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What to consider when replacing hard-wired smoke detectors

They key to replacing a hard-wired smoke detector is knowing what connector it has so you know the exact model to buy as a replacement. (Dreamstime)

Q: I bought a house last year and had it remodeled. I have a home warranty plan. The detectors in my home were very old and needed to be replaced. The home warranty covered replacing all five detectors for a fee of $75.

Eleven months later, and one detector emits a chirping sound that is driving people nuts. This means I got cheap detectors installed (hard-wired units) instead of quality units. All five will need to be replaced. I had a new battery put in, but it is still chirping.

Having an electrician come out here will cost me a small fortune — $375 to be exact — with a home warranty! I have never had this problem before, and I am 79 and a widow. I live in Oklahoma. Does the fire department here offer assistance in installing detectors? I also don’t know if the smoke detectors are wired into my security system.

I detest these things. I think I have been taken, again.

A: Wow. While it sounds as though you’ve had a tough time, we can’t say definitively that you’ve been taken. Sometimes one smoke detector is bad, and sometimes it’s an entire batch.

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We don’t know if that’s the case for your (relatively new) smoke detectors. We can tell you that we replace our smoke detectors every five to seven years. They are hard-wired into our electrical system, but that doesn’t mean you need an electrician to replace them.

Modern hard-wired smoke detectors don't have wires in the back that need to be connected to loose wires in the ceiling. Most hard-wired smoke detectors have a connection from the electrical wires to the smoke detectors that engages and disengages. It's like a plug. This connection makes it simple to replace bad or old smoke detectors with new ones.

The key is knowing what connector your smoke detector has so that you buy a new smoke detector with the same connector. In fact, some smoke detector companies will give you an adapter you can use to connect both commonly used connectors to a new smoke detector. You can look up the brand of the smoke detector and then find a compatible one online or order another one from the company.

What can you do now? Did you contact the home warranty company and see if they would back their work and come back and replace them? That's the first call you should make.

If your smoke detector is tied into your alarm system, you might see if your alarm company has someone who can inspect and replace the smoke detectors that are failing. You might also be able to obtain replacement smoke detectors from the manufacturer if yours have failed. If they are under warranty, contact the manufacturer and see if it will send you new ones.

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You can also buy smoke detectors for between $10 and $40. Higher-priced smoke detectors may include a long-life battery that may last as long as a decade. We’ve also seen reviews of some of these detectors that say that you might be lucky to get three or four years out of them, but at least you’re not climbing up and changing batteries every year.

We don't think it's a great idea for you to get up on a ladder. But perhaps you have a local handy person, child, grandchild or neighbor who can get up on a ladder and help you out.

On a separate note, be sure that the batteries you put into the smoke detectors are new and not past their expiration date. A couple of years ago, Sam put what he thought was a new battery in a smoke detector but quickly learned that it was old when the smoke detector started chirping late at night. (And why do these smoke detectors always start chirping in the middle of the night?)

You really have fair number of avenues open to you. We hope one of them will pay off. Good luck.

Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through her website,