The regional government of Lower Austria is currently doing a promotion where you can get smoke detectors at a discount. They are doing that to nudge more people to become interested in securing their homes from break-ins and fires. You get a detector with a 10-year battery for 16 Euros. This reminded me that I have like half a dozen of such detectors still in original packaging in the basement, never got around to installing them. Two reasons: we have rarely any open fire and they are boring.
I figured – being a lover of modern and connected things – that I wanted to see if Nest had finally released their own device. Nest is the company that reimagined the thermostat and had announced a smoke and CO detector a while ago. At first glance it looks like you could only get the Nest Protect in Canada, USA and UK.
Shipping to EU Countries
Somebody on Twitter found out and informed me that apparently Austria is a possible selection to be shipped to from the UK store. Indeed the UK store ships to Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and United Kingdom. They specifically mention that all instructions and the voice of the device will be in English, but to me this is a feature, not a limitation. The price tag is at 109 GBP (about 130 Euros).
I picked the white model with the 5-year-battery because I didn’t know if I would have a power cable running to where I wanted to mount it. White blends in much better with our whitewashed walls and ceilings. Ordering went almost without any issue, only my credit card was having problems on the first two attempts, but this resolved itself on the third attempt. Some sort of communication problem.
Shipping notification arrived by email on Dec 19th, the device arrived by GLS on Dec 27th.
You can mount the Nest Protect either on the ceiling – sufficiently distanced from the wall – or on a wall within 60 centimetres from the ceiling. Mounting on walls or slanted ceilings you have to make sure that the nest logo is not upside down. This is not only for reasons of marketing integrity, but because the sensors require this to function properly.
You mount the Nest Protect’s backplate with 4 provided screws to a suitable surface and after doing the initial setup via the iOS app you click the box onto the backplate with a slight twist. Of course – why pause and think – the first time I mounted the backplate I did it the wrong way around. The clips which you can see in the next photo need to face outwards.
You can also see that there are many additional mounting options besides the outermost 4 spots. I guess that these allow you to reuse existing screw-holes of a previous smoke detector.
Setup via App
For setting up the device you download the Nest Mobile app. This guides you through creating a Nest login and then asks you to scan the QR code on the back of the Nest. This contains info about the device you are setting up. For the book I am writing I am working with many kinds of barcodes and seeing this as part of the setup process delighted me especially.
The app tells you the name of an adhoc WiFi network which the device is broadcasting on during the setup phase. You connect to that in your iOS settings and then you return to the app. This proceeds to connect the device to your home WiFi and lets you make some initial settings. For example you want to specify which kind of room the device is located in. When stating alarms the Protect’s voice will announciate this room name so that you know which of your – potentially multiple – rooms is filling with smoke.
When this is done, you put the box onto the backplate. You can and should test it frequently by double-clicking the big button inside the colored glowing ring.
Nest Protect detects smoke or a build up of Carbon Monoxide. The combination makes sense because CO is an odorless gas which displaces oxygen. It can be produced by incomplete oxidation, complete burring of a fuel would produce CO2. In Austria it might also make sense to install Nest Protects in wine cellars even the chance of an actual fire is so small it does not exist at all. But fermentation can also produce CO and this gas is known as the silent killer.
The device’s manual has an extensive list of places where you should not mount it. It shouldn’t be too drafty so that smoke has a chance to get to the sensor, but also it shouldn’t be too much of a dead corner. There are many more factors to consider, like you wouldn’t want to mount it in the stove area of your kitchen or in high humidity areas like next to a shower.
When installing it you quickly realize that several Nest Protect would be even more fun than a single one. You can add up to 10 to your Nest account and once you have them set up they can also communicate amongst themselves. If one gives a heads up on a smoke or CO buildup or is sounding an alarm then all other connected nests will do so as well. If you have a place where your normal home WiFi signal cannot reach then the solution is to add more devices in between because of this interconnection feature. This is able to route the information around the WiFi bottleneck. The manual specifically mentions that this peer-to-peer connectivity will only work with other Nest Protects.
Whenever there is a warning (aka “heads up”) you can approach the device and wave at it frantically to silence it. Some very dangerous alarms cannot be silence this way, most likely because you are in mortal danger then and shouldn’t worry about the noise, but rather how to quickly exit the building.
There is a feature which you probably want to disable on sleeping rooms, but enable everywhere else: the night light. Since the device can sense if somebody is inside the sensing cone of the IR sensor it can enable a light. This doesn’t turn on during normal daylight time and so I don’t know yet how useful this actually is.
The battery-powered version comes with 6 AA batteries preinstalled which are said to last for 5 years. The Nest Protect itself has an expiration 7 years in the future. The reason for this appears to be that the sensors will lose their sensitivity over time. Regardless which version you choose you will always have to replace it after 7 years because then the device will bother you until you do. It is the hope of Nest that the replacement will be another Nest Protect of course.
The Nest Protect is well designed and well integrated. Neat features are how multiple will work in concert and that they are hooked up to the Nest service on the Internet which lets you see the current status via their app or website. You also push notifications to your mobile device if there is an alarm.
The big downsides are the hefty cost and the limited lifetime. It costs more then 5 times as much as other smoke detectors. Having a limited lifetime might be a reasonable precaution to insure the functionality of gas sensors, but that much of a price difference makes it a definite luxury item. I’m thinking the sweet spot would be in the vicinity of $59 or $79 as opposed the current $129 they are charging a piece.
The Nest Protect ($129) is cheaper than the Nest Thermostat ($249), but you won’t have to replace the latter at all. In a way the Protect is a Trojan Horse!
As soon as you have installed your first Nest protect you will feel an urge to add more Nest Protects to your mobile dashboard. But how can you sell this to your wife who is already thinking that you already paid too much for the first one? And having to repeat this purchase every 7 years! I can only hope that as time passes Nest will reduce the price tag of their otherwise brilliant device so that husbands around the world have less of a problem to get their respective wives to approve the repeating expense for multiple Nest Protects.
Verdict: Only buy if you can buy 3-5 Nest Protects together without flinching at the recurring expense.