Replace The Smoke Alarm Battery

I don’t have a consistent day job, but somehow stay so busy I’m ready to fall asleep on my feet most of the time.  That’s what makes the insomnia so puzzling.

Much of the demanding physical work is on a volunteer basis, and others benefit as much as I do.  Whether many of them appreciate it is another question.  This morning I received two e-mails from neighbors in my building who understand the demands of sorting recyclables and cutting cardboard before they’re picked up, and a few other people have said nice things, too.

Yesterday, I decided to do something nice for myself.  Besides the spray cheese on Nilla Wafers thing.

I changed the battery in my smoke alarm.

The alarm wasn’t making warning sounds.  I don’t change the battery as often as fire departments recommend, but I use high quality batteries so presumably they last longer than the cheap ones.

I inherited my father’s home maintenance skills.  He wasn’t good with repairs or appliances.  Another thing we had in common was we would feel inordinately proud whenever we carried out a home project that didn’t result in a door falling off its hinges or a fan blowing in the wrong direction.  Most of the time, we called professionals or had my mother do the work.

In my parents’ house, my mother changed the smoke alarm battery. My father would stand guard to make sure she didn’t fall off the ladder, but my mother did the hands-on work.  She swore a lot while changing the battery.  Face it, the job is nasty for almost everyone.

The previous time I changed the battery in my apartment smoke alarm, it went well.  That was the exception, not the rule.  Yesterday was the usual conniption fit, vertigo attack and temptation to call a male neighbor and admit a damsel in distress needed him.

The old battery didn’t come out smoothly.  It was half-in, half-out, and the alarm began to chirp.  I probably struggled for five minutes, but it felt like a couple of hours.

Then the battery popped out, and it was reassuring that no plastic pieces from the alarm fell with it.  The battery was out, and I hadn’t broken anything other than a bit of wind caused by my nervous stomach.

I noted the position of the battery when it was removed.  A nine volt battery has to be installed in just the right position, so remember to take a look at the one you remove if you’re not sure what you’re doing.  You’ve probably noticed that the terminals at the top of a nine volt battery are two different sizes. There’s a good reason for this. One terminal is positive, the other negative.

The new battery didn’t go in easily, but it was less complicated than removing the old one.  One more chirp made me think I had botched the job, but the chirp must have been left over from the struggle. The green light was on.

There are two ways to test a smoke alarm, and I hear one is more efficient than the other.  You can press the test button, or you can set a small fire…

Never fear.  I wrote that just to see if you were paying attention.

I pressed the button, and it worked.  Nearly took out my left eardrum.

After thinking for a few minutes, I decided to light a match (briefly) two feet directly under the alarm, to learn what would happen if we had a fire that day.  Twelve beeps assured me it was indeed working, and served as a reminder never to change the battery when the neighbors are likely to be asleep.

Someone else may have benefited from the adventure.  Soon after, twelve beeps from a neighbor’s alarm could be heard through my open window.  Did the commotion from my apartment remind someone to change the battery, or did it just remind someone to do the lighted match test?

Whatever.  If it made someone think, it wasn’t a wasted effort.

Later, I took the old battery down the elevator to the parking garage, to leave it in a battery recycling bin.  Most of the bins were at the curb for collection, but three blue recycling bins were next to the garage wall for anyone who needed them.  They were overflowing with unbroken boxes and other crap, too.

A cowboy’s work is never done.

Helen Christie is the author of the novella Petra, an e-book on Kindle. 

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