Why You Want a Do-It-Yourself Home Security System

NOTE: This article contains no information about genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy-related articles, I suggest you skip this article.

burglarA recent article by Nick McCrea in the Bangor (Maine) Daily News made me stop and think. McCrea’s home was burglarized recently while he and his family were sleeping. He writes, “A burglar or burglars shoved a pry bar into the latch and popped the door open to my family’s home. I never woke up. The culprits were just feet away from me, separated only by a closed bedroom door and a few feet of hallway, and I never even knew it. That’s the part that angers me the most.” A pocketbook with a small amount of money was taken, but apparently nothing else is missing.

McCrea describes his feelings after discovering the burglary. He notes, “This is how I’ve come to realize that being the victim of a burglary is not about losing items. I didn’t lose any ‘stuff’ in this crime — no televisions, computers or money. My family and I, however, lost our ability to feel secure in our house and close our eyes at night.”

Several other homes on the same street were hit the same night. You can read his full article at http://goo.gl/Wcr0iM.

The question quickly arises, “What would you do if that happened to you?” That is a difficult question to answer.

Some people would answer that they will use firearms to defend themselves and their loved ones. The claim is that the burglar(s) would leave in a body bag. That’s pointless as neither McCrea nor any of his family members ever woke up. You can’t fire a gun at anyone when you are sleeping. Even worse is the possibility of waking in the middle of the night to a sound of someone moving within the home, grabbing a firearm, shooting, and then discovering you just killed a family member. I don’t know how anyone could live with themselves after that.

In a break-in, the burglar has all the advantages. He has the advantage of surprise as well as the advantage of being prepared. He or she may already be armed, possibly with the gun already drawn and ready for use. A family member waking from sleep is ill-prepared to respond, even if a loaded firearm is available nearby.

Another thought is that firearms attract burglars. Burglars probably prefer to steal cash, if possible, but the idea of stealing a firearm is probably second on the list of burglarized “booty.” If you own a firearm, do you “advertise” the fact by having an NRA bumper sticker on your automobile or a similar decal on your front door? If so, you are advertising to the criminals: “Firearms available for burglary here.” If you own firearms, don’t advertise the fact!

Probably the best advice is summarized in the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” REACTING to a burglary is always a losing proposition. A better plan is to work to PREVENT a burglary from happening.

Having strong locks is a good idea but is still an incomplete solution. Probably a better idea is to have a dog, preferably one of the small, obnoxious canines that barks at anything that moves. A small dog may not stop a burglar, but it will provide plenty of notice to family members about a possible problem. A larger, aggressive breed may first appear to provide more protection, but the smaller dog probably is more effective at providing advance notice and at scaring would-be burglars away.

Comment: One of my former neighbors had a large German Shepard that looked aggressive. In fact, she was one of the friendliest dogs I have known. When a stranger approached, she would run up and wait to be patted. I don’t think I ever heard her bark. For protection purposes, a small Chihuahua would have been much better.

Unfortunately, having an animal is difficult where I live. I also travel frequently and cannot provide care for the animal when I am gone. That also is perhaps the time I need protection the most. Putting a dog into a boarding kennel for a few days while I travel doesn’t provide much protection for the home! I need a different solution. I believe I found one and will share the solution with anyone else who might be interested.

I installed a web-enabled security system in my home more than a year ago. It monitors doors and windows for intruders. It also has a motion detector in the living room, the center of the house. Any would-be burglar has to walk through the living room to reach any other part of the house, so the motion detector provides a lot of security. The system also has two moisture detectors: one installed on the floor near the washing machine and another on the floor near the hot water heater. I later added a freeze detector that alerts me and the alarm service when the interior temperature approaches 36 degrees Fahrenheit. It also has a very loud klaxon horn mounted on the outside of the house that is sure to wake the neighbors at any time of the day or night.

In addition, I signed up for the (optional) alarm company monitoring service. The alarm setting has three settings:

  • AWAY: This is for use when the house is unoccupied. All sensors are enabled, including the motion detector.
  • HOME: The door and window sensors are enabled, but the motion detector is ignored. This is my most-used setting for nighttime protection. Family members can walk around in the house without setting off the alarm. However, opening any door or window that has a sensor installed immediately triggers the very loud alarm and calls the monitoring service.
  • OFF: The smoke detector, freeze, and water sensors will still trigger the alarm, but the window and door detectors as well as the motion detectors are ignored.

I set the alarm to HOME every night before going to bed. I feel secure that anyone breaking in through a door or one of my monitored windows will result in a very loud klaxon horn scaring everyone, family members and burglars alike.

When I leave the home unoccupied, the last person out the door always sets the alarm to AWAY.

Finally, the new security system has a built-in cell phone data capability that notifies a central alarm monitoring service of any problems. There is no connection to a telephone line. In turn, that service will immediately send a text message to my cell phone to tell me of any problems. It also sends email messages to as many email addresses as I care to specify. In addition, the monitoring service employees will immediately pick up a phone and start calling a list of people I specified. First on the list is my cell phone. If no answer there, the central alarm monitoring service will then call one of my relatives. If no answer there, the central alarm monitoring service will call my next-door neighbor. Finally, if all those calls fail to reach a live human, the central alarm monitoring service will call the 911 emergency dispatch operator in the area where I live and report the type of alarm (intrusion, water, temperature) and also supply my home address.

The best part of all is that I purchased the individual components myself, specifying the items I wished to install, and then I installed everything myself within minutes. Everything is wireless, powered by batteries with a five-year life expectancy. When the batteries eventually get weak, the system sends me an email message that tells me which sensors need a battery replacement. All these devices are wireless; I didn’t have to string any wires to install the sensors. Installation requires almost no technical knowledge; simply peel the backing off the double-side sticky tape, and then stick the sensor to the window or door frame.

Even the “connection” to the central alarm monitoring service is wireless. It works by cell phone data. I didn’t want any monitoring system that uses telephone wires to connect to a monitoring service for two reasons: (1.) I don’t own a regular telephone, so there are no phone wires at my house; and (2.) I know that any knowledgeable burglar will rip phone wires off the house before breaking and entering. Traditional alarm systems that use telephone wires to call the central alarm monitoring service become useless when knowledgeable burglars equipped with a pair of scissors disable the phone lines.

Where I live, the cell phone companies all have strong, reliable signals, so a cell phone solution was perfect for me. It might not work as well in rural areas. The entire system is run by batteries, including the control console in the home that is equipped with rechargeable batteries that are kept fully charged by a trickle charger that plugs into a wall outlet. If there is a power failure, or if a burglar disconnects power from the house, the entire system will continue to operate for eight to ten hours.

The same system is also reachable from the World Wide Web. In fact, my home’s security system has its own password-protected web page. I can use any web browser on my cell phone, tablet computer, laptop, desktop computer, or even from a friend’s computer or a public computer at a library or Internet café to check on the status of the alarm system. If I prefer, I can also use a specialized Android or Apple iOS app provided by the security monitoring service. However, I find that a web browser works almost as well as the specialized app.

I can turn the security system on and off via the web, using any web browser or by using the specialized app. That’s handy if I get a phone call from my plumber or other tradesman when I am out of the house. If that person needs to enter my house, and assuming that I trust him, I can talk with him on my cell phone first. I can then use the phone’s app or web browser to connect to my security system’s web page, enter the password that is known only to me, and turn off the alarm system. After the tradesman finishes his work and leaves, I can turn the alarm back on again. I can do this from anyplace in the world.

I decided to use this system because of a bad experience I had years ago with a well-known national alarm service. I had the national company install a rather expensive security system in the house I owned at the time, using what was a state-of-the-art alarm system in those days. I paid a lot of money for that system and then paid an additional $30 a month for the monitoring service. In those days, none of the home security systems could notify cell phones or had web pages.

The contract that I had with the monitoring service specified that, in case of an alarm, the company would first try to contact me at the several telephone numbers I provided. If unsuccessful, they would contact the 911 emergency dispatcher in my area. I had reasons later to go back and read that contract again. Those requirements were specified in detail and were REQUIRED by the contract.

All went well for about three years with no alarms of any sort. Eventually, I put the house up for sale and listed it with a local real estate agent. I gave the agent instructions on how to disarm the security alarm so that he could show the house to prospective buyers. I also provided instructions to re-arm it again when leaving.

The first time the real estate agent showed the house to a prospective buyer, he forgot to take the instructions with him. He had a key, so he unlocked the front door and walked in. Thirty seconds later, a very loud klaxon alarm started blaring. Since the real estate agent had already entered, and since he knew all the police officers and firemen in this small town, he continued to show the house while he awaited the arrival of law enforcement. Nobody showed up, and the alarm eventually timed out and fell silent. He later left the house, locking the door behind him.

The real estate agent then called me at my office and told me what happened. He expressed surprise that the police never showed up. I was also surprised that the alarm company had not called me at the office, even though I knew they had the number and I had been sitting at my desk for hours.

Upon arriving home that evening, I found my home answering machine had a message. It was from the alarm company, saying, “We want to notify you that your security alarm has detected an intrusion.” That’s all! The alarm company left a message on my answering machine and took no other action. Had a burglar been in the house, he could have listened to the message as it was being recorded on the machine.

This is security?

I immediately called the alarm company and talked with a customer service rep. When I expressed dissatisfaction, I was transferred to a supervisor. I’ll skip all the details and give the summation: the alarm company placed ONE CALL to my in-home answering service to tell me there was a possible break-in at my home. They never called my office or my cell phone, nor did they call the 911 emergency dispatcher. Why did they call my home phone when the house was obviously unoccupied (and alarmed)? Who did they expect to answer my home phone–the burglar?

I pointed out that the company was obligated by contract to provide better service than what I had received. The supervisor agreed (I think he had heard similar complaints before) but stated that the company had “changed its policies” a year or so earlier and no longer called 911 emergency dispatchers directly. He also admitted that the company had not notified its customers of the change. Having spent more than $1,000 in monitoring charges in the preceding three years, I was unhappy. After threats of a lawsuit, the supervisor agreed to refund my charges for the past year, and I received a check a couple of weeks later. Of course, I also canceled my monitoring service.

After that experience, I decided I wanted my next security system to allow me to be more “involved.” I wanted complete control over all notifications, and I didn’t want to be locked into any contracts. After a lot of searching on the web and reading of messages in newsgroups, I selected the security system offered by SimpliSafe, Inc. at http://www.simplisafe.com.

SimpliSafe offers a menu of individual components plus some “package deals.” After a lot of reading, I selected the company’s Economy Package for $259.95, plus several additional items. I ended up with one base station (with built-in cell phone module for sending data to SimpliSafe), a wireless keypad (which does not need to be installed near the base station), four entry detectors for doors and windows, one motion detector, two moisture detectors, a panic button (which I keep beside the bed), a loud klaxon horn, and a wireless keychain remote control. Some months later, I returned to the web site and ordered a smoke detector and a freeze detector that had not been available when I first ordered the system.

I placed entry sensors on each door, but not on each window. I have too many windows! Buying sensors for every window would be expensive. Instead, I first placed entry sensors on the windows in the bedrooms. Next, I placed the motion detector in the living room where it “overlooks” all the remaining windows, including the kitchen and dining room. Anyone who enters one of the remaining windows will trigger the motion detector within seconds. I suspect it would have been cheaper to buy another motion detector for each bedroom.

Anyone else purchasing a security system from SimpliSafe would probably select different components, depending upon the number of doors, windows, and other things to be monitored in their home. This is not a case of “one size fits all!”

My components arrived two days later by (prepaid) FedEx.

I found installation to be super simple. First of all, everything is wireless. There are no wires to string. Second, most components can be mounted either by screws or by some very strong double-sided tape that is included with the components. I installed all the components listed above in about a half hour, and that includes time spent reading the instructions.

The instructions say to place the control unit near a window as it contains the cell phone component and needs a strong signal. That wasn’t convenient for me, so I placed it on a high shelf in the laundry room that is almost in the center of the house with no windows at all in the room. It works perfectly. Admittedly, the cell phone companies all seem to have strong signals where I live; so, placement of the control unit probably isn’t critical for me. If cell phone signals are weaker where you live, placement of the control unit might be an issue. The control unit, also called the base station, is the only component that requires a wall outlet for power; everything else works on batteries. The control unit also has batteries, but these are used only for backup purposes in case of a power outage or if a burglar disconnects the power lines before entering the home. The control unit batteries should power the base station for eight to ten hours, according to the user’s manual. I have never tested that. However, when there is a power failure at the house, I always receive a cell phone text message within seconds, alerting me to the power failure. An email message is also sent. I guess the batteries work. In addition, I always receive another text message and email message when power is restored.

The motion detector ignores the movement of small animals, such as a small dog that I mentioned earlier. However, I suspect a larger animal will trigger an alarm when walking around the house with the alarm system set to AWAY. Setting the alarm system to HOME ignores the motion detector.

I am pleased with the operation of the self-installed security system. In fact, it has so many options that I am still experimenting. It can notify me via text messages and email messages about every change in status (armed, unarmed, etc.), or I can specify to only notify me of major events (alarm activated, water detected on the floor, etc.). Even when unarmed, opening a door produces a pleasant chime. (The chime can be turned off.) When an alarm goes off, the text message and email even include the serial number of the sensor that was triggered so that I know which door or which window triggered the alarm. (The first few days I neglected to carry the list of sensor serial numbers with me. Since then, I have copied the serial numbers and their corresponding locations to a text file that is now stored in my cell phone.)

A door or window can even be left open for ventilation. When the security system is activated, it ignores doors and windows that are open at that moment. However, if someone later closes the door or window, monitoring starts at that time. If opened again at a still later time, an alarm is sounded.

For a description of some of the advantages of the SimpliSafe system versus competitive offerings, look at http://simplisafe.com/home-security-system-8-components and scroll down the page a bit.

I also elected to sign up for the monitoring service by a central alarm monitoring company. This service is optional; if you are satisfied with your own monitoring along with that provided by friends and neighbors, there is no requirement to have professional operators ensuring the safety of your home round-the-clock. However, for those who want the extra level of security and like the idea that a human will call the local 911 emergency dispatcher in your area, there are three levels of monitoring available. Prices vary from $14.99 a month to $24.99 a month. Details may be found at http://simplisafe.com/wireless-home-security-feature-overview. You can also cancel the monitoring service at any time as there is no long-term contract. If canceled, the local alarm still works, and the text and email messages still function as usual. However, nobody at the alarm company’s office will be monitoring, and no one will pick up a telephone to call you, your relatives, or the local 911 number.

I signed up for the maximum $24.99 a month plan.

There is no additional charge for the cell phone data connection. SimpliSafe apparently pays the cell phone charges.

All in all, I am pleased with the SimpliSafe system after more than a year of use. I especially like the fact that all status info is available on my cell phone or other computer and that I can even control the system remotely via the Internet. I also appreciate the fact that the system is not dependent upon telephone wires that are easily disconnected by a would-be burglar. I would never purchase a security system that requires a landline telephone. The cell phone interface strikes me as a much better solution.

It also pleases me that monitoring by a central monitoring service is optional: the notifications to me and to selected friends and relatives by text messages and email messages offers rather good protection, although not perfect. I have accidentally triggered the alarm several times. When that happened, the alarm monitoring company always has called me directly within seconds, unlike that well-known, national company that I used some years ago.

Of course, nothing is ever perfect. I have found a few drawbacks to the SimpliSafe system.

First of all, SimpliSafe isn’t all that cheap. In fact, you probably can purchase a “package” from another alarm service for about the same prices or perhaps a bit less. However, such packages usually require being locked into a one-year or longer contract. SimpliSafe has no contracts; I can cancel at any time. In my mind, the advantages of SimpliSafe are not low prices. Instead, I am more interested in the web access, the ability to purchase components piece by piece or a la carte, and the fact that there are no contracts involved.

I suspect I could get a cheaper security system elsewhere, but it probably wouldn’t include all the pieces I want, and the various components wouldn’t “play together” as well. The tightly integrated SimpliSafe package just works. I installed the pieces, turned it on, and was protected within minutes. I did call SimpliSafe Customer Support when installing to ask a question. I was on hold for about sixty seconds, and then a courteous rep with an American accent listened to my question and quickly answered it completely. I thought that was fast support, something I wouldn’t have if I purchased various components from different vendors and tried to integrate them myself.

The keychain remote is a great device except that it is too bulky, in my opinion. I have now removed it from my keychain, and I leave it in the center armrest of my car. I found the only time I ever used it was when arriving home or leaving home, so leaving it in the car meets my needs. If I had family members with multiple cars, however, I would need to purchase more keychain remotes.

Some locations will require a permit from your local police department before enabling the optional monitoring service by a central alarm monitoring company. This is because some 911 dispatchers have been plagued in the past with too many false alarms. Of course, this problem is true of all alarm services, not just SimpliSafe. I checked and found that my local 911 emergency dispatch center does not require a permit. However, the local police department does charge money when responding to the fourth or more false alarm within a twelve-month period. I have not had any false alarms reported to the local police department in the first one-year-plus the system has been installed. Since the police department is listed fourth on my call list, after myself, a relative, and a next-door neighbor, I believe the risk of a false alarm ever reaching the police department is small.

All in all, I am happy with the SimpliSafe installation, and I would recommend this system to anyone looking for similar capabilities. I am not compensated by SimpliSafe or by anyone else for writing this article. I am simply a satisfied customer.

For more information about SimpliSafe, go to http://simplisafe.com.

5 Comments

This is a very interesting and well written article. Thank you for this information.

This is a wonderful article and very informative. My husband is in safety and security and always warns people of the time it takes for police to arrive at your home if your security system is triggered and with today’s high tech burglars, or even the small time offender they are aware of how much time they have in your home. One of the biggest deterrents are cameras that are placed inside and outside, the ones that when triggered have a light that flashes on and the intruder knows they are being filmed, Also adding little stickers on windows and doors that say, “Smile Your On Camera” is an even bigger deterrent. When teaching classes my husband gives these general percentages, Basic Home Security 50-60% deterrent rating, Cameras with lights 80-85% deterrent and a 90% or more deterrent rating would be a combination of an animal, basic security system, cameras and some other basic home preparedness such as installing motion sensor lights, securing your garage doors(1 of the easiest places to get in), apply shatter proof glass film on windows and sliders and hardware for kick proof doors. All of these are one more defense and can give peace of mind.

Big fan of DIY home security! There are definitely some advantages and disadvantages of them so be sure you know both sides before investing – but the advantages of having a wireless system that is easy to install and transport when you move far outweighs any disadvantages!

Would this work for serial ASCII Alarm information also? I am trying to send ground sensor alarms to internet email or cell txt messages..

    —> Would this work for serial ASCII Alarm information also?

    No. The SimpliSafe system only works with wireless sensors sold by SimpliSafe. They do sell a variety of sensors but I don’t remember seeing any ground sensors listed in the catalog on their web site.

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