Have a Smart Speaker? Use it to Make Your Smoke Alarms Smart

A Google Nest Mini speaker sitting on a fireplace mantle.
David Ferencik/Shutterstock.com

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. This is a simple way to turn your “dumb” traditional smoke dectors into smart alarms.

Before we dig in though, it’s important to note two things. First and foremost, a safety warning.

What we’re discussing here is supplementing the regular smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your home by configuring your smart speakers 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.

Second, as of April 2022, the services/features required to enable both the Amazon and Google platforms to detect alarms are available for users in the United States only.

Why Use Smart Speakers Instead of Smart Alarms?

There are a variety of situations where it can be useful (and economical!) to opt to use your smart speakers to monitor your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

To be clear, a good smart smoke detector connected to your home network is a superior choice. But if you follow alarm placement guidelines, the expense skyrockets pretty quickly. If you already have smart speakers and traditional “dumb” smoke alarms, this 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 an average house, that’s easily a dozen smoke alarms.

Nest Protect

It’s pricey, but the Nest Protect is the best smart smoke alarm on the market.

Premium smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarms like the Google Nest Protect run over a hundred dollars. Google’s smart smoke detector is a great product, but to outfit your average home would cost over a thousand dollars.  By contrast, you can buy 3-4 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.

How to Use Your Smart Speakers as Alarm Detectors

Among smart home speakers, both Amazon’s Echo platform and the Nest/Google Home platform have an alarm monitoring solution.

Unfortunately, as of April 2022, Apple’s HomePod platform doesn’t offer an equivalent feature.

That’s a shame because, as of iOS 14, the iPhone has a really great accessibility feature named Sound Recognition. It listens for events like smoke alarms and alerts hearing impaired people to them, but the feature isn’t available through the HomePod.

And again, to emphasize a note we made at the start of the article, the services/features required to enable alarm detection on the Amazon and Google smart speaker platforms are currently only available to U.S. customers.

Alarm Monitoring with Echo Speakers

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 visiting Settings > Guard. 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.

There’s also an advanced mode for Alexa Guard, Alexa Guard Plus, a subscription model that includes additional monitoring (such as listening for footsteps and doors opening and closing) as well as other features. Alexa Guard Plus is $4.99/month (or $49/year) if purchased as a stand-alone service, but it’s included for free in the Ring Protect Pro plan ($20/month or $200/year).

If you’re using the Ring security system already, by the way, 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.

Alarm Monitoring with Google Nest Speakers

Google Nest speakers have a similar function that also detects smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, as well as glass break detection. No fancy name, however, the feature is simply called “Sound Detection.”

There is no free version of Sound Detection like there is with the free and premium versions of Alexa Guard. It’s a premium feature included with a Nest Aware subscription ($6/month or $60/year).

You can activate Sound Detection by opening the Google Home app, tapping on Settings, and then selecting Nest Aware. There you can select “Sound Detection” and configure the feature.

Unlike Alexa Guard, there is no arming or disarming of the feature with voice commands. Once you enable it, the selected speakers simply continually monitor for the selected sound events.

Placing the Speakers

In addition to enabling the feature on your respective smart speaker platform, consider speaker placement.

Ideally, you should have a smart speaker in every room that has a smoke alarm or it should have a line of sight, sans walls, furniture, or doors, into the room with the alarm.

It doesn’t have to be the top-of-the-line option: The alarm detection features work on speakers as modest as small Echo Dot or Nest Mini, so now might be the perfect time to drop a few extras around your house. Not only will you get better coverage for alarm detection but better coverage for whole-house audio and smart home commands.

The Best Smart Speakers of 2022

Best Smart Speaker Overall
Sonos One

Best Budget Smart Speaker
Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen)

Best Smart Speaker for Music
Bose Home Speaker 500

Best Portable Smart Speaker
JBL Charge 4

Best Smart Speaker for Alexa
Amazon Echo Studio

Best Smart Speaker for Google Home
Google Nest Audio

Best Smart Speaker for Apple HomeKit
HomePod mini

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