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Mon, Aug 16, 2021 3:04 PM

Smoke Detector Batteries

Yesterday, I had a false alarm on one of my smoke detectors--a very odd one because the horns did not sound, but I received an alert from the app that it reported an alarm, and the monitoring company called. Fortunately, I was home, so the fire department wasn't called.

Today, I contacted support and the tech indicated that this might be due to the fact that I had replaced the original batteries with Energizer brand, and that it is critical to use only Panasonic batteries. He pointed out that the battery door on the alarm indicates to use only Panasonic and that other brands could cause malfunctions. (And I'm now aware of the UL issue as well.)

OK, but...

In these forums, I've seen SimpliSafe reps indicate the battery type without specifying any brand. The support page specifies only the type and does not indicate that it must be Panasonic: https://support.simplisafe.com/hc/en-us/articles/360023810112-How-long-do-the-batteries-last-

Worst of all, the video explaining proper battery replacement actually shows the person using Energizer batteries. But then there is a disclaimer at the end specifying that you should use Panasonic, so you're giving very conflicting instructions.  https://support.simplisafe.com/hc/en-us/articles/360029807451-How-do-I-change-my-SimpliSafe-batteries-and-how-do-I-know-when-to-replace-them-#h_0c0b4fec-f932-4972-b10c-e282a28a0c8a

So which is it? Are Panasonic brand batteries really required for the devices to work properly or not? If they are, then that should be clearly specified everywhere and your video describing the proper battery replacement should absolutely not illustrate the process using a brand that won't work and that your own tech support says may cause false alarms or other malfunctions.

This is important to me because I can readily get Energizer batteries at many local stores, but Panasonic brand is "special order". It's also important because there are quite a few users here who are using other brands under the belief that this is just a UL technicality. But if this can cause false alarms or, far worse, can cause the detector to fail to sound the horn when it detects a fire, then the warning to use only Panasonic must be everywhere and stated much more strongly than it "will have detrimental effect", as in: ABSOLUTELY DO NOT USE ANY BRAND OTHER THAN PANASONIC OR THE SMOKE DETECTOR WILL NOT WORK.

Better still, you need to rework the detectors so they can use any decent brand of battery.

Advocate

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My belief is that it is strictly due to the UL certification.  There might be some quality concerns if you used some weird brand battery, but most name brand, high quality battery "should" work fine.  The smoke detector can't tell the difference in electrons moving from an Energizer battery or a Panasonic battery.  When you turn your TV on, can you tell if the power is coming from a nuclear plant, combustion turbine or hydro plant?  
I'm sure anyone from SS, when pressed on the issue, will simply say use the Panasonic battery since that's what was used in the UL testing and it's safe for them to recommend it.  Now, if there was ever an issue with the smoke detector and a legal battle ensued, you might have to prove that the smoke detector was using the Panasonic battery before SS would even consider taking responsibility.  It's a legal thing.  
Performance wise, in my experience with devices that use the 123 battery (aka 123A, CR123, CR123A), all quality brands are interchangeable.  
If you had a bad battery that maybe had an internal short, I could see it maybe causing a false alarm.  I've experienced false alarms from motion detectors that I could only attribute to a low battery (no I didn't get a notification on my keypad).  But a defect like that could happen with any brand battery.

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Thanks for your thoughts, hondaman88. Actually, it is possible for the battery brand to matter. (I say this as an electrical engineer with some battery experience--it's not my primary expertise.) While it's true that your device can't tell where the electrons came from, it can tell if it's not providing enough of them, so to speak. Batteries are surprisingly more complex critters than you would expect, and there are differences even within the same type (internal resistance, how they handle surges, thermal performance, etc.). As you mentioned, we should expect a difference between the name brands and the dollar store cheapies. That said, I wouldn't expect too much difference between major brands.

But here's the rub: When I called tech support with a problem, the first thing he asked was when I changed the battery and was it Panasonic. When he found out it wasn't, he immediately wanted to replace them with Panasonics before moving on. The Panasonic batteries are on the way. If there really isn't a difference, then (a) he's been given bad information and (b) we're wasting our time when we should be getting my smoke detector fixed. If it doesn't make a difference, they have to stop pretending it does.

But if it does make a difference, they have to stop specifying just "CR123A" and clearly state "Panasonic only" every time the battery type is mentioned, they need to ditch the "how-to" video that shows them using a brand that they know will not work, and every time this comes up in the forums they need to jump in and state clearly that other brands will not work--period. And they need to improve their design. A well-engineered device should not depend on Panasonic vs. Energizer or Duracell.

Advocate

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108 Messages

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I had a lengthy response but deleted it just to say:
I agree that if they are going to tell you Panasonic only, then they need to stay consistent and update all documentation to reflect that.
You can buy packs of the Panasonic batteries on Amazon for less than $1.50/battery.

Community Admin

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Hi folks,

Yes, hondaman88 is right. The specific Panasonic brand of Lithium batteries is required mainly for the UL certification. So you'll want to stick with that if your local fire department requires the certification.
But assuming you chose a trusted brand, there shouldn't be a wild variation between them, enough that it would matter in terms of performance of the device. And what's more, it should not somehow trigger the actual alarm signal.

For the original issue though, that does seem to be an unusual case. My first guess is it's actually two different issues happening at the same time.
First, it could be just a regular false alarm. Those are typically caused by particles getting into the detection chamber - namely dust. A good couple of passes around the grill with a vacuum cleaner should be enough to keep it from false triggering for a while.

The second bit is even more odd. If your Smoke Detector is connected, it should generate the alarm sound from the Base Station and any Wireless Sirens, as well as its own built-in speaker. You're saying you didn't hear any of that?
I would suggest putting the system into Test Mode through the Keypad, then pressing the clear button on the face. That'll produce a shorter alarm tone without triggering an actual alarm, and is a good way to test if all the speakers are working properly.

(Just be aware that whenever you put the system into Test Mode, as well as when you press the button, you'll get an automated, recorded call from Monitoring. You can safely ignore it and a voicemail will be left)

- Johnny M.
SimpliSafe Home Security

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Regarding your question about the alarm sound, yes, you are correct. There was no alarm from either the smoke detector or the base station. I was home at the time and didn't even know there had been an alarm until the monitoring service called. If that had been an actual fire, my wife and I could be dead.

After calling tech support the next day, we tested it multiple times and it has not repeated that failure yet. It's not likely that the alarm signal was caused by dust, because I had just recently cleaned all of the detectors. But I'll handle all of that with your tech support. The problem, of course, is that I now know that he has been improperly trained (see below), so my confidence that he will be able to fix the problem has just plummeted.

Getting back to the reason for this thread. What you are now telling me is:

1 - The statement on every smoke detector that non-Panasonic batteries "will have detrimental effect on smoke detector performance" is NOT TRUE.

2 - The statement by your support tech that this problem could have been caused by using non-Panasonic batteries is NOT TRUE.

3 - He specifically mentioned that he had been instructed that you must use Panasonic batteries to avoid malfunction. Therefore, your support techs are being IMPROPERLY TRAINED WITH INCORRECT INFORMATION.

4 - We had to suspend the support call until I could get new, Panasonic batteries. Since those are not required, THIS DELAY IS NOT NECESSARY AND IS SIMPLY WASTING A WEEK THAT COULD BE USED TO FIX MY SYSTEM.

What will SimpliSafe do to address this, not just for me but for all of your users and support technicians?

Advocate

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My personal response is that you are taking this a little too far.  Yes, it's a little confusing and aggravating that they push Panasonic batteries, but that's more for UL purposes and it's likely easier to tell customers just to use Panasonic for their safety (as that is what was used for testing) than to get into the legal details.  Yes, they should spell that out somewhere in their documentation.
In response to your points above, I would first like to point out that "non-Panasonic batteries" includes EVERY OTHER BRAND out there, which as you pointed out in an earlier post can vary in quality, especially cheap ones purchased off of eBay.  So...
1- Using cheap no-brand Chinese batteries (which are not Panasonic) could have detrimental effect on smoke detector performance, so could be true.
2 - Equipment malfunction could be caused by using cheap quality batteries, that fall into the category of "Non-Panasonic", so could be true.
3 - I believe that you must use the specified batteries to maintain the UL certification on the product, and using cheap batteries could cause a malfunction, so could be true
4 - Panasonic batteries are available at various stores.  I purchased mine on Amazon and had them in 2 days.  As already mentioned, they are required for UL purposes.  Operational purposes? Maybe not, but SS can't be there to approve/disapprove whatever battery you are thinking of buying.  Perform UL test with Panasonic, get approval and stick with that - a third party (UL) signed off on it.

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Your points are entirely valid regarding off-brand batteries (which I never suggested would or should be acceptable), but I don't believe I'm taking this too far. Perhaps I'm not being clear, so let me restate it as simply as I can.

SimpiSafe tells you that you can use a different "trusted brand" of battery and that it "wouldn't matter in terms of the performance of the device". (Refer to Johnny M.'s post, above.)

But if you do that and have a problem, they will blame you for not using Panasonic brand batteries. They will tell you that using Energizer batteries could cause a malfunction--not just compromise the UL status. And then they won't even try to troubleshoot the system until you change to Panasonic.

They can't have it both ways.

Advocate

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108 Messages

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I wish you could see me shaking my head.
I have agreed with you that they need to clarify.
A 3V 123A battery meeting all necessary manufacturing standards should not affect the performance of the device.  It will operate on the 3V power source.
 "...using Energizer batteries could cause a malfunction" is not wrong.  Heck, even with Panasonic batteries and Six Sigma there is a chance of having a battery that could cause a malfunction.  
The Panasonic batteries were tested with the device.  In the process of troubleshooting an issue, eliminating other potential issues as simple as a battery would come first, especially if those batteries weren't included in the original testing.  How many times have you tried to troubleshoot a remote or other gadget by first changing the batteries?  Only this time it's a specific brand.  The customer service/technical support have a check list-   go with it, or don't.  Let me put this "as simply as I can":   I don't care.

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Hondaman, I didn't really expect you to care, so if you don't, that's cool. Have a nice day.

As for the folks at SimpliSafe, I do want your response.

Community Admin

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danmuller54,

The only thing I can say is I apologize for the miscommunication. The info I provided is correct - while we do recommend that you use Panasonic batteries to guarantee that the device will work as intended, using another good brand (like Energizer) is unlikely to cause problems.

And a battery issue shouldn't cause a false alarm, nor somehow also affect the Base Station. You mention that you're already working with our Support team to figure that out. But if you like, I can put you in touch with a Specialist to dig deeper.

- Johnny M.
SimpliSafe Home Security

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Johnny M.,

Thanks for responding. I'll see how things go when he calls back, which is scheduled for Tuesday. We did that to allow time for me to get the Panasonic batteries he sent.

However, those just arrived and they are not Panasonic. The SimpliSafe packing slip calls out "Panasonic CR123A Battery", but they are actually Procell, which is a brand of Duracell. So, clearly, SimpliSafe does consider it acceptable to use Duracell, etc. batteries, as you said and which seems reasonable to me. But that also means that your support techs have been trained with incorrect information.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm an engineer and have done plenty of tech support, so I well understand the challenges, nobody's perfect, and stuff happens. But there's really no excuse for giving your support staff bad information. They need to get re-informed.

Dan

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Just to close this out, the determination is that it was a defective smoke detector. Apparently it detected what it thought was smoke (but actually wasn't--I don't think we'll ever know what really triggered it), issued the alarm signal to the base station, then cancelled it within seconds. Those few seconds were long enough to let the base station send the alarm to the monitoring service, but short enough that it was cancelled before the horns could sound. It's also sending out repeated tamper switch error indications, then cancelling those within a second or two. So we will replace that detector.

In the course of the conversation with a different support tech, I received yet a third version from SimpliSafe about the "Panasonic Only" issue. I'm not going there because I suppose it's been beaten to death. It just underscores my primary point on the issue: SimpliSafe needs to get their act together on that, decide on a story, and stick with it.