Angie's List is now Angi. Learn more

Who Can Replace Smoke Alarm Battery (20ft high) for a Reasonable Price?

Updated December 11, 2020
The Angie’s List Answers forum ran from 2010 to 2020 and provided a trusted space for homeowners to ask home improvement questions and receive answers directly from Pros and other users. This is an archived question from the Answers forum.

Question by Guest_9402201: I have a two story house here the lounge is open to the 2nd floor. There is a smoke alarm on the rooF that I need to change the battery. I've received three quotes and they are all daylight robbery considering it would take 2 minutes. Any suggestions on companies for Katy, TX?

Answered by LCD: When you say a smoke alarm on the roof, I presume you mean the ceiling ?

Several solutions for this problem:

1) rent a 24' extension ladder at a tool rental place, or better yet (especially if you could not reasonable transport it anyway - about 10-13 feet long depending on if 2 or 3 piece), borrow one from a neighbor so you only haveto carry it a hundred feet or so. Put a couple layers of tube socks or taped on bundled several-thickness rags over the top end to avoid wall damage or marks. IF you are up to high ladder work, buying a ladder (about $200 forType I or II [doNOT buy a Type III - only 200# rating,and quite shaky at those heights]) would probably be not much more than the cost for an electrician to come - plus then gives you house painting and roof cleaning and so forth access that you would then be able to do yourself.

2) handyman for about $50-70 - most have a 22-24' extension ladder.

3) Have an electrician do it, but replace the alarm with a long-life 10 year alarm (lithium battery should last 10 years, then is a throw-away alarm) or a remote-battery one where there is a wire coming off it to a remote battery box, which can be up to about 20 feet away to where the actual battery is. Available in electricall supply stores and Amazon and elsewhere, made by Kiddee, First Alert, Honeywell, others - cost about $50 versusnormal $30 range for a hard-wired alarm. Will cost probably a standard electrician's call ($75-150 typically. plus the alarm cost with 10-20% markup) up front to change out the alarm for one type or the otherthis time around, but should avoid having to pay for it again every year to change batteries - should last for 10 years (long-life battery solution) or 10-25 years (remote battery solution).

4) Something I have done, before the advent of remote battery alarms and in locations where just stringing some 18ga instrumentation cable to a remote box location to hold the battery, with removeable blank cover on the box, was not accepted by the local building official. Build an insulated and weatherstripping gasketed box (with a junction box inside) in the accessible side of the attic (if there is one) with an opening into the cathedral ceiling, with a finished wood plate that fits and screws in behind trim on the ceiling or wall of the cathedral ceiling, and a removeable back with the junction box screwed to it and adequate wiring slack so you push the facepalte into place with the alarm mounted on the faceplate, and the faceplate butts up behind the face trim but the alarm sticks out at the wall/ceiling like it should, but the entire thing can be pulled away from the wall into the attic to replace the batteries or the alarm by removing the back cover on the insulated box, then unscrewing and backing out the faceplate that the junction box and alarm are mounted on. Does make for a slightly larger exposure on the wall or ceiling, but if painted to match not too noticeable. I have used an appliance cord to connect the alarm connection box to the house wiring at an outlet box mounted nearby so it can be unplugged to remove it from the wall so you are not handling a live junction box, then plugged back in when done so you don't have to be running to the breaker box to turn it off and on or to test it. Probably does not meet strict interpretation of code for "hard-wiring", but inspectors have bought off on it because not connected to a switch, and not in a homeowner accessible location. If that is not allowed, then wire to a junction box with romex cable wire nuts. Reason for the junction box behind the alarm, mounted to the faceplate - to meet code because the wire nuts and wires connecting the alarm to the house circuit have to be in an electrical box.

Yes, options 3 and 4 cost more than just a visit charge up front, but get you away from the yearly battery changing visit charge, and reduce risk of damage to walls and any chandelier from rough ladder handling.

Answered by LCD: One thing I totally spaced on - especially if you are disabled or elderly - some fire departments, especially local small or volunteer ones, will change batteries in alarms in high places like this for you for free. For goodness sake when you call use the general administrative number, NOT 911 - and be absolutely sure you can be there when they come - do not stiff them. And of course a thank-you offering of donuts or muffins or cookies would probably not go amiss.

Answered by Elfswork: First off, stay off the high ladder so you don't get injured!

This technique works if you have a battery door on the front (vs back of the smoke detector). Get a long pole to reach the detector. Use duct tape attached to end of pole with sticky side out (make a sticky ball from it). Use that sticky ball to attach to the battery door and pull the battery door open.

Next, attach a screw driver to the end of the pole and use it to leverage the battery out of the compartment. Will take some work so don't get discouraged - it will eventually fall out.

Then buy a new smoke detector and put it where you can reach it and change the batteries. Hope this helps.

Answered by LCD: The Elf (Elfswork) sounds more like a wicked demon than an elf - took me two read-throughs to figure out his solution was not serious.

Three new solutions to this problem -

First, replace the alarm with a fixed-life one with a 10 year lithium battery (now available at most stores). Unfortunately, it does not appear that they make these with replaceable battery unit like they used to - most or all of them appear to be throw-aways after 10 years, but that is better than annually paying someone to come and replace the battery.

Second, run wiring for the battery down in the wall, into the attic or a closet or somewhere else where you can reach to put the battery in - even right below it low on the wall like an outlet, but using an electrical box with blank cover, labelled as alarm battery. Location needs to be labelled - when I have done this I put a sticker on the side of labelled blank cover with - with thumb screws rather than regular screws, for easy cover removal, if in a place where they will not stick out and snag people. I checked into long-life extended capacity batteries in regular alarms - both First Alert and Honeywell said UL had not tested that so do not recommend it - but they knew of no reason why a long-life lithium 9V battery would not work as well as a regular one.

Third - saw this recently - a really innovative person with 28' ceiling (ski-chalet house) had a good wuality pulley put up at the ceiling, then rigged selected color parachute cord through it to a cleat about 3 feet off the floor, in an endless loop. A battery-only 3-way (smoke, heat, CO) alarm (no hardwiring) was mounted to the cord, along with a few flag lanyard clips - then he ran the alarm to the top, and several flags (social service and veteran's groups and football team pennants in his case) below it as decoration. Actually looked pretty good, and easy to haul the alarm down to change batteries and dust it.

One thing - you are supposed to blow out the alarm every time you change the battery to get dust out of the detector - so you would have to figure a way to get a compressed air hose or vaqcuum cleaner hose up there on a pole to do that too. Just a long duster does not do it - have to blow out the cavity of the alarm to get the dust out of the innards.

The Angie’s List Answers forum ran from 2010 to 2020 and provided a trusted space for homeowners to ask home improvement questions and receive answers directly from Pros and other users. Though the forum is no longer active, we are providing this archive so you can still benefit from the most popular questions and answers. Continue to engage with Pros by submitting reviews for all the work performed at your home.