When a house down the street was burglarized, our neighborhood watch sent out an email warning residents to lock their doors and windows when they’re not home — and to call the police if they saw suspicious cars and activity on the block.
I didn’t pay much attention to that event, but soon after that burglary, there was another — right across the street from my house. Years ago, I had a security system, but let the contract lapse because money was tight. With two burglaries, it was time to consider a new security system. Some people install jail-like bars on windows. They’re ugly and give the feeling of being trapped. But they’re unbreakable.
In surrounding neighborhoods, I began seeing more and more bars on windows — and signs for security-monitoring companies. My minimum requirements were rapid response — not necessarily from police, who charge a fee when they’re called out the second time they’re summoned — and easy-to-program features. The monitoring system I had used had slow response time, and they didn’t have local response personnel.
After the burglaries, I looked into a new security system. One was offering a free Ring doorbell, had armed response from their local security force and reasonable fees. I didn’t like the required three-year contract, but I figured that with free installation, it was worth it. My system was hard-wired into a battery-backup control box. A previous company had done the hard-wiring for $2,000 when I had their service 10 years ago. The control pad was easy to program, and the fee — $60 a month — seemed reasonable. For another $30 a month, I could have the company’s cars patrol in front of my house and even check on me if they saw that newspapers were piling up. The system can be armed and disarmed with a cellphone app. After I had the system installed, I accidentally triggered the alarm.
First, I received a phone call asking me if everything was OK, and then, an armed security officer showed up at my door. Response took less than a minute.
If I had had needed installation, in which wires to secured stations such as windows had to be set up, the install charge would have been about $2,500.
The free $200 Ring doorbell was an incentive. It was installed by the monitoring company. For an extra $30 a year, the doorbell will keep video for later use. The Ring will notify you wherever you are when someone comes to the door.
Simplisafe, a Massachusetts-based company, has a different spin on security systems. A small, sleek central hub is connected by Wi-Fi and cellular to stations around the house. Those stations are attached to doors and windows with stick-on sensors, which can easily be removed. A large keypad pairs with the hub; smoke and water alarms and glass-breaking sensors are available.
A basic model with the hub, three entry sensors and a motion detector costs $259. More expensive packages include more sensors, key fobs, extra alarms and panic buttons. Extra sensors cost $15 apiece. Actual monitoring ranges from $15 to $25 a month.
I didn’t like that there is no local response, and phone response was noticeably slower than my alarm company’s response. If the monitoring company doesn’t get a response from the homeowner after five rings the police are called. I’m an older guy who can’t always get to a phone in fewer than five rings, so I could see instances in which police would be called needlessly. Where I live, the first call to police is free; after that, I could expect to pay a $200 fine for another false alarm.
As much as I’d like to compare apples to apples, that’s not going to work with Simplisafe.
I don’t like the stick-on sensors — they’re less secure, although tampering with them could trigger an alarm if the system were armed. I don’t like the lack of local response, and even though the hub is connected to a wall plug and has a backup battery, the whole setup seemed less secure. Unlike my hard-wired system, Simplisafe’s sensors had batteries that would have to be replaced. My current system has battery backup and a cellular connection, which means that even if someone turned the house electricity off, it would still work. Since the system also uses Wi-Fi, I use a battery backup of my own to keep it running during a power failure.
I have 14 secured doors and windows in my home, along with a motion detector. At $15 each, that’s 11 beyond the ones included in the basic Simplisafe package. Count that toward installation, and you have $165 in extra sensors.
An indoor plug-in security camera that can broadcast via Wi-Fi costs $99. Devices that can monitor breaking glass are available, too. A working system with 14 stations (two doors, 12 windows) and a security camera can be had for about $700 — far less than what it costs to have a security company hard-wire a home. Monitoring is much cheaper with a Simplisafe system, and anyone can install the system in less than an hour.
Would I drop my monitoring setup and switch to Simplisafe? Probably not. While Simplisafe is an impressive system, it’s not as sophisticated as a hard-wired alarm system.
Customer service can involve long hold times, and some agents seemed disengaged while others were quite helpful. Customer service with my alarm system is hit-or-miss, too.
Either way, I’d like to think those “secured by” signs on my lawn are deterring burglars, because the last thing I want is to be Victim No. 3 on my block.