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Change This – Check That…Daylight Saving Time

As we are coming up on that dreaded Sunday when we make the switch to Daylight Savings Time and “Spring Forward” as they say here in the US, or more importantly lose an hours sleep as I see it, I was reminded of this little fiasco that went on in our house just about this time last year.

I thought I’d go ahead and share this tale as a timely reminder to all as you change your clocks this weekend, to make sure you check the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms.

At around 7.30 last Sunday morning, a state of unbridled panic occurred in the Evans household!

A very loud and persistent, “electronic chirping” sound could be heard coming from the kitchen. I jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes and raced downstairs, with the wife in hot pursuit. I was expecting to find smoke and flames rising up from the cooker, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case, although it did turn out to be the smoke alarm.

We stood side by side, looking up at the ceiling, our hands pressed over our ears. “Must be the battery, that’ll be why it’s making that bleeping sound, it must be on its way out”. “Well that noise is unbearable, can’t you make it stop?” she asked. Oh sure, I’ll just whip the battery out, say’s I that’ll put a stop to it!

A flurry of activity located the step ladder, my infamous “tool box” and finally, that most elusive of household objects, (especially when you really need one) a torch (or what I’ve come to learn is referred to in America as a flashlight).

Unfortunately the only spare batteries we had to hand were the usual double A’s and triple A’s, so it was over to Ace Hardware for some 9 Volt batteries.

It might be a good idea to change the batteries in all your smoke alarms, the helpful man in Ace Hardware says, “How many alarms have you got?” I mentally count them and announce with full authority that we have a total of three, one on each floor of the house.

So, armed with fresh batteries in hand, I stepped up (pun intended) to my manly duties ready to tackle the task and claim my rightful dues as the “man of the house”. I climbed the ladder, deftly whipped out the battery compartment replacing the offending dead battery with what I at least perceived to be lightning speed.

I then proceeded to replace all the batteries – one upstairs on the landing, one in the basement level and finally the one just outside the kitchen.

As my foot stepped down from the last step of the ladder to the carpeted floor, it was off again, chirping, seemingly, louder than ever – every thirty seconds with relentless monotony!

What the …? I asked Lilian, “How am I supposed to stop it from bleeping? I don’t know what to do next. This is crazy. How can it possibly still be bleeping with a brand new battery in the thing?”

“You MUST have confused the batteries” she says (with much more conviction than I felt was necessary). “No, the old one is a Duracell and the new one is an Energizer, here’s the Duracell right here in my hand”

“Well I don’t know what could be wrong with it. Maybe you should phone the Fire Department, surely they’ll know what to do”.

Next, I did something that I’ve noticed is a totally alien concept to my grandchildren. I went to grab the phone directory, you know, the huge, thick, yellow paper type that men like Arnold Schwarzenegger used to tear in half to prove their strength.

I was grateful at least that none of my grandchildren were there to witness this instinctive retreat into “historical times” as I thumbed through the pages (and yes, I was, singing the alphabet song in my head) to find the phone number for the local fire department.

The grand-kids would’ve probably have whipped out their iPhones, dialed the number. had the conversation and headed back to Ace hardware, all while I was still trying to remember where the heck we even keep the phone book these days, but I digress.

“Hello, Station #5, how can I help you?” says a friendly voice at the other end of the line.
“I wonder if you can help me, there seems to be a problem with my smoke alarm, I think the batteries are gone but I can’t stop it bleeping”.
“Where are you calling from sir?”
“Williamsburg”
“Just hold on a moment, this is Toano Fire Department, let me give you the Williamsburg number”.
So I make the call to Station 3 in Williamsburg…

“Hello, Station #3, can I help you?”
“I’ve got a problem with my smoke alarm, it won’t stop bleeping”.
“How old is it sir?”
“I’ve no idea”
“More than five years?”
“Oh probably more like ten, I think”
“Well that’s most likely your problem; those units really need to be changed every five to ten years, but if it’s older or you’re not sure how old it is, I’d replace the whole unit if I were you. Either that or your battery needs changing. Have you tried that already?
“Yes, I’ve just put a new one in there, but it still keeps bleeping”
“Well if you’re not sure how old the unit is, you’ve changed the batteries and you’re having issues I’d recommend replacing the unit sir”
“OK, thanks so much for your help”.

After another perilous trip up the step ladder for a closer inspection, I determined that the unit was also hardwired, which really didn’t make sense to me as there was power going to the unit. Never fear though, as always when a man is in the midst of a “home improvement project” there always seems to be a woman right there ready to point out the painfully obvious to you – “Maybe you should just switch the power off” offered Lilian and for a brief moment that actually seemed to make sense to me.

Amazing really, because duh, aren’t the batteries there to back up the smoke alarm if there is a power failure? But for some reason, at the time I thought it was worth a try to simply switch off the power and lo and behold it worked!

So it’s back off to Ace Hardware again, where I’m now asking the man if he knows of an electrician that can wire up some new smoke alarms. “You don’t need an electrician”, he says, “You can do it yourself, it’s quite easy. All you need to do is to switch off the Power at the mains, snip the three wires and unscrew the old smoke alarm from the ceiling, and replace with the new unit, it’s as simple as that”.

Now Lilian and I have been married for 54+ years, she has shown tremendous faith in me throughout those years, backed me to the hilt on pretty much everything, but just about never, in the area of me and electricity or plumbing. So she pipes up “Ohhhh NO, I don’t think THAT’s a good idea, I’d rather we get a PROPER electrician in to do it”.

Recognizing a potentially inflammatory situation, “What about one of these” Ace-man says, “This type is wireless, just works on a battery”?

“Oh, that’s good” Lilian says, “we’ll definitely take one of those; in fact we’ll take three and replace them all, just to be on the safe side”.

“You’ll still have to cut the wires that are going into the old smoke alarm” Ace-man said, “Otherwise it won’t come away from the ceiling. Just make sure you switch off the power first and cap off the old wires properly”.

So, I race back to the house, fly up (well in my mind, I flew up, in reality it may have been a little slower, but I am 78) the step ladder and remove the old smoke alarm, in mere minutes, just like the Ace-man said. Now we’re getting somewhere at last!

“Oh, the silence” Lilian says, “that’s wonderful, why didn’t you think of that before?”

It didn’t take long to snip the old wires, twist the little plastic plugs on to the ends to make them safe, tuck them back into the ceiling, and screw the new smoke alarms into place. I had all three done inside fifteen minutes flat. Pah, I thought who needs an electrician?

“Now let’s get the power switched on, I’m dying for a nice hot cup of tea” says Lilian.

I strode into the utility room massively impressed with my brief but highly successful foray into the realm of handyman and nonchalantly flipped the trip switch, closed the electrical box and walked back into the house, head held high, chest puffed out at my obvious home improvement prowess.

As I closed the patio door – Chirp!!!

I couldn’t believe my ears. It started bleeping again, exactly thirty seconds after flicking the power switch. I know this sounds a little silly, but I had this sudden urge to grab the hammer, climb back up the ladder, yank that smoke alarm from the ceiling and smash it into a million microscopic pieces.

Fortunately, I didn’t get quite that far, because just at that moment, the front door swung open and in walked our daughter Debbie. She’d come to take us up to our local favorite Five Forks Cafe for breakfast.

I explained the entire episode, step by step, and when I was done, she asked “Why don’t you just pull it from the wall-socket, that’s the only way you’re going to stop it from bleeping”

“Pull what from what wall – socket?”

“That… the Carbon-Monoxide Detector” she said pointing down at the baseboard immediately beneath the smoke detector, “That’s what’s making the bleeping noise!”

So, when you change your clocks for Daylight Saving Time on Sunday March 11, 2012, let this tale be a reminder to avoid your own version of my handyman drama and take a moment to check the batteries in your smoke alarms and your carbon monoxide alarms too!

I’m curious though, am I the only on with daft handyman or smoke alarm stories? Share yours in a comment I’d love to hear them…

All the best,
Ray stylized sig

About Ray Evans

Ray is author of Before The Last All Clear - a memoir of his experiences as a child of six evacuated under the British Government's "Operation Pied Piper" in World War II. Although He attributes his experiences as an evacuee, to imbuing him with a tenacity that served him well as an adult. Ray later went on to become a successful business owner. Having just turned 80, he's 'retired' now, he lives in Virginia, USA but stays busy blogging at RayEvansAuthor.com.

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