Nest is a company that set out to identify devices around the home that could benefit from creative thinking and smart home technology. Their initial focus, the Nest Thermostat, introduced stylish, intelligent and eco-friendly innovation to a space that until then often still relied on technology that existed back in the 1940’s. Nest also has a line of security cameras that seek to provide a better, more user-friendly experience for spying on your dog while at work, or watching helplessly as that package thief steals your latest treasure from Amazon. In this review, we evaluate the Nest Protect, a smart smoke and carbon monoxide detector that doesn’t just make your life easier – it can save it too.
A little over a year ago we reviewed First Alert OneLink smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Although we mentioned the Nest Protect in the review, we deemed it potentially too expensive for many homeowners that have larger homes and the need for numerous detectors. I gravitated to the OneLink product line partly because of its networked detector capabilities (one alarm sets off all the alarms), and partly because I had hopes to integrate it into our Insteon Smarthome home automation system.
While we liked some of the First Alert OneLink features (and relatively low price point), I was ultimately disappointed after using them long term. Battery replacement is a fairly common occurrence and the reminder chirps seem timed with the rare moments I manage to sleep. I also stated in the review, “Frankly, we found the networking process sufficiently non-intuitive that I would guess most people either assume the units network automatically, or don’t bother to network them.” These shortcomings ultimately led us revisit the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Nest sent us both a hardwired and battery-only model to test out, which I supplemented with an additional wired Nest Protect I purchased independently. Here’s a quick overview from Nest, followed by our detailed review.
Nest Protect Packaging
We don’t normally mention packaging, but in the case of Nest, it’s a great example of how much attention to detail permeates their brand. If you have ever bought an iPhone, you’ll experience the same fanatical approach to packaging with Nest. With the Nest protect, you’ll find it perfectly nestled in custom shaped cardboard box and crystal clear cover that is more like a display case than a shipping box. The included instructions are both intuitive, clearly documented and EASY. Getting unboxed is a smooth process that gets you prepped for the rest of your Nest Protect experience.
Installing the Nest Protect
Once you have unboxed, it’s time to grab your smartphone. Download the Nest app, which Available for both Android or IOS. If you’re still rockin’ a flip phone, you can even access the app via a browser interface on your computer in a pinch. Each Nest Protect has a QR code on the back. Simply scan the QR using your smartphone and then the app walks you through very simple instructions, including naming the detector. Assigning the detectors names make it easier to manage multiple detectors in the app, and those name are also what the charming voiceover will mention when there is an alert.
Each Nest Protect measure 5.3″ square and 1.5″ deep. Unlike most smoke detectors, the Protect actually looks very stylish and will blend in with most home decor. Once you have them setup in the app, you’ll want to get around to the business of mounting them. Ideally you want your detectors mounted on the ceiling, but they can be wall mounted per Nest’s installation guidelines as well.
Nest Protect Hardwired
The hardwired version includes three Energizer long-life Lithium AA batteries to serve as backup and to power the unit during initial setup before installation. As with all wiring projects, double check that you have turned off the power to the circuit feeding your hardwired detector location, and verify there’s no power there using a voltage detector. The mounting ring for the hardwired version contains a number of slots and screw holes that should in some way line up with your pancake box in the ceiling.
it’s worth noting that the hardwired model sits quite flush to the ceiling, so you’ll want enough clearance in your electrical box for the wiring to reside. Our ceiling box was quite shallow which made installation a bit challenging (through no fault of Nest). I like having a mix of both hardwired and battery operated detectors in the house to provide some redundancy, but not everyone has the option to hardwire.
Nest Protect Battery-Powered
Which leads us to the battery only version, which includes six Energizer long-life Lithium AA batteries. Installation and operation of the battery-only Nest Protect is identical to the hardwired version with the exception of the mounting ring. The ring for the battery-only version simply has four screw holes for mounting it. It’s not clear to me why Nest didn’t use the same mounting ring as the hardwired version. Many detector installations are to replace existing detectors. Rather than drilling four new holes in your wall, it would have been nice to adapt the Nest to existing screw mounts using a mounting ring more like the hardwired version.
Nest Protect 2nd Generation vs 1st Generation
Before we dive into some of the features and functionality, it’s worth noting that we’re reviewing the second generation of these detectors. If you search youtube, you can find a few videos of exasperated users trying to silence of an armada of apparently malfunctioning Nest Protects. If you have a dark side, the videos are actually pretty entertaining, as users repeatedly push the hush button only to be reprimanded by a calm voiceover stating, “This alarm cannot be hushed.” As far as I could tell, these malfunctions for some users were limited to the first generation units.
The Hush or STHU Feature
Sometimes smoke detectors get a little excited when they sense a little smoke from something like cooking gone awry. There’s a certain member of my family that knows how to make toast two ways: 1) perfectly toasted, or, 2) burnt until resembling a hunk of carbon. Unlike other detectors that will hit full, ear-piercing shriek mode, the Nest Protect will ping your phone and broadcast a voice alert at the detector stating there is an issue (and noting which detector is sensing a problem). This is a good time to investigate. If the cause is innocuous (like burnt toast), the alert can be easily hushed on your phone’s Nest app. Of course, if Nest is detecting a significant smoke or carbon monoxide issue, it will raise a full alarm. Wearily climbing a ladder at 2:00 am or swatting at the hush button with a broomstick for false alarms is a thing of the past.
Each detector also has a “steam mode” which contrary to rumor does not cook your veggies for you. Instead, it’s designed to reduce false alarms for units near a bathroom. This mode can easily be toggled on or off in the settings for each detector in your Nest app.
Battery Life and Warnings
According to Nest, the included Energizer long-life Lithium batteries are expected to last for “multiple years.” My normal experience with smoke detectors is that batteries seem to last “multiple months.” You know those safety suggestions such as, “Change your smoke detector batteries at Daylight Savings time”, or “on your birthday”, or “on fire safety day” or, more commonly “when the chirping becomes unbearable”? Roughly six months before it’s time to replace the batteries, Nest Protect will give you warning that the batteries are getting low in your App. The Protect will also pulse yellow when you turn off the lights at night. If you press the button on the detector, it will say, “Nest Protect Battery is low. Replace it soon.” If the batteries have not been replaced, Nest Protect will send you a second warning with about three months of battery life left. Only when you have completely slacked off on your duty to protect yourself and your family and Nest Protect has two weeks of battery life left, it will chirp until the batteries are replaced. Don’t let it come to that, OK?
Nest Nightly Promise
Not only is the annoyance of chirps and having to remember to check the batteries a thing of the past, so too is remembering regular testing. Most recommendations we’ve seen suggest testing smoke detectors monthly. How many of you do that? (Insert sound of crickets here). Yeah, we don’t either. If I had to guess, less than 1% of the population test their detectors regularly. Rather than fight it, Nest automated it.
Nest is regularly checking it’s own sensors, power and wifi. The app will even send you a monthly report letting you know all is well, or bringing any issues to your attention. The app will even show you what items have been checked, their status (a green checkmark if all is well), and when they were last checked (eg. Last Month, 3 minutes ago, etc).
The Nest Protect also has a Monthly Sound Check (which can be enabled/disabled in your app’s settings). Thoughtfully, those automated sound checks (if you have them on) happen between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm.
Finally, when you turn off the lights at night, the Nest Protect will give you a reassuring pulsing green glow on its indicator light ring to let you know all systems are go and you can sleep with peace of mind. That sure beats remembering to test your detectors, putting on hearing protection, and listening to intensely loud beeps “regularly.”
One of my favorite features of the Nest Protect is the pathlight. Two of our Protects are located in hallways, one by our entry and another in a small hallway outside our bedrooms. I have both set to enable the pathlight feature. This is an option in each Protect’s app settings page. You can enable / disable the light as well as control the brightness from very subtle and dim glow to a medium and then full brightness setting. Nest says this feature sips relatively little battery power, however I have the pathlight set on our hardwired units. The pathlight provides a great alternative to nightlights as it only activates when it senses motion nearby. Because the light relies on motion, you’ll likely want to disable this feature in areas like a bedroom where lighting turning on and off throughout the night would be an annoyance.
Networked Communication Between Nest Protects
Another great feature of the Protect is that the units are all networked and communicate with each other. When an alarm activates in one room, the alarms will do the same in other rooms. Not only will the other Protects sound the alarm, they will also broadcast the location of the initial alarm to your other units – vital information if there is a need to evacuate your home.
Family Accounts and Phone Alerts
The Nest app makes it easy to add additional family members to your account. Since fires don’t always follow the protocol of happening when someone is home, the Nest App will alert you (and any additional family members you add) of any smoke / carbon monoxide alarms. If no one is home, this alert can give you time to call emergency responders if needed and potentially catch a problem early. If only some of the family is home, whoever is off-site can make sure the emergency is being addressed and hopefully that the family is safe. The Nest Protect will even communicate with your Nest Thermostat in the event of an alarm to turn off your heater to prevent spreading the danger.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection Included
If you look at the myriad of smoke detectors on the market you’ll find a mix of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and combination units that detect both. With Nest Protect, there’s no question – every unit detects both smoke and carbon monoxide. I have never understood the logic of having separate units for smoke vs CO detection. Sure, there might be places where one hazard is less likely than the other, but why make assumptions when it comes to safety? Carbon Monoxide can come from a surprising number of sources (not just your heater), and it can be every bit as lethal as fire. If you don’t think you need it, despite that many states now require them, take a look at this case study from Nest about the Molica family.
Should You Buy One (or More)?
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are perceived to be unnecessary by some – until they need them (at which point it can be too late). I am often in homes where I see smoke detectors that might be multiple decades old and well past their projected and safe lifespan. If you’re looking to protect yourself, your loved ones and your property, I believe the Nest Protect is a very worthwhile investment. These alarms are designed to require minimal user maintenance and testing, while providing maximum safeguards. Their highly user-friendly functionality coupled with smart home features and integration make them very easy for us to recommend. The only real downside is their cost, which can quickly add up if you’re in a large home. However, with a 10 year lifespan, the Nest Protect promises you many years of security and peace of mind.
Pricing and Where to Buy the Nest Protect
You can find both the battery-powered and wired versions of the Nest protect for around $120, including non-rechargeable long-life Lithium Batteries.