under each unit in turn staring intently at that crimson beacon until the chirp beckoned—from somewhere else.

The chirp in that instance was strangely muffled, like it was being held prisoner somewhere close, calling for assistance from some unknown location. The attic! Down came the attic stairs, and I climbed up to glare at the detector up there. No dice. I trudged down to the garage to check the detectors in there. Nope.

Exhausted I gave up on identifying the one delinquent unit. I decided to follow the advice of firefighters everywhere. I replaced the batteries in all the units in my home. It was a good feeling—not because I had done the right thing—but simply because that insidious noise would now cease.


That night as I lay in bed, that exasperating bleep persisted. It was soft, so soft, but seemed to be coming from the very wall behind my head. It haunted my dreams. Suddenly, I sat bolt upright in bed. There was one place left where I had not looked! Our master bedroom has a strange little door fitted into the wall. It provides access to the air conditioning unit. The only time we ever open the queer chest-high door is to change the air filters once a year. Could there be a smoke detector in there?

I snapped the light on. Ignoring my husband’s choked outrage at this rude awakening, I climbed on top of my bureau and pried open the little plywood door. I shoved the box of air filters aside and peered into the gloom searching for the telltale red beam. It had to be there. I waited for my eyes to adjust, staring anxiously into the void. Nothing. There was no place left to search. I was doomed to suffer with this maddening tweet forever.

Wearily, I slid off the bureau and bent to retrieve the door front from the carpet where I’d tossed it. As I straightened, I heard it again.


No longer muffled by the door, the bothersome bleep was clearly coming from inside the air conditioner space. Yes!

I vaulted back onto the dresser top and hauled myself into the crawl space. It was in there somewhere and I was going to flush it out. With no regard for the confused mumbling coming from the bed I inched forward balancing on two boards with nothing but insulation between them.

An image flashed in my mind of all those movie scenes where someone crashes through the ceiling and is left halfway between floors with arms stuck above and feet flailing helplessly below. It’s always funny in movies. Somehow I didn’t think it would be equally amusing in real life.

In front of me I saw the silver air conditioning tube winding sinuously around the space like a giant futuristic caterpillar. And reflected in the opposite side of the metallic serpent, there was a tiny red light. Victory!

Last night, my quest ended with slightly less anxiety. I closed the bedroom door, pulled the covers over my head, and waited it out. This morning, a quick trip to CVS and twenty-five dollars for batteries, and the deed was done. All the smoke detector batteries have been changed and I am safe from audio torture for another year.

Now that’s a reason to chirp. 


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