Nest Smoke Detector

Starting with the phrase “Protection shouldn’t be annoying”, the creative inventors at NEST have done it again.  First they made  the Nest Thermostat (click here for the video), one that actually saves you money on your energy bills, and us uber stylish, and now they come out with a smoke detector that is equally as great.


Have you seen the new Nest Smoke Alarm?

Have you ever set off the smoke detector while cooking? I know I have.  When the darn thing goes off, I reach up (I’m 6+ feet tall) and twist the shrieking detector right off the ceiling, and take out the battery.  Sometimes I go to bed before remembering to put it back, and that is a huge no-no.  In fact over 70% of smoke detectors fail to go off because of missing batteries or some other reason.

Or, how about hearing that chirp, chirp, every few minutes when there is a low battery.  First you have to find which one is actually making the noise, and then I do the exact same thing.  Take it down, remove the batteries, and go unprotected for up to a week while I find time to hook it back up.

Well, no more.  With the new Nest Protect, all the old problems of a smoke detector go away, using a little technology, and some cool modern styling.

How the Smoke Detector Works

The smart people at Nest have separated the detection part from the alarm part and made a bunch of no-brainer improvements.  It uses both color, sound, and a human voice to let you know there is a problem.  Detecting both Smoke, as well as the odorless and colorless CO2 gas.

If you have multiple units they all link together via Wi-Fi, and you can even monitor them from your cell phone.  It’s a new take on an old technology.

Nest Smoke Detector Colors

The Nest Detect comes in two colors, black and white.  You can get the white one anywhere (Like, but you can only get the black one from the Nest website (see link at end of article.)

Nest Ring Colors - blueThe Nest detector also has a special LED ring on it that changes color based on the situation.  Most old smoke detectors only have a little red light that flashes every so often.

Not the Nest.  It’ has a large colored LED ring that changes color based on the situation.

  • No Color – Most of the time the nest smoke detector doesn’t light up.  That’s OK.  It’s still is working properly.
  • Blue ring – The blue light shows that Nest Protect is active and ready to be connected or tested.
  • Green ring – It is green immediately after setup to show everything is OK.  It also turns green immediately after you turn off the lights for a few minutes signaling that is is active and ready.  Also, it will turn green after an alarm showing that things are returning to normal.
  • White ring – This is the nightlight feature, and comes on when the room is totally dark, to briefly light your way.  This feature is called Pathlight, and is really cool.  I’m guessing the people at Nest have a new product based on this coming soon.
  • Yellow ring – This is a pre-alert – notifying you by both color and voice, that something is up.  It may be that the batteries are low, or it could be that there is an actual fire.  Either way, the color helps you to know what is going on.
  • Red ring – The red light means that Nest Protect has detected dangerous levels of smoke or carbon monoxide. A red light is accompanied by a loud alarm sound and a voice alert telling you what and where the danger is.

How the Smoke Alarm Works

The Nest unit has a two stage alarm, as well as using a real human voice, and colored lights to tell you what is going on.  Old style smoke detectors just make a crazy loud beep.  Not the Nest detector.  It first tells you, in English, that there is a problem, using clear easy to understand language:  “There is smoke in the hall”.  If you have just burned a steak, you can wave your hand at the unit to dismiss the alert.

If however it is a real fire, the notification will escalate, and a loud alarm (one that you expect from a smoke detector) will go off, alerting you where the fire is, and telling you to get out.

It also uses the red color to tell you that either there is smoke or high levels of CO2.

Smoke Detector Batteries

You can get either a battery operated one, or one that runs off 120 volts.  Most houses use a battery operated smoke detector, but I actually have one in my hallway that is hardwired.  I put one in every bedroom (where people sleep), plus one in the hall, one in the family room, and one near my furnaces.

Installing the Nest Protect

Other Cool Features

If you have more than one Nest Smoke Alarm, or a combo of the Thermostats and smoke alarms, they all talk to each other and work together.  What?  How is that possible?  Let me explain.  Say one of the smoke detectors signals there is smoke.  The Nest system works together, alerting you, and turning off your furnace in the case of an alarm.

Plus, if you have more than one detector, they all work together.  One in the kitchen senses smoke, it will signal the one in the hall or bedrooms telling you that there is smoke in the Kitchen (even if your Wi-Fi is down).  Very Very Cool.

Where to buy a Nest?

If you are looking for one, the best place to get it is Nest Protect Smoke + Carbon Monoxide They are most likely to have them in stock, and ship really fast so you can have one in just a couple of days with no hassle.  If you want a black Nest, you have to order it right from

Garage Door Companies in Austin

A new garage door opener, installed is about $400 bucks.  Some companies try to sell you more services than you need, and others just do what you ask without a lot of hoopla.  Here’s my review of three garage door companies in Austin.

Last December, on the coldest day of the year, my garage door decided that it was done working.  I was running a little bit behind schedule. I had to swing by the office to pick up some papers before heading out to  a listing appointment on 620 – and it was a nippy 33°, so I didn’t want to mess around.

I pressed the button on the wall to open the door, and the garage door opener started to make a horrible grinding and shrieking noise, and the door opened a total of 2 feet.

So I pressed the button again, and the door closed.  Pressed it again and I got it open 4 feet.  Still not enough to back the car out.

One last try, closing and opening the door, and I managed to get it up enough to get the car out.

So as I was driving out to the lake, I called three garage door companies to send them out to the house to get a quote.  Here’s what I learned:

  1. Access
  2. Precision
  3. Cedar Park

The nice thing is that all three companies came when they said they would, and each called me first to announce they were coming.

Access Garage Door Service

Access Garage DoorsThe first company to show up was Access Garage Doors.

Of the three companies, Access had the most affordable price, and the system they were selling came with two remotes, a wall button, and one of those keypads that goes outside the door, as well.

But the guy didn’t really do much besides open the door, look at it and say, “Yep, you need a new opener”.   The good thing about this is that he didn’t try to sell me something I didn’t need, but at the same time, I think I’d have liked an inspection just in case I needed something else.

Precision Garage Door Repair

Precision Garage Door ServiceThe next company to come was the national chain Precision Garage Door.

This company was the most expensive of the three, and also came with the least amount of goodies.  Only one keychain remote was included.

But, they also did the most thorough inspection, and even sprayed stuff on my chain opener, on the garage door spring, and even the hinges and rollers.   This quieted my noisy door a lot, made it run smoother, and seemed to fix the problem, at least temporarily.

Cedar Park Garage Doors

Cedar Park Garage Doors

The third and final company to come as scheduled was the local Cedar Park Garage Doors.

By the time they came, the door was working pretty much as it should.  There didn’t seem to be much wrong.  But they also did a great inspection, and told me that although everything was working, it was a good idea to replace my motor, as it seemed to be as old as my house.

At the same time, the service guy also did the most to educate me about garage door upkeep and maintance:  Checking all the hinges and rollers, how to lubricate all the moving parts with a silicon based spray (not WD-40), how to open the door in an emergency, and that I needed some electric sensors at ankle level to bring the whole system up to code.

All in all, I was happy with each company.  I don’t want to bias you with who I chose, but I was happy overall with the price, and the quality of the job.


NEST Energy Saving thermostat

Nest Thermostat on CBS Sunday Morning.

Did you watch the video?  Pretty cool ‘eh?  Did you see the part where you can control it from your iPhone?  I know.  I want one, too.

Nest Thermostat ScheduleThe idea is amazingly simple:  just use the Nest thermostat as you normally would.  Turn it up if you want it warmer, or down if you want it cooler, using the ring on the outside .  Inside, is a tiny computer that learns what you like.  It has a built in motion sensor, so it knows when you are home or away.    There’s even a lock feature to prevent others from teaching it.

You can find it on Buy the Nest Thermostat

Nest iPad AppI think it even has some sort of built in Wi-Fi so you can control it from you iPhone or iPad.  You can check out the Nest app on the iTunes store.  Forget to turn off the A/C before your 2-week family vacation?  You can adjust it from your car.  Are you coming home late from a show with some friends and worried about a cold house?  Turn it up before you get home.  There are a ton of helpful tutorials on their blog, if you want to learn more about it before you buy one.

I’ve ordered one, but it hasn’t come yet (it’s on back order) so I can’t share my experiences with you.  As soon as it does, I’ll show you how it works.

Since the design isn’t for everyone, there are alternatives out there.

One is the Free Thermostat provided by Austin Energy. Not nearly as design-ey as the Nest, it too can save you up to 20% (according to Austin Energy).  Here’s how it works.  On really hot days in Austin everybody has their air condition on, full blast.  This puts a huge load on the system so Austin Energy, the utility company sends out a signal to the thermostat which cycles it off for a short time during peak hours.  This only happens during the months of July to September, and no more than 15 minutes every half hour.

Plus, it’s also programmable, so you can set specific temps for when you are home or away, with different settings for weekends, too.

Most thermostats are easily replaced with just a screw driver.  If you are a little bit handy, you can probably do the job yourself.  Just be aware, that most older thermostats have Mercury in them, and need to disposed of as Hazardous waste.  Don’t worry though, it’s safe to carefully handle old thermostats.  The mercury is contained in a little glass tube inside the thermostat, and is perfectly safe to work with as long as you don’t break the glass vial inside.