Ask Not for Whom the Disc Chirps

I have a very Compliant Home. Built after the Y2K cataclysms, it has Argon gas in the window panes, fire extinguishers on every level, and smoke detectors every ten feet.

It is this last fact that led to my grumpiness one day last week. As anyone who has lived in a Compliant Home can attest, smoke detectors are wired into the home’s electricity, with a 9-volt battery for backup so we can be protected in the event of a power failure. (A cruel gesture, to my thinking, since my SUV will be trapped behind a garage door whose automatic door opener will be non-functioning during a power failure. What’s the point of getting me out of bed if I can’t flee in style?) While I have a magical portable clock in my bathroom that has been running on the same batteries since 1990, these backup smoke detector batteries — which by definition are called upon not more than a few hours a year — need to be replaced every year.

And never during the day. No, these demonic discs are programmed to issue a single, high-decibel chirp when the batteries “need” to be replaced. Not a signal that’s long enough to indicate which blasted disc is complaining, mind you, just an indication that one of the 200 devices in my home needs attention. Over the past six years, the Bride and I have stood silent in stairwells during a half-dozen midnights, waiting for chirps so we could triangulate the signal and identify the malcontent. These are not regular beeps. There is no discernible pattern to the time in between the chirps, and the device continues to have a steady green light no matter its condition. So the only way to find the suffering disc is to be standing under it when it chirps.

As someone slightly familiar with technology, let me just say that if the evil detector manufacturers changed that helpful steady green light to a steady red during this condition, my life would be easier. Make no mistake, unlike driveway ice dams, this malady is avoidable.

So it was during one midnight this week, the chirps began. This time, however, it was coming from the detector located in my bedroom. This one is easy! Replace the battery, and I’m back under the covers in minutes.


Oh. I guess it was the one located six feet from the first one, in the hallway outside the bedroom. No matter, replace that battery, and I’m back in minutes.


The moment one loses emotional control is always an unsettling time. There is a high correlation between these moments and the second one begins to lose an argument. Decisions should not be made, and words should not be said following this tipping point of blood flow.

Following my decision to utter some of those ill-chosen words, my Bride quietly and reassuringly escorted me to a bedroom far from the idiotic chirping. I later learned she tried unsuccessfully to tape over the speaker for the device, and pulled them off the ceiling, but stopped short of disconnecting them from the wiring. She can be a saint some nights.

She joined me in the front bedroom, and closed the door. But somewhere during the early morning hours, my Compliant Home’s technology opened up a second front in its attack on my REM cycles. The air conditioning stopped working. Well, that’s a bit strong. Actually, the programmable thermostat decided to override its settings and go Green. To whit, it reset the meaning of “room temperature” to 80F. By 3:30 am, I was up again, quickly reaching the Bad Word threshold this time, throwing open the door to improve airflow.


I storm from the front bedroom and stride manfully to the battlefield. Climbing the aluminum ladder, I (surprisingly) carefully disconnected both detectors and marched them down to our basement, placing them in the least desirable room in my home: the mechanical room, next to our water heater. (Days later, my Bride called me to ask where they were. I answered her, and she asked “Why??” I hung up on her.)

Returning to the doorway of my bedroom, with wires dangling from ceiling wounds. I then tackle the thermostat, and order it to achieve 69F immediately. Collapsing in my (own) bed, I smile at the carnage I have wrought and my renewed control of my environment.

chirp. chirp.

I am now in awe. I slowly climb the ladder to peer into the bedroom ceiling wound. Was there some other device up there? How on Earth can this sound still be happening? My scientific curiousity calmed my otherwise natural state of rage. As I examined bare wires, from behind me — not from the direction of the hallway detector hole — there came a sound.


I slowly turned to the armoire. There, sitting atop that majestic edifice, sat the CO2 detector we placed there two years ago. The LED showed a picture of a battery with an X through it, clearly indicating its death rattle. Because my life apparently must be entertaining, the audible alarm is set to precisely the same duration and frequency of my 200 smoke detectors.

Life has returned to normal now. My Compliant Home is once again under control. Marshalling its forces, no doubt, for the next episode.

[Originally posted in April of 2007]