Alarming discoveries...
March 30, 2014 8:12 PM   Subscribe

Thinking about going down the route of cancelling my home (security and fire) alarm service, and doing ... something homebrewed or similar. Questions abound. Have you done this, or something similar, or do you have useful advice for me? Specific questions and thoughts lie within.

To get the obvious questions out of the way: current monitoring service is a small, local company that installed the system for the previous owners of our house. No contract. The only time the alarm went off, their response was acceptable. But: they're old-school, the only way to interact with them is by calling the owner or the monitoring center, and most worryingly, they seem to have problems billing us consistently. They also don't offer nifty/useful stuff like Internet-based monitoring, home automation, etc. So, I'm exploring alternative options. (I don't wish to go under contract with a different company - I've gotten bit by that previously.)

The geek in me wants to use this as an excuse to play with a Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone Black, or something similar - all of the existing alarm elements are wired, so I could tie them in to a fairly simple circuit connected to the GPIO ports on one of those boards, and do Internet-based alerting in the event of issues. The design fan-boy in me wants to go buy some Nest Protect smoke alarms to replace the fire portion of the alarm system. However ...

Neither of those systems provide 24/7 monitoring, except by me, and over my home Internet connection. (Transport is not as big of a worry for me - Internet service is pretty reliable, and I could look at a 3G/4G connection as backup if I was really worried about that.) Is there such a thing as a 3rd-party alarm monitoring service that will monitor a home-grown system (via Internet or POTS/VoIP)? Lowes sells an install-it-yourself system called Iris that has a lot of the capabilities I'd like and centralized monitoring, but there's no way (that I can find) to tie all of my existing wired alarm sensors into it, and replacing them all would be cost-prohibitive.

If I don't find a third-party monitoring solution, and end up going with automated alerting to myself, and then trusted family members, in the event of a true issue, is my local PD going to respond to a call from me saying "I'm not home, but my alarm says someone is breaking into my house."? (I will probably call them and ask - there's no obvious information regarding alarm permits, etc, on the municipal website.)

So...have you done something like this? Are there things I may not be thinking of? Tools, sites, linux distributions, other canned solutions, etc., that I may be missing that will help me to unravel some of these questions? Whatever solution I end up with, I'd love to have the ability to tie it to home automation stuff, so pointers to nifty things like wirelessly-controllable switches, lights, etc with open APIs are cool, too. I'm aware of a couple of sites like that sell stuff in this space, but I'd like pointers to specific technologies if you're going to point me there. All input is greatly appreciated. (Hopefully this isn't too broad of an Ask.)
posted by jferg to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you get a discount on your homeowners insurance for having a monitored alarm? Will they still offer the discount for self-monitoring? In my case the monitor bill is pretty much offset by the cut on my insurance, YMMV.
posted by Runes at 5:09 AM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

The first thing I thought of is to stash away the little yard sign or door sticker that says that you are protected. After you cancel, put that thing back out there. My understanding is that the sign is half the protection value as a deterrent. I've also read that sophisticated burglars appreciate knowing which technology is used for protection, but these seem a rare breed to worry about.
posted by dgran at 6:53 AM on March 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Last summer I posted an answer to this question on Askme (scroll down to the bottom, I haven't figured out how to link to a specific post yet), and am still in the area of wondering whether it is worth the expense and time of installing. You have the option of video integration and text messaging, and since it is hardware you install yourself you have the option to find your own inexpensive monitoring (you can find places like NextAlarm for $10/mo).

It seems like the Envisalink module has some home automation interface ability - I found this forum which you might find useful.

As far as other home-install options, SimpliSafe (Amazon link) is something popular but doesn't have much in terms of integration with home automation etc.
posted by scooterdog at 7:04 AM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Scooterdog, individual comment links are in the timestamp. Here's the one you're referring to.)
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:29 AM on March 31, 2014

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