Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Smoking in the Guest Room

Now that I am 30 years old, there is no avoiding the fact that I must call myself an adult. While this label may be permanent, my behavior does not always match up with the requirements of the title.

Part of being an adult for many people is having your own home. As regards this benchmark, I can safely say that I have accomplished it. For six years, I have owned my townhouse. I still think it is a wonderful place, although I’ve grown weary of living in an outer suburb when it comes to driving.

I have many stories of the challenges and rewards of home ownership, and I shall perhaps share more in the future, but I was reminded this weekend of an episode from approximately one year ago that definitely merits a blog entry.

In my opinion, one of the requirements of being a responsible homeowner is a basic understanding of fire safety. In elementary school I was taught the time honored tradition of “Stop, Drop and Roll” as well as the usefulness of touching door handles before opening them and knowing your escape routes. One of the other facets of my training was in the language of smoke alarms and smoke detectors. In my opinion, these two names are interchangeable, so please do not get all picky on me if I mix them up throughout this entry.

One of the key pieces of information relayed to me in fire safety was to always check the batteries on your smoke detectors. When my house was built, the smoke detectors were hard-wired into the electrical of the house with battery back-up. Over the course of six years, I have had to replace a couple of the batteries. The common procedure for these devices is to produce a short but loud “CHIRP” whenever the battery is getting low. Unfortunately, something in the programming makes sure that this starts around 3 or 4 a.m. each and every time.

If you would have asked me a year ago how many smoke alarm/detectors I had in my home, I would have confidently answered “THREE.” One in my kitchen, one in my bedroom and one in the upstairs hallway.

In mid-August of 2009, I was awoken at 4 a.m. (on a work night) to the loud and unavoidable sound of the low-battery chirp. From past experience, I knew that it could be temporarily disabled by removing the battery and pushing the big button.

The only barrier to this solution is typically figuring out which of the devices is actually in need of attention. You would think this is an easy task, but it is not. Typically, the only device that can immediately be eliminated from the choices is the one in my bedroom as it is the closest in proximity. As for the other two, the openness of my hallway/loft/stairway creates an odd echo that makes the decision a bit more challenging.

At 4 a.m., my mind is not operating on all cylinders. On this morning, I decided that the chirping was coming from the upstairs hallway unit. I performed my usual treatment for the symptom and returned to bed, vowing to remember to pick up new batteries at the store later in the day.

Strangely, the chirping did not cease after I addressed the problem, but I dealt with it my turning up the velocity on my fan to drown out the noise and went back to sleep.

When I returned home from work that evening with a new battery in hand, I figured that my problems were over. There was no chirping as I entered the house, so I went up to the device in question, replaced the battery, and figured I was done.

Imagine my surprise when once again around 4 a.m. the chirping commenced. I groggily muttered some obscenities to myself and concluded that I must have misheard the noise before and that it was the kitchen device instead that needed replacement. Luckily, I had the foresight to purchase a two-pack of batteries, so I simply replaced that one immediately.

My frustration was not to be relieved by this act. Even after replacing the battery in the kitchen, the chirping continued. Again I cursed that I must have purchased faulty batteries and decided to purchase new ones later that day.

The next 24 hours should be somewhat predictable by now. I came home with new batteries and again replaced them in both detectors to no avail. I then turned to the Internet for assistance. Some in-depth Google searching and manufacturer inquiries later, I concluded that perhaps the units themselves were worn out and needed to be replaced. I consulted my Facebook friend resource as well, only to hear confirmations of this notion.

Perhaps a normal person would have immediately gone out and purchased new smoke detectors. For some reason, I did not do this, at least not right away. Instead, I went to Target and purchased a larger and noisier fan.

Now I shall try and explain my logic for this choice. I considered the fact that it could indeed be the actual smoke detectors that were wearing out, but I was afraid that the real solution would be far worse. It is possible that the constant ringing in my ears was affecting my sanity, but I feared that something had gone haywire in the actual wiring of my house. If this was true, it would require the expertise of an electrician. I had no idea what that would cost, but I was definitely not up to spending serious cash on the problem… yet.

So instead, I opted to simply drown out the noise, much in the same way that my father avoids strange sounds coming from his car by turning up the volume on his radio.

While this proved a decent solution for sleeping, it did not help much for general living time. I had just started grad school last fall, and concentrating on homework assignments was proving difficult.

Again, instead of addressing the problem, I elected to spend more time during the week at my parents’ house.

After about a month or so of avoiding the issue, I decided to be an adult and take action. I ventured forth to my local home improvement store and purchased two detectors from the same manufacturer as my originals. Before I did this, I also verified with my association manager to make sure that I definitely had to have my devices hard-wired into the house. She said yes, so I purchased the proper type and came home to contemplate my next move.

I knew that installation would probably be a bit tricky and I didn’t want to take any chances. All of the instructions stressed the importance of making sure that the power to the wires was completely shut off. To do this, I had to perform a process of elimination procedure using my circuit break box and a flashlight. Once I knew how to cut off the power, I cautiously set to work on the installation. It was a bit of a messy and nerve-wracking job, but after making a total mess of myself, I turned everything back on, and the indicator lights lit up.

At this point, I sincerely believed that my problems were over. I had acted like an adult and tackled my own problems all by myself. Honestly, I thought I deserved an award.

Unfortunately, the universe did not agree with my sentiments because almost immediately after this whole bag of shenanigans was complete, the chirping resumed. I swear, my head nearly started spinning. I sat down on the floor, nearly in tears. I was defeated.

In my despair, I decided again to wait a while before calling in the professionals. I retreated back into my fan-noise blasting room and vowed to never leave except for bathroom emergencies. Actually, I just spent a lot more time out of my house for the next month.

About two or three months after this whole hullabaloo started, I was looking for some Christmas decorations that I knew were in my guest room closet. Once I located the item I needed, I packed up my boxes again and made for the door of the bedroom when I happened to glance up. If you haven’t already guessed where this is going, here is the big climax: there was another smoke detector on the ceiling. Chirping.

In case you cannot follow this turn of events, here it is in a nutshell: I am an idiot. Contrary to my original belief, I have FOUR smoke detectors instead of three. From the beginning, it was always my guest room device going off. I needlessly replaced two other smoke detectors and purchased way too many batteries. And a large room fan.

I suppose that I could look on the bright side and say that I learned some new things and now know that I can do basic wiring, but it still feels like small consolation. Essentially, I created this problem through my own faulty assumption. And we all know what happens when you assume things, right? (I’ll let you answer that question on your own.)

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