SimpliSafe: DIY Home Security

Recently, a friend of mine was looking for an affordable way to install a home security system in his new apartment. As a fellow gun owner, he was understandably concerned about the potential for burglary and he has recognized that just having a safe may not always be enough. Since the apartment is only a temporary home for him, he also wanted to make sure that he would not be chained to the kind of lengthy contracts that are characteristic of most big-name home security solutions. Fortunately, for people like my friend, there are self-install options available to address just these sorts of scenarios. During our research, we were both amazed to see the positive reviews that the SimpliSafe user-installed systems were receiving (especially among other firearm owners) and after some discussion agreed that SimpliSafe’s offering would be the best for his needs.

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Aside from being user installed, two of the main selling points for the SimpliSafe system are the lack of any contracts and the fact that the user owns the system and is free to move it to a new location without further expense. For someone like my friend, this means that he will be able to take the system with him when he purchases a house in a few years without having to have a home security company do it and charge him for it. Be warned though, SimpliSafe does use proprietary equipment so users are not able to change to a different provider using the SimpliSafe sensors and keypads.

Because SimpliSafe supports its refurbished systems with the same guarantee as its new systems, the choice to go with a refurbished one was a no-brainer for my friend. After he ordered, the system took a little under a week to arrive. Wisely packaged in a plain brown box, the package included the base station (I will elaborate on this piece later), a keypad, two entry sensors, a motion sensor, a USB key fob (more on this later), and additional 3M adhesive strips and window stickers. All this comes at a price of just over $200, which I believe is an excellent value.

Set-up with the SimpliSafe system is incredibly easy. Each sensor has 3M adhesive on the back so physically installing each is literally as simple as sticking them on the wall. Further, each sensor comes pre-connected to the base station, so users only need to pull the battery tabs for the sensors to begin communicating. The sensors themselves are rather basic in construction, neither impressive nor disappointing from a build standpoint. I do have concerns about the 3M adhesive coming loose, but other user feedback seems to indicate that this is a non-issue.

Entry sensors are two piece affairs with a primary sensor as well as a magnet. When the pieces are within two inches of each other, the window/door is in the closed state. These sensors also have a light to serve as a status indicator.

The motion sensors are small thermal motion detectors that monitor a full 90 degrees for a distance up to 30 feet. Based on the tests we ran, the sensor seems to work exactly as expected and the base station returns an audible notification when the sensors are activated within test mode. SimpliSafe claims that the sensors will not be tripped by small pets (under 50 lbs), but we did not have a dog handy to test this functionality.

One feature I find lacking on the motion sensors is any kind of visual indication when they have been tripped. My experience with other home security systems has shown this to be a useful feature and SimpliSafe’s omission of a simple LED indicator is somewhat disappointing. Still, the sensor seems to work well and has acceptable range.

After covering the relatively self-explanatory entry and motion sensors, it is important to discuss how the base station and keypad work. Unlike some other systems, the “brains” of the SimpliSafe system are housed in the base station rather than the keypad. The advantage with this system is that even if a burglar destroys the keypad, the base station can still communicate with the dispatch center and the police will still be notified. Because the base station is the controller for the system, SimpliSafe recommends users place it in a secure, hidden location. The base station is the only piece of the kit that must be plugged in, but also includes a backup battery that is said to last as many as 4 days in the event of a power failure.

In addition to broadcasting alarm/status to the dispatch center over a T-Mobile GSM wireless network (provided as part of the monthly fee), the base station features Ethernet and phone line backup. It should be noted that beyond convenience, the wireless transmission method ensures that burglars cannot simply cut the phone line to defeat the system. However, my experience has been that several landline-based alternatives have taken steps to overcome this weakness.

Another interesting piece of the system is the key fob. Much like the fob that you might carry for your car, the SimpliSafe fob can trigger a panic alarm, activate the monitoring system, or turn the system off. In addition to housing these controls, the key fob plugs into users’ computer to adjust system settings such as alarm delays and activation/deactivation pins. From my perspective, the key fob is an excellent addition to the system, especially if you have family members who are not accustomed to living with a home security system as it makes the whole process as simple as pressing a button. On the other hand, the fob approach worries me because if lost, potential intruders may be able to disable the alarm before entering.

All things considered, the SimpliSafe home security system is an excellent alternative to the contract model offered by big home security companies. Though the system lacks the home automation features offered by providers like ADT, SimpliSafe seems to work just as well as the big players as far as basic home monitoring is concerned. From the time we opened the kit to registering the system using SimpliSafe’s online portal, it took no more than an hour to be up and running. Monthly fees for monitoring start at $14.99 for the basic service and go up to $24.99 for additional features, such as smart phone and online controls. SimpliSafe also claims to have a glass break sensor in development.

*Note to readers: Before purchasing the SimpliSafe system, be sure to check your local laws regarding alarm permits. SimpliSafe will remind you of this, but both my buddy and I both agreed that it would be nice to know this going in. Furthermore, the system will remain in training mode for the first three days of activation. This means that alarms do not send a message to the dispatch center during this timeframe as SimpliSafe expects new users to accidentally trigger the system.

Screenshots from the web command center (additional monthly fee):

SimplisafeHome

SimplisafeAlarmSettings

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