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Tom Wrigglesworth - a novel way of fixing a broken smoke alarm

PUBLISHED: 10:09 10 February 2017 | UPDATED: 10:09 10 February 2017

Tom Wrigglesworth

Tom Wrigglesworth

Archant

Tom's dad's bird-brained idea for dealing with a noisy problem sets alarm bells ringing

Valentine’s Day is upon us, maybe you’re reading this hot off the press, in which case the 24 hours of forced romantic gesture is just around the corner, or your thumbing through this magazine in a doctor’s waiting room, in which case the helium has probably long since seeped out of the inflatable hearts. Either way, being a natural contrarian, it’s the one day of the year I actively discourage uttering the three little words and have threatened divorce if I found out that any of the household spending money has been frittered on cuddly toys. Instead, February 14th is a day we put aside for having a quiet night in with minimal romantic interruption.

What I hadn’t realised is how much of a contrarian my Dad is. I always knew he was unorthodox but his recent response to a small house-keeping task was off the scale in terms of anything resembling sanity. I suppose it all started ten years ago, when they moved into their new house. A proper new house that had just been built and was therefore kitted out with all modern safety features, conforming to every building regulation ever published. This included a set of smoke and fire detectors that pepper all the ceilings as if there’d been a pogo stick incident in the room above.

I think I remember when smoke alarms became mainstream, they were retrofitted into everyone’s home, turning everyone into startlingly heavy users of square 9 volt batteries and woe betide anyone who liked their toast any darker than very light brown because these over sensitive screaming machines quickly put a stop to that. I think Bob Monkhouse used one as a kitchen timer.

However, smoke alarms have moved on, and the modern versions are hard-wired together, into the fuse board which means all the sirens will fire at once. This means gone are the days of having to choose whether the last remaining 9v battery gives us an early warning to a house fire, or lets little Johnny play with his remote controlled car. That’s definitely a sign of progress.

But it’s not that simple, because these modern hard-wired alarms do actually contain a battery, which acts as a back up should the power fail. Sensible, right? Although it’s not totally fit and forget because these back up batteries have a life span of about ten years, whether they’ve seen active service in the case of a power cut or not. So, after ten years, the smoke alarms emit a piercing double beep every 90 seconds or so, to tell the homeowner, ‘my battery back up system is too old to guarantee reliability, please change the whole smoke alarm’. And this was the small house-keeping job that my Dad faced, changing the constantly beeping smoke alarm.

The problem was the smoke alarm suffering from low battery warning is positioned high up in the apex of a vaulted ceiling, making it extremely tricky to reach with any combination of tip-toe, tall person to help, milk crate or step ladder. Consequently, my Dad’s house is filled with a painful blast of a double beep every 90 seconds, and had been for the two weeks leading up to his solution.

I would have thought most people would have simply got their hands on the right equipment to get up high enough and change the alarm, I can imagine a small percentage of people switching the alarms off at the fuse box, which can’t be recommended, and might not actually stop the beeping. I can even imagine someone taking a long broom and smashing the thing off the ceiling, but I could never have imagined my Dad’s idea to fix the problem, although the fact that this incessant beeping is enough to make anyone go insane might be a factor.

My Dad’s answer to the problem was to buy two house finches that make a similar noise to the smoke alarm and keep them in the room most affected. The net result is the once annoying sound of the smoke requesting replacement is now drowned out by the near constant chirping of his two new avian friends. Unbelievable.

When he asked me what I was planning on doing this Valentine’s Day (out of curiosity I presume, rather than gearing up to make an offer), I told him that as usual we will be having a quiet night in. My Dad looked at me as if such a thing was to him, a long lost memory.

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