Why are smoke detectors placed so high and out of reach?

It just occurred to me that we all hate the accidental beeping of a smoke detector or getting up on a ladder (usually chair) to change the batteries on those things. But unlike lights which have a purpose for being high up, a smoke detector doesn’t. Why not keep those things at shoulder level where anyone can get to it? If smoke rises anyways, then you don’t want the house to be filled with smoke until the thing beeps, you want to be warned early on when the couch is on fire. With today’s technology, I’m sure there’s a way to set it so that its not too sensitive so that the occasional steam from a hot shower or burnt toast in the toaster will set it off. Also, I think it would be safer. In our house nobody can get to it except with a chair. If it were at shoulder level, I might actually occasionally change the batteries. Right now I have no idea if the batteries still work in the thing and I’m too lazy to check. It wouldn’t be too much trouble if I could actually reach it

Out of reach? I have no idea what you mean.

Coincidentally, just read this article:

You answer in the op. Smoke rises. If there is smoke it will first layer along the highest point. By the time the layers reach shoulder level it is quite smoke filled.

I’m no expert, but it seems likely that they may detect smoke better when they are higher up. In emergency preparedness class we were always taught that when escaping a burning building keep low to the floor to avoid the smoke. Maybe by being higher they will detect smoke earlier.

ETA: what Dseid said.

This is exactly why they are up high, though. Most folks don’t have smoke detectors in every room. If you have a fire in one room (like your couch in on fire) and the smoke detector is in the hallway, the rising smoke will move along the ceiling and will set off the smoke detector fairly quickly. If you have to wait for the smoke in the hallway to get down to shoulder level, then the room where the couch is may be pretty well completely filled with smoke and much of the room will be on fire. You really want these things to trigger as quickly as possible.

I live in a rancher style house, so no vaulted ceilings or anything like that. All of my smoke detectors are up high, well above shoulder height, but are easily within reach so that even a short guy like myself can reach up and pull them down to change the battery.

A working smoke detector at just over your head height is much better than a non-working smoke detector up on the ceiling that you need a ladder to get to. Breaking out the ladder and changing the up-high batteries is even better, though.

My current apartment has ceilings tall enough (10 foot?) that I can’t just reach up to hit the “silence” button. I’ve either got to jump (and manage to hit a recessed button) or get something to stand on.

True to your name eh? Getting a chair or a stepstool … even a ladder … too much work?
Really what is the world coming to that pulling a chair over is considered onerous?

Optical detectors can be set off by any old smoke, and maybe steam, but most devices are detecting combustion products and shouldn’t be set off by steam, or a little bit of smoke from scorched toast. Shoulder level is a little low, but they can be placed on the wall high enough to reach without standing on something.

Not too much work, but it adds to the frantic “OH GOD DINNER IS BURNING” funtime. My kitchen has no fume hood, and will set off the fire detector that’s in a shared back stairwell. Next time, of course, I’ll grab the stepladder on the way to silencing the alarm.

As noted, this is the false premise in your question.

#6 - Silence button? All I’ve ever seen is a test button.

Most of the “wired to the house wiring” ones have a silence button on them now, often one that will silence the whole system.

I’m inherently clumsy, so I use a stepladder to replace batteries. But in the few times I’ve seen someone else do it, they always use a chair. Falls rate much higher on the “accidental death for adults” charts than fires do. Most people have several smoke detectors, but will never be in a fire.

So…I wonder if more people die in accidental falls replacing batteries in smoke detectors than the detectors save in fires? Probably not, but I think it’s an interesting question.

My favorite “unable to reach the smoke detector” story is from several years ago, when I broke my foot. I was on crutches, but terrible with them, and pretty much housebound.

One day I decided to make myself a frozen pizza. But as sometimes happens in my house, once the oven heated up, the smoke detector went off. There was absolutely nothing I could do. With my foot in a cast, I couldn’t climb up on a chair or anything else that would allow me to reach the smoke detector. Meanwhile, the alarm got louder, and louder, and louder until I couldn’t stand it anymore and I felt like my ears were bleeding. I ended up somehow propelling myself down the stairs to the first floor of my building where the outside door is. But once I got out, there was still a huge and very steep flight down to the ground, and I didn’t know what I would do once I got there (or how I would ever get back up). As I stood there in tears wondering what to do, a woman walked by on the sidewalk below. She saw that I was in obvious distress, and asked if she could help. Through my tears I explained the situation to her, and asked if there was any way she could go up to my apartment, grab the stepstool from the kitchen, and remove the battery from my smoke alarm. She agreed to do it. I was so flustered that when she came back down after pulling the battery, I just thanked her and she went on her way. It was only afterward that I realized that 1) I had no idea who she was 2) I just let a complete stranger into my apartment and 3) I would have liked to given her a better thank you. So, anonymous lady in San Francisco who once removed a battery from a smoke detector for a hysterical woman on crutches, THANK YOU! I will do my best to pay it forward.

BTW, this is why you see reminders to check and change smoke detector batteries at the same time that you have to reset your clocks for the beginning or end of Daylight Saving Time.

Mine is battery powered, and has a silence button. What it does is turns off the constant alarm, but it continues to beep every 15 seconds while it detects smoke. So it doesn’t make the room uninhabitable with noise, but doesn’t stop doing its job just because a human thinks there’s no real danger.

Anyone know if it’s illegal to tinker with smoke and CO alarms? I’m thinking the next time I install one, I could jigger it with a couple of lengths of wire so the detector is on the cieling, but the battery and buttons could be accessible on the wall.

I don’t know of it being illegal in your own home, but if you have tenants or in a commercial establishment it may be based on local law. I know of a restaurant that would cover a detector with plastic wrap most of the time to prevent one going off. Fire dept. caught it once in an inspection, pretty hefty fine, don’t know if it was a criminal act though.

Nest Labs (the people with that fancy electronic thermostat) also sell a smoke detector that’s also WiFi enabled. Supposedly it’s designed that if it goes off due to burnt toast or some other false alarm, you can wave your arm at it to turn off. I don’t know how well that works. And the device costs $129, considerably more than a generic one. Plus the company is in the process of being bought by Google, so you may or may not have concerns about that.

I like the writer’s description of celebrating Chronnuka:


My smoke detector has a silence button (silences it for ten minutes) So jumping up? Standing on a chair? Why, when we tool using animals can poke them with a stick?

Sicks Ate mentioned that in post #2.

Or you could train a monkey to use a stick for more fun. :slight_smile: