Amazon and Nest Can Make Your Dumb Smoke Detectors Smart
April 24, 2022
As Debbie and I continue to work through the details of our home planning, there are aspects that are not as fun or glamorous as others. But it doesn’t mean they’re any less important, especially where life safety or the law are concerned. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms fall into that area that still needs addressing for us. I covered some of this in an earlier post Smoke And Carbon Monoxide Alarms for Your Smart Home.
I’ve looked at many of the alarms out there, from ‘dumb’ but dependable solutions to gadgets that we can integrate into our smart home design perfectly. Admittedly, no one likes dealing with these as once they’re installed you pretty much forget about them until it’s too late. I’m talking about the ‘change the battery chirp that always comes in the middle of the night to the alarm sounding when you accidently leave the bag of popcorn in the microwave too long.
As I’ve already mentioned, these alarms aren’t the most exciting of gadgets to purchase. They’re incredibly useful and important but they’re rarely the kind of technology that’s going to get someone like me (or you?) fired up. Still, it’s wise to buy the right kind of smoke and carbon monoxide alarm for your home.
In case you already have traditional ‘dumb’ smoke (and carbon monoxide?) detector there are ways to make them smart without replacing what you have or adding a hub. If you have an Amazon Echo or Google Nest smart speaker in your home, you can easily use it to monitor your home for smoke and carbon monoxide.
With these smart speakers, you can supplement regular smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your home by configuring them to listen for the alarm sound. Except for the rare combination units on the market like the First Alert Onelink Safe & Sound there are no smart speakers that can detect fires or carbon monoxide on their own. There are a variety of situations where it can be useful, and save you some money, to opt to use your smart speakers to monitor your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
Obviously, a good smart smoke detector connected to your home network is a superior choice. But if you follow alarm placement guidelines, the expense can be significant. If you already have smart speakers and traditional “dumb” smoke alarms, there is a free way to make them smart.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, you’re supposed to put a smoke or combination alarm in every bedroom, the space immediately outside bedrooms, your living room, near the lower landing or each stairway. You should also ensure there’s one on every floor, including the basement. In our case, for a single-story home:
- Master Bedroom = 1
- SW Bedroom = 1
- SE Bedroom = 1
- Outside Master Bedroom = 1
- Outside SW and SE Bedrooms = 1
- Office = 1
- Great Room = 1
- Kitchen/Dining Room = 1
- Mud Room = 1
- TOTAL = 9
I didn’t list our garage, though you’d think it’d be a logical place to have one, with storage of vehicles, fuel, power tools, etc. Heat detectors are recommended for garages as they are more reliable than smoke detectors when placed in environments that can become dusty or dirty, such as garages. Whether your area is experiencing heat waves or a spark turns into a fire, the heat detector will alert you to abnormal conditions that could cause damage or be life threatening. Smoke alarms on the other hand are recommended to be installed in rooms that have shared doors, walls or floors with the garage.
Premium smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarms like the Google Nest Protect are great products. But to outfit an average home could be costly. By contrast, you can buy nice ‘dumb’ combination alarms like this First Alert model for what you’d spend on a single Nest Protect.
If you’re in a situation where it’s impractical or even impossible to replace all the smoke alarms in your home — for example, if you live in an apartment with hardwired alarms you can’t change — then using a device to monitor when the alarms go off might be the only option you have.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, Apple’s HomePod platform doesn’t offer an equivalent feature. The original HomePod was Apple’s answer to the Amazon Echo, but with more of a focus on music and sound quality. After three years on the market, Apple discontinued the original HomePod in March, 2021, and will focus its efforts on the smaller and cheaper HomePod mini launched in November 2020.
For people with Echo speakers, there is a free function called “Alexa Guard.” You activate it by opening the Alexa app on your phone and going to:
- Follow the instructions there to configure Alexa Guard
As the name implies, the “Guard” feature is intended to monitor your home when you’re away. You enable and disable the feature by using the command “Alexa, I’m leaving” and “Alexa, I’m home” when leaving and returning home. When active the feature listens for the sound of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, as well as the sound of glass breaking.
To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of having to manually activate Guard. You’d think that with integration with Alexa that this process could be automated like it is with my Roomba. It has Alexa integration as well and activates automatically when Debbie and I’s phones are absent from our home network.
There’s also an advanced mode for Alexa Guard, Alexa Guard Plus, a subscription model that includes additional monitoring:
- Listening for footsteps
- Doors opening and closing and other features
- Turn on/off smart lights to make it seem like you’re home
- Sound dogs barking when activity is detected outside
- Sounds a siren when activity is detected inside
If you’re using the Ring security system already, you should check out the Ring Alarm Smoke and CO Listener. It’s a small battery-powered device that listens for alarms and sends an alert to your Ring system when it hears them — no additional smart speaker is required. And Alexa Guard Plus is included for free in the Ring Protect Pro plan.
Google Nest speakers have a similar function that also detects smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, as well as glass break detection. The feature is called “Sound Detection.”
There’s no free version of Sound Detection like with Alexa Guard, however. It’s a premium feature included with a Nest Aware subscription. When active, the feature listens for the sound of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, as well as the sound of glass breaking.
For our smart home friends out there, as you already have some sort of smoke detectors where you live, we’d love to hear your thoughts if you’d consider making them smart. Or if your smoke detectors are already smart, which make/model do you have? Would you recommend them as a new install or replacement. I’m planning to install wired, smart smoke detectors with carbon monoxide detection in our home — either the wired Google Nest Protect or First Alert Onelink .
What similar products or devices are you currently using to accomplish the same tasks? How long have you used them? What do you like best about them?
Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails as we really enjoy hearing from you. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’ Until next week …
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