Recently NEST released a combination Fire / Smoke & CO Detector called the “Protect.” As many of you may recall NEST set many an “energy geeks” hearts & their associated blogs a flutter with their new programmable thermostat over a year ago. Personally I thought they were all a little nuts (about the thermostat) but I got to say my heart started beating a little faster about the “protect” as I read;
Before turning on a loud, emergency alarm, Nest Protect gives you a gentle Heads-Up as an early warning. Nest Protect lights up yellow and speaks with a human voice. It tells you where smoke is or when carbon monoxide levels are rising. If it’s just a nuisance alarm, like burning popcorn, Heads-Up allows you to silence Nest Protect.
Nest Protect gives you an early warning that smoke or carbon monoxide (CO) levels are rising. When Nest Protect senses smoke or carbon monoxide below emergency levels, it pulses yellow and tells you what’s happening: “Heads-Up: there’s smoke in the kid’s bedroom.” It will also send you a mobile notification on your smartphone or tablet.
The Issue with Carbon Monoxide Detectors
The biggest issue was pointed out by Allison Bailes in this piece along with many others elsewhere, is when said detector are allowed to actually alert you. Per UL 2034 an alarm may not sound until you hit the following thresholds:
- At 70+ PPM — within 60 to 240 minutes (Yes folks 1 to 4 hours) – error threshold: +/- 5
- At 150+ PPM — within 10 to 50 minutes – error threshold +/- 5
- At 400+ PPM — within 4 to 15 minutes – error threshold +/- 10
- An alarm may not sound for these levels: 30 PPM (+/- 3) for 30 days &/or 70 PPM for 60 minutes
Per the codes – R315.3 Alarm requirements: Single station carbon monoxide alarms shall be listed as complying with UL 2034. This presents a problem for many builders, remodelers & others that work on or consult others about houses. Legally we cannot install something that does not comply & if we did, we could face serious legal issues if anything were to go wrong. Just remember that the codes are the minimum you can do. One option is to install the proper one along with (or recommend) a low level CO monitor & alarm.
What is interesting about this is I am better protected working on a jobsite than I am at my own house. For example OSHA has a 50 PPM time averaged exposure limit with an automatic removal from the area if the levels ever hit 100 PPM (with the exception of Ro-Ro operations which are capped at 200). The reason for this – the effects of breathing Carbon Monoxide is it blocks the body’s ability to absorb oxygen in the blood stream and the effects are cumulative. Based on a healthy young adult;
- 200 PPM – slight headache / flu like symptoms within 2-3 hours
- 400 PPM – same as above but within an hour or two
- 800 PPM – sickness, twitching of limbs within an hour, unconsciousness @ 2 hours
- 1600 PPM – Headache within 20 minutes & your dead in about 2 hours
- 3200 PPM – Dead in 30 minutes
- 6400 PPM – Dead in 10-15 minutes
- 12800 PPM – Dead in 1-3 minutes
This is one reason why many people actually feel pretty good when they go out, but staying home they start feeling down & quite frankly blah.
The Problem with the “Protect”:
Please tell me it is true, a system that will warn you that CO levels are rising but doesn’t sound a full blown alarm… Surely that would qualify under ANSI/UL 2034… Mmmm no… Unfortunately per an email from the NEST support team about when a warning or alarm would be given, the system only gives out warnings & alarms based on UL 2034 listed above. So much for full protection…
Solving the CO Issue:
Unfortunately as pointed out in the code piece above, there is no easy answer & with many of these “low CO alarm” sites being a nightmare to navigate & leaving one wondering if they are for real… Personally I like the Nighthawk version which is a traditional alarm but also shows the current level. There are also numerous “personal carry” devices (required by OSHA & other organizations depending on your job) which can easily be purchased & simply left on a nightstand or by your favorite chair which will alert you based on their settings (most at 30 PPM).
Does that mean game over for the NEST protect?
I got to say no – many designers like Courtney Price are starting to look into it as the unit is pretty slick looking & it has some pretty nifty features. With that, at $129 a pop (especially seeing most three bedroom houses require at least three under the 2009 codes & five+ under the 2012 codes) it does come at a slight premium. As for the burnt toast problem, well I dare say they should revisit their placement strategy as burnt toast should not set off an alarm. Might these units make it into my dream house or be a “you might want to check out” – I got to say yes depending on the circumstances & overall needs / wants of a client.