Simplisafe Alarm Review: Cheap, Effective DIY Home Security


Old security system vs. New security system

I’ve never had a security system until now, other than our dogs which are all bark and no bite. I suppose the main reason for that is that I didn’t own enough property to be worth protecting. Burglars could take everything and it would perhaps fetch $600 total on Craigslist, which is less than what a year of ADT monitoring fees might cost.

Combine the baby nesting instinct with a rash of recent break-ins in our quiet neighborhood, and my mindset has changed. I wanted a home security system, but I didn’t want to pay $60 or even $30 a month for monitoring. The monthly bill is where companies make most of their profit. $60 a month = $720 a year = $7,200 over a decade.

After some research, we settled on a company called Simplisafe. Here’s a list of reasons why we chose it:

  • Wireless. Simplisafe uses GSM cellular technology, which means you don’t need a landline (which can also easily be cut by a criminal). Wireless monitoring was a requirement for me, and usually costs extra with other brands.
  • Affordable up-front cost. The total cost of equipment was about $400 to completely cover my 2,000 sq. ft. house. You could probably cover an apartment or condo for $200-$300.
  • DIY Installation. You order it, and install it yourself using the included 3M sticky tape. No drilling holes. Installation literally took less than half an hour. (Their YouTube video has it done in one minute.) If I moved, I just remove the sensors and buy some new sticky pads for $10.
  • Affordable monitoring fee with no contract. Again, the monthly fee is where your cost over time adds up, and you’re usually stuck in a 2 or 3-year contract. Simplisafe 24/7 monitoring is only $15 a month with no contract. You can add instant text message alerts for an optional $5 a month. That’s is pretty much as cheap as UL-listed monitoring will cost. If you prefer, you don’t have to buy monitoring at all and you’ll just have a loud audible alarm (you can also buy extra sirens) which may be adequate for condos and apartments.
  • Battery-powered. The base station has a rechargeable battery that will last up to 8 hours in a power outage. All the rest of the sensors use their own individual lithium battery. This means the entire system will work in a power outage or if the power is cut on purpose.
  • Expandable. Everything is a la carte on the website, so you buy just as many sensors as you need. They recommend a contact sensor for each entry into the house, and motion sensors to cover important areas.
  • UL-listed 24/7 Monitoring. On a cheap system, I imagined the monitoring system to be two minimum-wage employees taking turns in an apartment. But Simplisafe is certified by United Laboratories just like ADT and commercial fire alarm systems. Central station monitoring is provided by AMCEST Corporation (UL #S2299). This may also make you eligible for a discount on your homeowners or renters insurance.


Also see short write-ups in NY Times and CNN Money.

I’m happy with the system, and it’s been in use for over 30 days. I often forget to disarm the system before I get home, so when I get home I get warning beeps and have to enter the PIN into the keypad or use the key fob within 30 seconds. If I didn’t, they would call a listed phone number and ask for the secret passphrase, otherwise they would call the police. I don’t see how anyone could enter the house and take something valuable without setting off at least one sensor and having the police within a minute along with a loud alarm. Even if someone breaks in and immediately breaks the base station, the signal is already sent. When you’re at home, there is a “Home” setting where the contact sensors are armed but the motion sensors are not. We also purchased a “panic” button to place by your bedside for instant alarm activation.

I would say that one thing I’m worried about is that I am depending on the system to tell me if/when the individual lithium batteries run out of juice. But the base station makes a little beep whenever one of the sensors is set off, so you know it’s still working. The lithium batteries are supposed to last 5 years. I also do not get video monitoring. I could buy an additional DVR setup from Costco for a one-time cost, but I’m really not interested in that much surveillance. Finally, depending on your area you may need to file for a security system permit with a small fee.

For now, I’m paying the extra $5 a month since I like getting text messages whenever the system is armed and unarmed. You’ll also get an alert if there is a power outage or any sensor is set off. I might get rid of it once the cool factor wears off and I trust the system more.

You can get 5% off a Simplisafe system with code SAFENOW or $25 off with code LM25OFF (better unless your total is over $500).

Note: I bought the original Simplisafe. They just announced Simplisafe 2.0 for pre-order which has a few more features like a smartphone app and fancier sensors like glass breakage and carbon monoxide. The basic setup and technology is still the same, but you need the 2.0 base station to take advantage of the new features. However, the 2.0 costs $25 a month, so I’m sticking with the original for $15 a month.

If you already have a home security system, I would recommend looking into switching to a cheaper UL-listed monitoring service once you are out of contract like NextAlarm.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the nice explanation, Jonathan. One question – is it possible to install the Simplisafe system and not have it monitored? For instance, right now we have an alarm system that used to be monitored by ADT. When we canceled our contract with ADT, I expected that the alarm equipment would be non-functional. However, the equipment still works as a local monitoring system as the system will sound the built-in audio alarm if, e.g., a door is opened while monitored.

    So my question is, could you install Simplisafe and use it as a local monitoring option or is a monitoring contract required? Also, are you worried about the adhesive for the sensors failing (resulting in the sensors falling off)?

    Thanks again.

    • Yes you do not have to buy the monitoring service. I installed this in our other weekend home. We didn’t have central air at the time so I also purchased the freeze alarm. I live in another state so this system is perfect. I chose interactive monitoring. One of our neighbors at the 2nd place checks on our home occasionally for us. I gave him his own security code and get a text that states who comes in via their code.

      This system is so cool I plan on installing it in my main home and get rid of landlines.

      I will suggest this though….make sure you order by phone. I had Simplisafe send my system for our weekend home to my main home. They sent the cell module that works where my main home is, not weekend one. It simply didn’t work. But as soon as I called customer service they recognized the issue. They sent me a cellular module that works in my 2nd home area and Immediately it worked. Be cautious that you must purchase a base with the correct cellular model.

  2. Thanks Jonathan for this post. I may switch to Simplisafe and then to Ooma to get rid of my landline.

  3. Looks good! Thanks for telling us about it.

  4. Julie W. says:

    How quickly did you receive it after ordering?

  5. Baughman says:

    Once recurring costs are brought down to zero (in exchange for higher up front costs), I’ll hop on the bandwagon.

  6. Have been using Alarm Relay for about 10 bucks a month (first year is 9 bucks, second is 10 I think third year is about 11 bucks and it stays the same after that). Bought this system (http://www.homesecuritystore.com/p-1822-ppro211gsm-visonic-power-max-pro-kit-with-built-in-gsm.aspx ) when there was a sale (usually during national holidays) and installed and program it myself. Have flood as well as fire alarm (no extra cost for monitoring..just pay for equipment). Also, have secondary keypad upstairs. Had one time GSM card cost of $100 bucks (tmobile), than all I have to do is recharge every year with $10 bucks so that rest of the balance roll over (Tmobile gold membership). You can configure the system to call you on three more phones or text you on three more phones.

  7. Can you use the smartphone access without paying monitoring fee? They grouped these features together on their website.

  8. Any idea if you can combine the SimpliSafe GSM connection and monitoring with an existing alarm system? Or do you need to replace the hardware?

  9. Looks like a pretty good deal. We finally kicked ADT a few months ago. ADT was charging us $42 a month. Over 3 year contract for ADT they’d charge about double the cost of Simplisafe.

  10. Are you paying for monitoring OR an alarm in case someone breaks in?

    If monitoring, cant you just monitor over your mobile access and not pay and fee?

  11. We use safe mart and have self installed a GE device wbich might be slighlty more expensive but has a good reputation and well tested.
    Customer service is great and responsive with decent online support. Safe mart have wireless but i have the landline option and pay $108 yearly or $9 per month.
    (the wireless options seems less expensive for simplysafe but if using a land line, do give SafeMart a look )

  12. Can I used my existing wired sensors (windows/doors/movement) and therefore reduce up-front costs?

  13. @Dan – Yes, as mentioned in the review you can forego monitoring and simply have an audible alarm. The base station has a loud alarm, but you can add a additional siren that is extra loud (we bought one, it is quite loud).

    I was worried about the adhesive, but it’s 3M brand and I like their products and I have had no problems with them in the past.

    @Julie W – I don’t remember exactly, but it was relatively quick. A week?

    @Baughman – If you are happy with audible alarm, then this is it. But for GSM-based central station monitoring, I doubt it will go far below $8 a month because you need a constant cell signal and 24/7 monitoring. Even a prepaid cell phone with no minutes runs $3 a month.

    @KP – Seems like a similarly good option as well, interesting that you just buy minutes? I get an alert every time I arm/disarm, I wonder how much that would cost minute-wise.

  14. @Andy – No, unfortunately you can’t. That would be a cool feature but they’d need to pay for GSM access to know if the sensors are set off, then send to central station, then send a text to you. I imagine if they connected to the internet, you could have some sort of cheap system, but it would depend on having working internet (power + internet service) at the time of the alarm.

    @xmasy – $15 central station monitoring + $5 for smartphone/email alerts.

    @Abel – I don’t think so. But if you have something already set up, you may research switch monitoring services like NextAlarm.

    @jim – Since you have the ADT system already, ever consider switching to NextAlarm or similar competitor for $10-$15 a month?

  15. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    Do you live in an unsafe neighborhood? I’ve never had a security system before (aside from dogs).

  16. I also just saw an ad for $5.95 UL-listed monitoring from alarmmonitoringservices.com. I don’t know anything else about them.

    @nickel – Sorry your comment got caught by filter initially. I don’t think you can use any existing hardware with the GSM base station. Check out NextAlarm if you already have a system and are just looking for cheap monitoring service. It looks like some systems let add a unit that uses a prepaid GSM cell phone for dialing out instead of landline.

  17. @nickel – Check out this doohickey:

    http://www.alarmmonitoringservices.com/moc.html

  18. After your post I did a search on the UL-Listed thing and couldn’t understand why it is such a big deal:
    http://www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/offerings/industries/lifesafetyandsecurity/alarmsystems/criteria/
    It sounds like anyone with a pen can apply and get a cert. It says nothing about the financial strength of the monitoring company or response time/performance of its staff.

    Also if you mostly rely on alerts, why not have the alarm alert you directly and forego the monthly cost? Cutting the middleman makes a lot more financial sense. I found quite a few of these kits here:
    http://www.homesecuritystore.com/c-201-exclusive-bundles.aspx
    There is also a couple great threads on FW regarding security systems (one post says the UL-List is a joke):
    http://www.fatwallet.com/forums/finance/900348/?highlight_key=y&keyword1=home%2520security

    Lastly long time reader of your blog! Just a tip for your baby nusery: you can get a Foscam IP Camera or alike for ~$80 and enjoy free video/audio baby monitoring via wifi, even remotely outside your house on your iphone. Heck you can even get more for a security system. If you are computer savvy you can program them to email you and start recording when they detect motion.

  19. Does installing an alarm system reduce your homeowner’s insurance cost? If so, how much should you expect to save? Does it justify the expense by itself?

  20. Jonathan: Thanks for the reply. We’re currently paying the same as their “pro” rate for full service monitoring through a local company. It wasn’t clear to me if/how we could transition to a wireless service with our existing hardware. I’ll dig deeper (both online and locally) and see what I can learn. Thanks again.

  21. BTW, you can call your home insurance, tell them about a new alarm system, and they may drop 10-15% off your insurance premium, that will offset some of your monthly bill. Enjoy!

  22. @Jonathan: The text messages are 10 cents/text which gets deducted from your cash balance in case of T-mobile.

  23. Hmm, I’m reminded of the recent freakonomics article on home alarms:
    http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/04/05/the-hidden-cost-of-false-alarms-a-new-marketplace-podcast/

    A bit that might be of personal note to you: “Some cities have begun to fine homeowners who rack up multiple false alarms, which is one way of introducing accountability.”
    Make sure to check up on your local laws, just in case.

  24. @xmasy – What will you do when you’re at work or on vacation and burglars come with masks? Or even if they are caught later, you still have to deal with the same amount of damage.

    @Kevin – Is it only a pen? I don’t know if they do audits, but it’s the only industry standard that there is really. Thanks for the Foscam IP camera tip.

    @Chris – I think it just depends on your HO insurance carrier.

    @Nimar – I hope so! :)

    @KP – Thanks for the reply. I get enough texts that 10 cents might actually add up. :)

    @csdx – I would say most police departments will fine you for false alarms that they have to respond to, as it drains their resources. Usually they only give you one or two freebies.

  25. Our home was just broken into last week in the 2 hours that my baby and I were out running errands. My husband just ordered simplisafe (we are actually moving in a month – unrelated to being broken into – and hope we can take the system with us to the new place!). Honestly, I’m OK with being fined for false alarms. That feeling when I walked in the house carrying my baby and realizing what had happened and running down the street to a neighbors house was awful. And then on top of that the feeling of being violated and panicking that they’ll come back for the big stuff they didn’t take… We feel so stupid for not having an alarm system at all. We live in a nice neighborhood… but the officers told us that the price of heroin has gone way up all over and people are desperate for electronics and jewelry to sell. Also our 50-lb barking dog did not deter them. They went to our fridge and got out a package of cheese sticks and from the looks of it they distracted her throughout the house with cheese :(
    Also – make sure you have “cloud” backup for all the baby photos and videos you are going to take (like the 5 minute clip of baby hiccups and giggles :-) ). Having backups in your house don’t do any good if everything is taken :(

  26. @LW that’s a good point about making sure everything is backed up online. Not just for family memories but also if anyone runs a business from home. I expect that most people have some documents they’d hate to lose.

  27. I just got mine after reading this. Stupid question – Did you get the yard sign as well? If yes, how did you put it in the yard since it does not come with a sign holder? Thanks!

  28. @JG – Yes, I got the yard sign, it’s the one in the picture with my dog above. The sign comes with a sticky strip along the back. I have a window beside my front door, so I just stuck it to the front window. However, otherwise I would just make a wooden stake (can probably buy at Home Depot if you don’t have scrap wood) and pound it into the grass and then use the sticky to attach the sign. Good luck!

  29. long time reader of your blog…contemplating ordering one for my home. a never ending critic that i am, i did manage to get some negative reviews online (very few), did these every happen to you?

    1. stickers fall OFF
    2. you wont receive a call but the call directly goes to cops
    3. your dog tripping the motion sensors at night or when you are out

    lastly, did you get the wireless panic button or that extra loud 105lb siren?

  30. @SK – I’ve still only had it less than a year, but:

    1. Haven’t noticed any stickers falling off. Be sure to clean off the area first and also use solid smooth surfaces wherever possible. So far all the sensors work fine with original batteries.
    2. No false alarms to cops. I did have to register the system with local government, but I also get at least one false alarm with no penalty.
    3. We keep our dogs in a bedroom when away. The motion alarms only cover the rest of the house, but it’s very hard to get anywhere or get anything really valuable without going in a motion-sensored area.
    4. Yes we have a panic button by my wife’s side of the bed + the extra loud siren. We tested it and it works – loud! Reminds me of elementary school fire alarms.

  31. Sounds like a very good system

  32. Christine says:

    I’ve been using http://smiththompson.com/ for a year now. There are slightly cheaper systems out there but I went with them b/c they were referred to me by my uncle who was very happy with their service. They use cellular wireless monitoring and are only 16.95 a month. If you pay for 11 months up front, the 12th month is free which breaks down to $15.53 a month. Another great thing about them is that depending on your existing system/hardware they maybe able to use some if not all of it. They can install new hardware if your current house does not have a system (i’m not sure how much that is though). One downside compared to simple safe is that the system is not portable if you move. Also, it seems they only service certain cities in Texas.

  33. My house was broken into last month in the middle of the night while I was in bed, and I live alone. They threw a brick through my glass side door and then unlocked the door and came in. There were probably 3 guys in the house. Luckily I had my phone by my bed. I hid in my bathroom closet and called 911. All of this prompted me to decide to move to a condo where I don’t have any main floor windows/doors and there are 3 locked doors to get through to get inside my unit.

    While I hope to be moving out within a couple of months, I need to get an alarm system installed on my home now. Partly so I can sleep better at night and partly so I can show the new buyer that I’ve taken steps to make the house safer (the glass door is being replaced with a solid door).

    So, I’m looking for a cheap system that will help me feel safer for a few months and will stay with the house, and does not require a contract. I stumbled on Simplisafe and had a couple of questions I hoped you could answer.

    If you get monitoring and want to open a window for fresh air while you are home but it has a sensor on it, how do you deal with that? Same goes for doors opening and closing? I think I read that the motion sensors are off while you are home by not the window/door sensors…so how do you deal with people going in and out and opening windows?

    If the motion sensors are off when you are home, then large rooms with multiple windows where you opt to just use the motion sensor aren’t really protected, right?

    Having lived through this experience, I’m less concerned about my stuff and more concerned about someone breaking in while I’m there…but I also don’t want motion sensors armed while I’m at home…even at night…as I would be likely to set them off.

  34. Karen, they sell extra magnets, so that you can have the sensor in the middle of your window frame, and magnets in the middle of the and at the bottom of the moving part of the window.

    That way you can have windows what they call “armed open”. Basically, as long as there is a magnet next to (with 2″ of) the sensor, the system will not alarm.

  35. Have you had any false alarms? Also, do you have multiple keychain remotes, or do you typically arm and disarm via the keypad? I really wish they also offered a strobe/blinking light as well.

  36. @Andy S – No false alarms. Two keychain remotes, we usually arm/disarm with them but also use the keypad by the front door.

  37. It’s been a couple of months now since we had Simplisafe…After reading this review as well as a few others, I contemplated this for a long time before going for it. Here’s my take on it:

    Pros:
    1. Sticker’s dont fall off.

    2. No false alarms (well almost – I had one, when the motion sensor tripped but the tech claimed it might be due to the heater being ON. I am not sure, about that but it was during the holidays & I’ll wait to see if this happens again in Summer to really determine if there is a problem)

    3. Great response time (I test the system periodically and almost always get the call immediately. They were quick to dispatch the cops, at that one instance of False alarm in December).

    Cons:
    1. Every now and then, the signals don’t get sent to the alarm monitoring center. I know this, when I don’t receive the email/text notification when the Alarm is turned ON. This can last for many days if you don’t pay attention to your alerts (We didn’t and thats how I know).
    The Tech support team said that it is because of the poor cell service (which I definitely don’t agree – we live in the heart of the city and there is no way the reception’s gone for days)
    The only sure way to get the link back up again is to reset the base station and do a power-cycle. Jonathan, did you have this problem at all?

    2. When you put the alarm in test mode, the motion sensors really behave like they have a mind of their own. They ask that you push a button at the bottom to put the motion sensors in test mode, but most often they start sensing even without me doing anything. I am not really sure if the motion sensors do their job.

    3. The equipment & sensors in general are flimsy & cheap looking.

    Bottom line – For 15$ a month, you really get what you paid for, the good ones or the most popular ones are ridiculously expensive…

  38. I was wary of the motion sensors as well – they’re probably always going to be an iffy technology – so I keep the dogs in an area w/o them when gone but I haven’t had any false alarms from breezy plants or ceiling fans or anything.

    I think the alarm signal is only sent once when triggered, so I don’t think the reception is gone for days but perhaps only at that moment. Still, that’s a concern. I do like having the instant text alerts as it’s a way to check that this wireless system is working on a daily basis. No problems in my area.

  39. I wanted to thank you on your write-up. After looking through the information you provided and some of the comments shared here on the site, I just purchased the system and hope to have it installed in the coming weeks!

  40. I am about orderig the simplesafe, but still not sure about a couple of minor things:
    1. How exactly to they charge for monitoring? Is the credit card you use for purchase will be charged monthly without notifying me? Based on my previous experience (pretty gloomy) I would not like to give my credit card in somebody’s permanent possession. Are there other options?

    2. Can a motion sensor be attached outdoors to monitor my driveway in close vicinity of house?

    3. I am at a lost regarding registerin with local government, and regarding false alarms. Any clarification would be helpful.

    Thanks

    Jeremy

  41. I bought Simply Safe not long ago. 2 of 6 batteries were bad. They advertise that you don’t have to buy the service…But if you don’t, every time you turn the alarm on, a voice announces you are not hooked to up to dispatch center…so if the guy working at your house hears that….what good is the system. Also, they used my email address book to spam to everyone in it with my name on the email and to reply to my email address. YIKES!!!!! I called them, they denied it, I have proof….I have more than one email address and I got spammed by them. I would not recommend this product unless you want to replace what should be new, want to buy a service and love your email account as a spam service.

  42. I think one of the most important things about installing a safe is where to locate it. If you have a burglary and you hide the safe really good there is a chance that the robbers won’t find it.

  43. @jeremy

    1) The credit card you purchase the system with and the monthly recurring charges can be separate. During checkout, you can select a box that will let you enroll in monthly monitoring, but you dont have to check it.

    2) You could mount it outside, but it would need to be encased somehow. The sensors are not all weather. It also would probably get you a lot of false positives, and may be against your local law to have a home security system *outside*

    3) Honestly, I just did a search on my county website for registering a home alarm. I printed and mailed in a one page letter with the Simplisafe number and my address and the registration fee. You get a sticker in return.

    3)

  44. Do you still recommend this product after having it for over a year?

  45. julie says. to stop the voice message on Simplisafe that says “ur not hooked up to the dispatch center” call or email Simplisafe support and they will email you a fix to turn off the message on your system when you cancel our monitoring .

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