The Distressed Midnight Purge

This post is part of the #Purge365 series about a midlife journey through a year of purging a house – and a life – of unnecessary things. Click here to see all previous posts.

This week’s post is entirely about #Firstworldproblems, so if you have no patience for those, you might want to skip it. Then again, what else is #Purge365 if not a first world phenomenon?

Not once did I consider this item eligible for purging. But it catapulted to the very top of my list last month, by sheer power of decibel.

It was 9:55 pm and I was just heading up to bed when the smoke alarms started beeping. Actually, beeping is too mild a word. It was a very loud screech of the sort that immediately renders you incapable of rational thought. I understand that the intention of the smoke alarm is to wake you up from the deepest of slumbers if a fire breaks out in your home. But it also instantly renders you frozen in place, paralyzed by the torturous noise like a hare caught in the headlights of a car.

In this instance, I actually knew what to do. Our smoke alarms, you see, have only started protecting our house about 6 months ago. Over the course of – ahem – five and a half years before that, having never figured out how to fix the beeping that had commenced the minute we’d moved into the house, we had simply kept the circuit breaker for the smoke alarms turned off. Then, sometime last year, a house in the neighborhood burned down. To the ground. And a few months after that, a friend’s family home burned down too. Too much burning down of houses for my comfort level, so I decided our smoke alarms needed fixing.

My dear husband had claimed that they were just faulty and that it was not a matter of batteries. So I requested an electrician via Home Depot. He arrived, took one look at the smoke alarms, and proceeded to exchange all 12 batteries. Problem fixed, if at a slightly inflated price compared to me myself exchanging 12 batteries. But I was happy to check it off my list.

Imagine my consternation when not six months later the smoke alarms were beeping! What now?

It must be said that I was on my own. These things never ever happen when my husband is present. He was traveling when the squirrel fell through the chimney, he was traveling when the mouse caught on the glue board had to be discarded in a humane way, and he was traveling when the venomous* snake was threatening the toddler.

You might think the first order of business, when the smoke alarms are beeping, is to find the smoke. But no, you’re mistaken. The first order of business is to make the noise stop. See the woman in the image below to get an idea of my state of mind that night. (Incidentally, that woman is not me – you would be surprised how very many images pop up when Googling “woman screaming in frustration.”)

woman screaming and holding her ears
Not me, but rather one of about 3.5 million “woman screaming in frustration” images on Google. It seems to be a popular topic.

Of course there were no 9V batteries in the house. I considered turning off the circuit breakers once again – after all, we had managed to survive five years like that. But I was resolved not to let our house fall back into a state of imminent danger. I decided to tackle this right away and buy a few batteries at the closest gas station, the only place open at such a late hour.

Back home with vastly overpriced batteries in hand, I assessed the situation. One smoke alarm appeared to beep more loudly than the others, if that was possible, and it was also blinking red. It seemed I had found my culprit.

I dragged the ladder under it and exchanged that battery. Nope, not it. The beeping went on unabated. By city ordinance, all smoke alarms in our house are connected and beep in unison if just one of them is faulty. So I went off chasing the other 11. After almost an hour of climbing and repositioning ladders without success, I gave up. I went into the garage and turned off the dang circuit breaker in defeat.

Sweet Jesus, the smoke alarms were still beeping!

How was that possible? The only logical explanation seemed to lie in the batteries themselves. The power must be coming from somewhere, so if I could just detach all the batteries, the beeping would stop.

Back to dragging the ladder upstairs and downstairs and opening all the battery compartments. One of the smoke alarms sits so high that it can’t be reached with our ladder. Ingeniously, I used an extendable pole we use to put up Christmas lights, poked it at the battery compartment, and was able to open it.

Still beeping.

By now I was thoroughly spooked. Also, I really, really wanted to go to bed.

Once again, let me stress how hard it is to form a coherent thought when your eardrums are pierced by a screeching of the highest order every 30 seconds. Otherwise I might have been able to assess the situation more quickly. As it turned out, the beeping was now mostly coming from the basement. And that is where I found the culprit. It wasn’t a smoke detector at all! It was the carbon monoxide alarm that was plugged into an outlet behind the foosball table, all but forgotten the day it was put there by a contractor, churning away faithfully year after year and never detecting any noxious gasses.

But now it was beeping! Immediately, I felt woozy. Surely there must be carbon monoxide in the air. I went and ripped open all the doors. Then I sat down. What now? Did we have to leave our house? I stared at the display of the contraption. “END” glowed brightly on its display. Hmmm. What did “END” mean, exactly?

carbon monoxide alarm warning
The fine print I should have read 7 years ago. I take exception to the word “chirp!”

I removed it from the outlet, now wailing directly into my ear, and turned it around. There was some small print on there that I couldn’t read. I took it upstairs and found a magnifying glass. And do you know what the fine print said?

“Seven years after initial power up, this unit will ‘chirp’ every 30 seconds and ‘end’ will appear on the display indicating that it is time to replace the alarm. REPLACE IMMEDIATELY!”

I briefly considered flinging it out into the yard far from our house, but then I came to my senses and simply took out the battery. (A 9V battery no less!)

Blissful silence.

During this entire year of #Purge365, not a single item has given me such satisfaction when throwing it into the trash as that stupid evil piece of white plastic. I still get mad just thinking about it. (Note: I have not replaced it.) And I still take particular offense at the word “chirp.” A chirp is the noise made by a baby bird telling its mother to come rescue it from the ground when it hasn’t quite figured out how to fly. The sound of my carbon monoxide alarm was that of a wailing banshee.

The story doesn’t quite end there, because remember, I now had to once again turn on the circuit breaker and drag the ladder all throughout the house to close 12 battery compartments and test every single alarm. Inexplicably, some of those now decided to be uncooperative, necessitating another battery run the next day before the last one was finally silent.

A week later, my neighbor called at 9 pm to ask if I had any 9V batteries…


* Thanks for the correction, Conrad:-)


  1. What a great story–now that it’s over ;). I’ve had issues with screeching alarms, ladders, batteries, things breaking, not working, etc.,etc., but not to the extent that you describe. And, yes, of course, also with my dh traveling while these things happened. One little silver lining? You learn to be able to deal and feel a bit more competent. Maybe. Did you pour yourself some alcohol afterwards?

    • LOL yes Miss Footloose, a glass of wine does wonders on those nights. Except I think I was so tired by the end that I just crawled into bed. But yes, you do gain some confidence every time and you learn to not wait for your dh to fix things around the house but rather tackle them yourself. (And I’m sure dh knows to just tell me “it can’t be done” for me to really gt fired up and fix it.)

      • “It can’t be done,” yes a challenge 😉 Talking about doing things yourself, I remember one time (while living in the US) when the light bulb over our front door went out, and it was pitch dark late evening. I wanted it replaced so as not to have the house look uninhabited (dh was in Africa or who knows were). Not a big deal of course, even in the dark. Can do. So I got light bulb, got ladder. Climbed up carefully and as I reached to take the cover off the light fixture a bird flew off almost in my face. It’s a miracle I didn’t fall off the ladder and broke something.

  2. Haha I love that story! Kinda like the squirrel jumping out of the wood burning stove and running up my chest before figuring out that wasn’t the place he wanted to be. I had lit a fire (very small piece of newspaper) to scare it out the OTHER way, it was caught in the kink of the pips. Clearly it couldn’t get out THAT way so came down the other. We both looked at each other for a brief moment that I’m sure to him seemed just as long as to me.

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