2AM, beep, smoke alarm low battery warning, and when one beeps, all the interconnected ones beep, now it is impossible to find which one has a low battery. As for how smoke alarms look, I’ve always wondered who made those terrible aesthetic design choices, maybe it is some kind of industry insider competition to see who can design the ugliest unit with the most obnoxious markings, and still get them sold.
I was thrilled when Nest announced the Nest Protect combination smoke and CO alarm, finally usability and technology catching up with smoke alarms, and an attractive looking unit. I’ve been a long time fan and user of the Nest thermostats, first one v1 unit, and later two v2 units, and I hoped the Nest Protect would do for smoke alarms what Nest did for thermostats.
I pre-ordered ten alarms from Amazon in October 2013, delivered in December 2013. Installation was easy, but I do wish there was a way to get more spoken locations, e.g. “smoke in kids bedroom”, which kid’s bedroom, wait, let me get my phone to see, not.
A week or two after installation we are having friends over for a barbecue, I show the alarm units, I show the mobile app, I explain how great the wave to silence alarm feature is, and how it will warn you before the alarm sounds, everybody is very impressed. Until a few hours later when one of the units go off, “smoke in the guest bedroom”, what smoke. I wave at it, nothing, I press the button, “this alarm cannot be silenced”. Keep in mind they are all interconnected with a mesh wireless network, so all ten units are screaming. After the kids stopped crying and we moved the party outside, I get a ladder and remove the unit, still screaming, I take it to fresh air, still screaming, I get a screwdriver open it up and remove the batteries, silence, but the rest of the units are still screaming, and pressing the button on those units still say “this alarm cannot be silenced”. About 5 minutes after removing the battery from the failed alarm the the other alarms stop. Egg on my face.
Nest support exchanged the unit and sent out a replacement.
As I was browsing the Nest support forums I noticed many other users reporting false alarms, some reporting that replacement units resolved the problem, some reporting repeat problems. Things got worse for Nest when they issued a recall, offering refunds, disabling the wave feature with a firmware update, and stopped selling units until they swapped stock for units with the newer firmware before re-releasing at a reduced price.
October 2014 early AM the alarm goes off, false alarm again, at least this time the alarm silenced itself after a minute. After some back and forth, and an escalation, Nest support agreed to replace all units. The new units have September 2014 manufacturing dates, so I hope these new units are less buggy.
January 2015 early AM the alarm goes off, false alarm again, this time the alarm stopped after only a few seconds. I’ve had enough, my kids are scared, my wife is mad, Nest, you’re out.
Nest support agreed to issue a refund for all ten units, we’ll see how long it takes to receive the refund. And now I’m in the market for combination smoke and CO alarms again, and there are not many choices, if you want something that is functional and good looking.
I was tempted to wait for the First Alert Wi-Fi enabled combination smoke and CO alarm, available for pre-order on Amazon, and although this unit is from a well established manufacturer, hopefully no false alarms, I’m not making the same mistake I made with Nest. Regardless of the pre-order option, it still leaves me unprotected, and I need something now. I could simply not find a decent looking, combination smoke and CO, interconnectable, and hardwired unit, big problem being decent looking.
In the end I opted for the First Alert PC910V units, they are low profile voice enabled combination smoke and CO units with a built-in 10 year battery, sold at Lowes or Amazon. Not interconnected, not hardwired, but at least they look half decent.
Installing these units turned out to be a bit more tricky than I anticipated. The install base is so small that the round ceiling junction boxes are barely hidden, and the instructions specifically call out that they are not to be installed on junction boxes due to air flow concerns.
Below are some pictures showing the size differences between the Nest base (left, bottom), First Alert base (center, middle), and a round cover plate (right, top):
To account for the junction box ventilation warning I sealed between the junction boxes and the ceiling drywall, and between the cover plate and the ceiling. The alarm bases were mounted on the cover plates, see pics below.
Due to the small footprint of the alarm, the cover plate and imperfections around the hole in the ceiling can be seen when looking up at an angle. (Sorry for the crappy pictures, iPhone in low night not so great)
Let’s hope I never hear them peep, at least not for ten years if we can trust the battery life, and at least not without a real emergency.