Studio711

Home Improvement

SimpliSafe Review

(This post will probably make more sense if you read part 1 from yesterday.)

Before I start talking about our new system, let me back up and explain what I want out of our home security system in order from most important to least important.

  1. If there’s a fire, get the fire department there as soon as possible whether I’m home or not.
  2. If someone tries to get in while we are home, I want to know immediately to have a little extra time to react and get the police headed in our direction. (In my dreams, the police pull up just as I’m throwing the bad guy onto the lawn and holding him there with a shotgun to the back of the head.)
  3. If someone breaks in while we are gone, at least we’ll know about it. This is probably the most common reason people buy a system, and while I like the feature, it’s not a huge selling point for me. Frankly, we live in a very undesirable theft target. If you’re crazy/smart enough to break into our house, you’re going to do whatever you want regardless of whether I have an alarm system installed.

Ok so back to my quest to dump my landline ($55/month) and replace my landline monitoring ($10/month) with cellular monitoring…

I chose SimpliSafe. They’ve target my exact scenario and they’ve been around for long enough that I trust them to provide me with a good product.

The setup process is extremely simple:

  1. Create your system by figuring out how many of each type of sensor you want. I recommend that you start small because it’s really easy to add more later and the only additional cost is that you pay shipping each time you make an order.
  2. SimpliSafe will configure your new base station for the sensors you ordered and ship you a box.
  3. They say that setup takes 30 minutes and they’re right (depending on how many sensors you bought.) Setup is SOOOOO easy compared to what I went through before! Basically, you plug the base station into the wall, activate your account online and stick your keypad on the wall. For each sensor, remove the tag to connect the included battery and stick it on the wall.

You’re done!

Unfortunately, my case wasn’t quite that simple. My base station came with a T-Mobile SIM card in it and the T-Mobile signal was so bad that I could only rarely get a connection from a single point in my house. After a lot of trial and error, SimpliSafe agreed to send me a replacement board for the base station that uses Verizon’s network instead of T-Mobile. That worked a lot better.

Our monitoring is now $15/month but we dropped $55/month for the home phone and $10/month for our old monitoring company. So we are saving $50/month! We’ll recoup the ~$400 hardware cost in 8 months.

I love these projects that cut out huge monthly bills! It’s much more fun to spend money when you know that you’re going to save that much in a short amount of time.

I also feel good using an alarm system that is easy to expand and modify whenever I want. I suppose there’s a chance that it’s less secure than my old system, but remember my priority list. I’m ok with that. I also don’t have any evidence that it IS less secure. My old system had plenty of wireless sensors and the landline was very easy to cut. A determined and intelligent burgler is going to know how to get through most consumer grade alarm systems anyway. The trick is to just be a more uninviting target than other people in your neighborhood. It’s kind of like hiking in bear country with somebody that runs more slowly than you.

Custom Alarm System

There is one major home improvement project that I’ve written very little about. Soon after we moved in, I went down a month long rabbit hole of learning about DIY alarm systems. The idea is basically to install the same level of hardware that a company like ADT would install, but skip the middleman. You install the hardware and you connect it to a monitoring company. We paid about $500 for the hardware and then $10/month for the monitoring. I wasn’t comfortable sharing the details of it in the beginning because I wasn’t sure how secure it was. That concern was probably unwarranted.

Our GE Concord 4 system worked flawlessly, but it was one of the hardest projects I’ve done. The hardware itself is relatively simple. All the sensors have two wires and they are either normally open or normally closed. The wireless sensors are easier to setup and just need to be paired with the base station. The catch is that the main circuit boards for these units are 1980s-90s technology. Forget connecting your computer to it and configure it. Instead you have to type incredibly long series of numbers into the keypad to change settings. For example, if you want to change a setting, you press 8, your four digit master system code, 0, 0, and the four digit code to select the right program setting. Then you actually get to make the setting which is usually a one digit number (on/off, number of seconds, etc.) The installation manual is 113 pages long. It’s intense.

But you know what? I’m still glad I did it, partially because I learned something that was really complex and because it saved us a LOT of money both on the initial hardware purchase and on the monthly monitoring. We have easily saved thousands of dollars compared to using a standard consumer alarm system.

But.

I’m getting tired of having a landline just for the alarm system. It wasn’t so bad when we moved in because our cell phones would regularly drop calls. Coverage and phones have improved and that’s no longer a problem. So the phone line really is just for the alarm. And no, you can’t use a VOIP line (like Comcast phone service) for an alarm. It has to be the old-fashioned POTS phone line.

Well the good news is that since I custom installed my own hardware, I’m free to switch over to cellular monitoring and switch to a different monitoring company if I want to. The problem is that I REALLY don’t want to go down that rabbit hole again. I started looking into it and it’s pretty complex and the technology is frustratingly ancient. I’m sure it would work, but I don’t have the patience.

Thankfully, a number of companies have stepped up to offer DIY home security products. You get the benefits of cutting out the middleman without the headache. This post is getting long so I’ll keep you in suspense until tomorrow about what we’re using now and how we like it.

Cut PVC With String

One of the nice things about helping to install my irrigation system is that I feel confident enough to make repairs or modifications on my own. But I recently learned that I’ve been doing part of it the (very) hard way.

Most changes require cutting a pipe that’s already in the ground. To do that, I dig a big enough hole that I can get a hand saw or a sawzall in there. All I really needed to do was get down to the pipe with a big enough hole that dirt won’t get into the open ends and then use mason’s line to cut the pipe.

Filling The Garden Boxes

The garden box project is done and ready for sunshine. Elijah and I got a load half dirt, half compost) from Pacific Topsoils and filled the boxes. It took about 1.3 yards to fill the beds and thankfully they are generous with their loads there so my 1 yard purchase was perfect.

I made a timelapse of the build and filling the beds. It’s fun to watch the truck rise up as we unloaded. The unloading was very easy since I could back right up to the boxes. Elijah was having a BLAST helping with that part. It’s so nice to have my own truck to get these kinds of jobs done!

Garden Boxes

A couple of our neighbors have pretty successful raised garden beds, and this year, Tyla and I decided to jump on the bandwagon. There’s a natural spot for them where the cherry trees used to be beside our driveway. It’s even plumbed for drip irrigation already.

This was the first time I’d ever built boxes like this but I used our next door neighbors for inspiration. It’s basically two 2×8 boards stacked on stop of each other with 4x4s as the corner. I dug down to level the boxes out and then pounded 4x4s into the ground to keep the boxes in place. The ground was very soggy so all of that was pretty simple. The hardest part was just keeping the box aligned correctly. It was rainy pretty hard for most of my project so I skipped a lot of the steps that probably would have saved me time like staking a line to help keep everything straight. Elijah thought it was a pretty fun project and helped for a bit before it got too wet and he went inside. He was the smart one because I ended up soaking wet. I finished them off with 1x4s around the top partially to hide my mistakes and also as a place to set tools and sit down while weeding.

I used cheap pine for this. I didn’t want anything treated since I’m not sure that is food safe. I should have probably used cedar but that was about $250 extra and I wasn’t willing to pour that much money in. We’ll let these go for 5-10 years until they rot and by then I bet I’ll have other ideas anyway.

The next step is getting the drip irrigation plumbed to the right spots and then filling the boxes with dirt.