In 2011, Nest Labs Inc. shook up the home thermostat market with its introduction of the Nest Learning Thermostat, a Consumer Reports-recommended device that programs itself based on your habits and preferences. Now the Silicon Valley-based innovator is hoping for more positive disruption with the Nest Protect: Smoke + Carbon Monoxide alarm, made public this week to coincide with Fire Prevention Week.
Consumer Reports' latest tests of smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are dominated by two manufacturers: First Alert and Kidde, which account for 6 of 7 recommended models. In that report, we noted that 2,500 people are killed each year in residential fires, and another 500 die from CO, a colorless, odorless gas that's known as the "silent killer." Installing smoke and CO alarms throughout your home is the first step toward staying safe.
Combination smoke/CO alarms cover two risks with one device. The downside is that they only use one of the two types of fire-detecting technologies: photoelectric sensors, for smoldering fires, such as from a burning couch or mattress, or ionization sensors, for fast-flaming fires, such as those caused by burning paper. There are dual-sensor smoke alarms on the market that use both technologies, but none with CO detection as well.
It would have been a real game-changer if the Nest Protect contained all three sensors (one for CO, and the two for fire), something we've been calling on manufacturers to develop. Unfortunately, Nest Protect only uses a photoelectric sensor. But the device does contain a heat sensor, which may prove adept at detecting fast-flaming fires. We'll find out when we get the Nest Protect in for testing.
The Nest Protect does have some other features that seem promising, including Heads-Up, an early-alert signal that lets you know if smoke and CO levels are rising in your home. There's also the Nest Wave, which lets you silence nuisance alarms with the wave of a hand, rather than climbing up on a chair to hit the hush button. That's important because nuisance alarms cause a lot of annoyed homeowners to disconnect their alarms.
Yet another smart feature is the Nest Protect's vocal alarms, which can be better than loud beeps at waking sleeping children. Also good for kids, and adults too, is the Pathlight feature, LED lights that illuminate when someone passes under the device. And the wireless interconnection allows multiple devices to communicate, so that if a fire starts or CO rises to an unsafe level anywhere, the alarms will alert people throughout the house.
The Nest Protect will be sold in stores in November 2013 for $129. That's about twice as much as the top-rated First Alert dual-sensor alarm in our Ratings. Given the fact that you need at least one smoke alarm on each level of the home, the Nest Protect could be an expensive proposition. Of course, if the device helps saves lives, it will be worth every penny.