This week, Nest, the company that created the progressive Nest Thermostat, revealed its new gizmo - the Nest Protect. As our readers know, we’re big fans of the Nest thermostat for three reasons: it’s a truly great thermostat; it has set a new (and much needed) standard for product design in the energy efficiency sector; and it’s a terrific “add on” service for the home performance contracting community we serve at Energy Circle.
So when the Nesters announced their second big thing, we were immediately excited. Scheduled for release next month, the Nest Protect is a smoke and carbon monoxide detector with a host of impressive features. It will connect with smart phones to send alerts, speak to us, and detect its environment using six different sensors. Needless to say, it’s gotten lots of attention; it’s an overdue movement toward integrating smart technology in our homes with a particular aim at one critical but annoying and enigmatic product--the smoke detector. Really smart move by Nest. Revamp a product that every home is required to have, that is universally problematic and badly designed, and apply the usual Nest design magic. On this score, it certainly seems to live up to the hype. But the Protect is a Carbon Monoxide (CO) monitor too, and though the smoke alarm part of it has received all the attention, we wanted to look deeper at the CO component. On this dimension, we’re sad to say that Nest Protect has fallen short.
Nest Protect has made no apparent advances in carbon monoxide detection. If you’re unfamiliar with the dangers of CO, let’s just say they’re worth investigating. Catastrophic releases of CO in a home, usually from some home performance related problem like poorly ventilated appliances or bad ventilation, kills people. But what indoor air quality and home performance experts are increasingly focused on is the issue of long term exposure to CO at low levels--the kind that kill you slowly instead of right away. A number of recent, credible studies have pointed to very harmful effects as a result of long-term exposure to low levels of CO. And detector standards in the U.S. - set by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) - simply do not account for chronic exposure.
The UL’s current permissible exposure limit to CO requires detectors to begin emitting audible alarms after a time weighted average (TWA) of 70 ppm (parts per million) over 60 minutes. As TWAs reach higher tiers (150 ppm and 400 ppm), duration before alarm decreases. It’s a flawed system that only protects us from spikes in CO levels. Putting the numbers in perspective, long-term concentrations as low as 5 ppm have been linked to serious birth defects. And the health threats multiply dangerously before UL standards intervene, particularly in children and other at-risk persons. The safety measures are simply outdated, yet CO detectors continue to follow them. To our dismay, such is the case with Nest Protect.
What we draw from this is that Nest Protect, unfortunately, will not be a substitute for low level CO detectors (which we highly recommend, by the way). And, sadly, we worry that just as homeowners are starting to understand the importance of measuring low level CO, along comes the most credible, trusted company in home gadgetry with a product that doesn’t go the extra mile. Millions of people will undoubtedly buy the Protect. And most of those won’t know that the CO monitoring component is limited.
We’ll continue to dig in to the guts of the Nest Protect to figure out where they sourced the carbond monoxide CO sensor and whether there’s a solid economic reason for not going low level. So far none of the literature provides any details, and the cutaway image only shows a picture of the sensor. If we find out more, we’ll report.
Low level, long-term exposure to carbon monoxide is a very serious public health threat, and one that we wish got more attention from Nest. Still, the Nest Protect is an exciting and pioneering device that brings positive attention to the realm of home performance. In all likelihood, one will find a home here at Energy Circle.