My sister has a smoke-detector complex.
It started two summers ago when she opened a vacation home for the summer, only to encounter several beeping smoke detectors. The beeps didn’t stop until she shut off power to the house and replaced all of the detectors’ batteries. Then they started beeping again in the middle of the night.
Three months ago, in her own home, all of the smoke alarms went off at once in the middle of the night, and since there was no smoke or fire, she couldn’t figure out which smoke detector wasn’t working. To escape the screeching noise, she and her infant son hid out in the car while her husband took out all of the smoke-detectors’ batteries and disconnected them from the house’s hardwiring. She eventually replaced all of the smoke detectors, because it cost less than paying an electrician to come out and diagnose the problem.
If these stories sound familiar, you’re in good company.
Smoke detectors and all of their confusingly scary beeps are a part of our lives. Even people who haven’t had midnight scares like my sister’s wonder if their smoke detectors are actually working.
Enter Nest Protect, a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector that talks to you, can be tested with ease, and gently confirms that it’s working each night. If you have more than one Nest Protect, they connect to one another to share notifications and alarms. And it sends you mobile and Web notifications about your home.
Nest Protect comes in white or black, and is beautifully designed, with a large center button and a handsome pattern across its surface, disguising sensors and batteries. The center button has a ring around it that glows red, yellow or green in different situations.
Yet, elegant design and peace of mind come at a steep price: Nest Protect costs $129, which is four or five times as much as an average smoke detector.
Nest Labs, the Silicon Valley-based company behind this innovative device, recently made news when Google bought it for $3.2 billion. Its first claim to fame was the $249 Nest Thermostat, which I reviewed in 2011. It’s another gadget for the home, and it studies and learns your house’s heating and cooling patterns, automatically adjusting temperatures over time so you don’t have to think about them.
I tested two Nest Protects in my home, one in the family room and one in the kitchen. I set the first one up in just a few minutes, but had a little more trouble connecting my second device to the first, and couldn’t find a solution on Nest.com. An engineer from Nest walked me through a manual fix, and said this problem was associated with my specific wireless router, though I use a standard mainstream router. He also said the company is working on writing a post for the Nest website that would describe this problem for others who might encounter it.
After my devices were set up, I ran manual tests on them by following instructions that were narrated by a warm voice that came from the Nest Protect. These included a countdown and a loud beep, with instructions on how the alarm can be turned off — by tapping a large button or using a waving gesture.
Lots of people avoid testing their smoke detectors for fear of never being able to stop the piercing beep sound, so this alone is a step in the right direction.
During setup, the Nest Protect encourages you to follow along on the Web or via an app on Apple, Android or Amazon mobile devices. In my iPhone app, I labeled each Nest Protect according to where it would be installed. This gives you more specific information when you receive mobile notifications, telling you what is happening in specific rooms of your house.
I used a smoke-detector testing tool called a Smoke Sabre to imitate a fake fire in my house. This is an aerosol can with a long, cone-shaped saber that sprays smoke at the detector to see if it really works.
Mine worked, setting off the alarm. But instead of a brainless, shrill beep, my Nest Protect glowed yellow, then red, and said, “Emergency: There’s smoke in the kitchen.” It then let out the traditional smoke-detector beep, while glowing red, until I tapped its center button to hush the alarm.
Protect will give a Heads-Up (more casual warning) or an Emergency alarm, depending on the level of smoke or carbon monoxide in the room. If either is at a critical level, the alarm won’t be able to be hushed until smoke levels drop.
After my fake-fire experiment, the Nest Protect that I tested glowed red for about 10 minutes. This lets someone who wasn’t in an area know that something happened, and tapping the device’s button tells them. Mine, for example, said, “Smoke cleared in the Kitchen.”
App notifications give people additional options on what do, like basic fire-safety instructions (stop, drop and roll) and calling 9-1-1, which is set up by default.
Interconnected Nest Protects all sound their alarms simultaneously, so you’ll know there’s a fire or carbon monoxide even if it’s not in the same room as you. But an alarm can only be hushed on the Protect in the room where the smoke or carbon monoxide was detected. Since the voice on Nest Protect announces this, you won’t have to hunt around the house for the right smoke detector, like my sister did.
In addition to working as smoke- and carbon-monoxide detectors, each Nest Protect has its own light sensor. When lights turn off in a room, the Protect glows green once to give you a reassuring sign that its sensors and batteries work. This is called Nightly Promise.
The device’s light sensor also comes in handy with Pathlight, a feature that senses movement and shines down a white light to help people see in a dark room. I found that this worked during a trip to the kitchen around 4 am. Pathlight is set to work, by default, in all rooms except those that you label as bedrooms, where you wouldn’t likely want a light turning on whenever you moved.
At its price, Nest Protect will be a luxury item for most people. But its interconnected system, notifications and soothing voice will make you more relaxed as you manage your home’s safety.