Gemini RP1CAe2 alarm system has been
showing line noise on all three keypads: a lot of spurious random letters in
random character cells. It has given us two false alarms so far in about three
years. We're considering replacing it, or adding features by installing a
complementary alarm system which can do what the existing one can't.
The event that led us to revisit the design of our alarm system went like this: We were travelling in another city. The alarm system produced an alarm and notified our professional monitoring service. They checked with us and we told them we were not on-site, so they called the police. Standard procedure is that if the police check a house and find no evidence of a break-in, they do not report back, and in fact they did not report a problem. But we didn't have any positive assurance that it was a false alarm, so we asked someone we knew (who has our gate key) to take a look. Indeed, there was no sign of a break-in, seen from outside. Nor inside, once we returned home.
The ideal sequence of events would have gone like this: The false alarm should not have happened, but if it did, the alarm system would have recorded video from the security cameras (to be added) and sent it promptly to the cloud server, which would have sent us a SMS and/or a bloink to our mobile app(s). We would then look at the video and reassure ourselves that the entry doors were intact and a burglar was not present, or if it was an actual breakin, we would call the police for a quick arrest, we hope, and we would call a board-up company to seal up the physically breached door.
What are our goals for the alarm system? The effectiveness of the existing system is noted as a 0-5 star rating. All goals need defense in depth and contributions from beyond the alarm system; for example, exterior doors have deadbolts and reinforced strikes, which are used consistently.
To give alarms when there is a threat. Our priorities on threats are:
To not give alarms when there is no threat. (2*)
To operate for years or decades with very little attention and handholding from us. (3*)
To provide a pattern of information so we can assess, from a remote location, whether an alarm was real or false, after which we can take (or not take) mitigating action outside the scope of the alarm system. (0*)
What should we be looking at in the presently available alarm systems, to meet these goals? And how likely is it that we will get what we want? For the latter I have assigned a 0-5 star rating based on the consensus of product reviews that I read.
We have an extensive collection of 1-wire door and window sensors that were installed when the house was built for use with the existing alarm system: magnetic operated reed relays that connect the sense line to ground when the magnet is nearby (door closed); when the magnet moves elsewhere, or when a hostile agent cuts the wire, the controller is aware of the threat. (This is why hostile agents short the sense line rather than cutting it.) We would very much like to continue to use these. (0*, nobody at all supports 1-wire.)
We have modest existing home automation using the Z-Wave protocol. We would like to continue to use it, versus replacing all the actuators once again.
Most but not all alarm systems have the option of 24 hour
professional monitoring at extra cost. Their human operator
will attempt to contact the subscriber by phone and to assess the
situation. They will call the police or fire department if the threat
can't be verified as a false alarm, e.g. someone forget to disarm the
system. Mostly the service is always on, but a few have an on-demand
service, which you activate (and pay for) only when travelling.
Power outages and surges are a fact of life: mostly accidental, but also a part of hostile action, and definite after an earthquake. The alarm system needs backup power, and post-event investigation must be feasible with power off. (5* if we accept and pay for cloud storage.)
Our existing system is local only. The potential replacements all communicate with a cloud server, and all have a mobile app that can control the alarm machine, configure it, and review history, by talking to the cloud server. If the cloud server goes away, many aspects of the alarm system are lost, specifically post-event assessment, and also configuration setup. The cloud server issue expands into these points:
After an earthquake in Los Angeles, will the cloud server be functioning? Are there multiple geographically separated sites with automatic failover? (0*, nobody mentions disaster resistance.)
Our internet access is eastward, including cellular backup, which means that it will be physically disrupted about 60 seconds before the earthquake hits our site. (0*) Backup communication via Inmarsat is attractive to the paranoid geek, but is not really practical in our case, particularly if we are off-site and cannot do the required manual steps such as taking the antenna outdoors.
Corporate bankruptcies and acquisiions are common, and the subordinate product line is often discontinued. Will the cloud server survive such an event? (1*)
We have extensive experience in computer security and we know
that it's hard to get security right, particularly when the target
host is publicly advertised to numerous motivated attackers who are
encouraged to buy an alarm system and to then thoroughly
investigate the cloud server for vulnerabilities in their
proprietary API which never benefits from open source scrutiny.
Reports are frequent of corporate sites being hacked. How willing
are we to have our recorded history and video on the cloud server
scrutinized by hackers? Do we want to let them reconfigure our
alarm system, e.g. so they create a passcode to
enter our house? (1*)
Internet of Things devices are notorious for buggy firmware and tissue paper security. While security devices, particularly the base station, would be expected to resist hacks better than average (a low standard), the software is closed source and it is not possible to assess it with any assurance. My home net has its own effective security measures and protects local devices from outside hostile actors, as well as protecting each host from a compromised neighbor.
Distributed denial of service attacks are common, particularly from our geopolitical enemies, and would knock out the cloud server if not effectively (and expensively) mitigated. (0*, nobody mentions DDoS resistance.)
How are the sensors going to communicate with the base station or hub? Here's a list of physical protocols. This article on ElectronicDesign.com gives a helpful overview of the available choices. Denial of service attacks against the wireless protocols are easy from outside (or inside) the house; physically finding and attacking wires is harder. Wireless protocols normally use some kind of privacy and integrity protection (e.g. encryption), so it's hard for the attacker to actually make the alarm system do something, like to disarm.
VendorRFgenerally runs in the 433MHz temperature control band. It is totally proprietary and vendor specific.
How are the sensors going to get power? While the hub generally requires AC power from a wall wart, the sensors almost 100% use lithium batteries (and low power RF protocols), which have claimed lifetimes from 3 to 5 years and are not too expensive to replace. The devices generally also report their battery status, so you know when to replace them. Power over Ethernet is sometimes available for cameras.
The mobile app was mentioned with the cloud server, but it's important for the app to be easy to use and effective.
Most of the systems can notify the user of events by e-mail or by SMS (text messages to your mobile phone).
IFTTT, mentioned below, is a commercial service (free for general users) which can cause a wide range of actions upon the coincidence of a wide range of conditions. For example, it can send a message to your home automation system (if IFTTT is enabled) to turn on an outside lamp when the pizza restaurant sends a SMS or tweet that your pizza is on the way.
The Best DIY Home Security Systems on Safety.com, by Caitlin McCormack,
updated 2019-05-08. Their list of important factors (
paraphrased by jimc):
These are the product lines reviewed in the article:
professional monitoring starting at $25/mo.
No contract. Home automation compatibility (jimc thinks this means that
it can be the central station for home automation). They think this is
the best one if you're doing general home automation.
Basic package starts at $169, professional monitoring is $10/mo and up. No contract. Works with Alexa (Amazon's general home automation). They think this has the best value for 24/7 monitoring.
This one can notify to a cellphone, but apparently not to landlines or internet. Monitoring starts at $35/mo, contract required. They emphasize wireless sensor communication. They think this one has the most customizable features.
Monitoring starts at $15/mo. No contract. Emphasizes pet-friendly security. Mobile (cellphone) alerts at extra cost. Home automation costs more. Basic package costs $229. They think SimpliSafe's technology options are the best.
No contract. 24/7 cloud recording of video. Has motion detection; phone notification. No professional monitoring available, no environmental monitoring sensors, there's a limit on cloud storage (duh). Better Business Bureau rates them 'B'. Basic package costs $288 on Amazon. Does motion detection and alerts you. They think this one has the best video recording.
The Best Smart Home Security Systems for 2019 By John R. Delaney and
Alex Colon, April 26, 2019
Reviews of 10 systems, including both DIY and professionally installed systems. Since the latter are disqualified, I jumped directly to…
The Best DIY Smart Home Security Systems for 2019
By John R. Delaney, April 26, 2019
Review of 8 devices oriented to DIY installation. In PC Mag reviews, stars range from 0 to 5; these devices range from 3.5 to 4 stars. On the main page, follow
read review for more details.
4 stars, $189 (Amazon). Easy to install. No-contract monitoring
plans available. Works with lots of third-party devices. Amazon Alexa
voice control. Supports ZigBee and Z-Wave. Mobile and web access.
Can't manage notifications from the mobile app. No wall-mount
Fantastic DIY security system.
Monitoring available, no contract.
The reviewed starter kit included a hub, two door/window sensors, a
keyfob, and a combination infrared motion detector and camera.
The composition of the starter kit seems to have changed since the review;
now it has the hub, a motion detector (no camera), one smaller size
door/window sensor, and a key fob.
The hub has the siren inside, 93dB.
Its ports include wired Ethernet, a SIM slot, USB (for future extensions),
and a power connector.
At initial setup you need to turn on the battery backup switch, which
disconnects the battery while the device waits to be sold.
Inside is a rechargeable battery that can run the hub for 12 hours.
Radios for ZigBee, Z-Wave, and
abodeRF (433MHz). Also a cellular
modem. It clearly is not autonomous but relies on a connection to the
mother ship, so the hub and the mobile devices can rendezvous there.
This is similar to our Honeywell thermostats.
The camera, with 90° field of view, takes 640x480 color photos when triggered; it has flash. This unit also includes a motion sensor, which evidently is different from the visible light camera. Powered by 3x CR123 coin cells, included. Streaming video is not mentioned. There is also a streaming camera (720p) for $149. It can communicate by Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
A key fob can arm or disarm the system (also a perimeter-only mode). Included, $27 if purchased separately. A keypad is available ($79) which does the same things but requires a passcode. You can also arm and disarm from your mobile device.
Evidently time-based activities, like turning on lights on a schedule, requires IFTTT.
Monitoring: Self-monitoring through the mobile or web app is free. It includes 3 days of cloud-based history and media storage. On-demand monitoring costs $8 for 3 days or $15 for 7 days. The Connect Plan costs $10/mo and offers cellular backup (connect to the mother ship if your Internet goes down, accidentally or by enemy action), and 14 days of history. (And on-demand monitoring.) The Connect+Secure Plan costs $30/mo and adds 24/7 professional monitoring.
The mobile app can arm/disarm the system, view event history and still photos, view streaming video, check device status, and a few other items. The web page can do the same, plus configure new devices, add IFTTT recipes, and manage notifications. You can set time-based arming or disarming, or cue on the location of your mobile device.
Notifications can be by email, or pushed to the mobile app.
The reviewer gave it the Editor's Choice ranking. He was enthusiastic about this system. Jimc says: our extensive set of 1-wire window and door sensors is not going to carry over to this device, unless I find something awesome on their website.
Accessories from Abode's website, prices are MSRP:
Advanced intelligence designed to prevent false alarms.LED to report when it senses something. 110° field of view, 35ft range. Communication by
abodeRF(433MHz proprietary). Battery life up to 5 years. Installation on a flat wall or in a corner. Passive infrared. $40.
4 stars. $199. Easy to install. Professional monitoring available. Comes with tablet controller. Works with Alexa voice commands, IFTTT, and Z-Wave devices. They think camera image quality could be better. Some components are expensive.
The reviewed kit is sold exclusively through Home Depot or Groupon. It includes the base station, a keypad, a key fob, four door/window sensors, a motion sensor, an acoustic smoke detector relay, an indoor camera, and an Asus Memo Pad 7 tablet with their software preinstalled.
Door-window sensors are $15 each, motion detectors are $25.
Base station communication options:
The base station and mobile apps rendezvous on the cloud server. It also responds to voice commands to Alexa.
The camera captures 720p at 30fps (monochrome or color?) Its stand can tilt and pan (manually). 66° field of view, less than others. It has an infrared illuminator. Communicates by Wi-Fi (802.11n) and Ethernet. It has motion and sound detection. Has a SD card slot for autonomous video storage.
You can control the system from the provided tablet, from a mobile app (Android or iOS), or by a web app. The apps show the last frame seen by the camera, or you can turn on realtime video. They have a section for controlling Z-Wave home automation devices, and another section for door locks.
Alerts can be by email or SMS. You can configure automation rules to coordinate the devices.
The reviewer had no trouble to set up and use the system, and specifically, third-party devices worked smoothly.
4 stars. $230. Affordable hardware, reasonable monthly monitoring fees. No contract required. Quick, easy installation. Cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity; Wi-Fi is optional. Underwhelming camera options. They like this one for its remote monitoring capabilities.
They have a variety of packages; the basic one at $230 includes the base station, a keypad, one motion sensor, one entry (door/window?) sensor, and a yard sign. Cameras are $99. The video doorbell is $169.
I'm not sure what the deal is with the monthly plans: with no plan,
the system can be used as a
local alarm, but what about the mobile
app? For $15/mo you get 24/7 monitoring; they will contact you, and unless
you give the right passcode they will then call the cops. For $25/mo you
get in addition SMS or email alerts, and the remote app for arming and
I'm not sure what physical protocol it uses to communicate, but it's neither of ZigBee or Z-Wave, which prevents it from talking with third party devices.
The reviewer likes SimpliSafe because it's simple yet flexible.
4 stars. $201 (Amazon). Easy to install. Built-in Alexa voice
service. Face recognition (they say it's
limited). Supports IFTTT
applets. Free and paid cloud storage. No professional monitoring option.
Camera resolution is 1080p with motion detection. It can play sounds for
The reviewed kit includes the base station, two door/window
sensors, and a key fob. The base station includes a camera, a motion
sensor, a speaker and/or 90dB siren, 3 microphones (??), and a backup
battery that will run it for 30 minutes. Communications by 802.11ac,
(doesn't mention Ethernet), Bluetooth, Z-Wave, and
Protocol (doesn't say the frequency band). The camera records 1080p,
has a 147° field of view, and has an infrared illuminator. When motion
is detected it will send 30 secs of video to the cloud, which you can
access for free within 24 hours. (Pay for more storage.) It has face
recognition, with significant limitations. It integrates with Alexa and
can act as an Alexa slave station (with some limitations). It also works
with Google Assistant.
It works with third party Z-Wave devices, but just on-off.
On the mobile app you can set everything up. You can view a live stream from the camera; take a snapshot, two-way audio, or set off the siren. Not a lot of discussion of what alert modes are available.
The reviewer had no trouble setting up and using the system, which functioned reliably on his test protocols.
4 stars. $199 (Amazon). Easy to install. Works with numerous third-party devices. Supports multiple wireless protocols. No professional monitoring. No backup battery. Cannot trigger camera recordings.
3.5 stars. $35/month, requires contract, 1 or 3 years. No IFTTT. Lots of component choices, but they are expensive. Works with Alexa and Google Assistant.
3.5 stars. $400. Stylish, but few third party devices are supported. Vary expensive. No IFTTT.
3.5 stars. $169 (Amazon). Easy to install. Affordable professional monitoring available. Supports multiple wireless platforms. Loud siren. Limited integration with other devices. Doesn't support IFTTT. Bulky contact sensors. Interoperation with Ring cameras and third party devices is not (yet) supported.
Ben sent me a useful link:
Use Your Existing Alarm System With A New Service by Rose Thibodeaux,· last updated 2019-05-16. She discusses several possibilities, mostly takeovers by professional monitoring companies, but she finishes up with self monitoring with Konnected.
Konnected Review: Converting Your Wired Alarm to a Self-Monitored Alarm by Rose Thibodeaux, last updated 2019-05-18. Her test case is an alarm system 5 years old that was never activated or used: no testing, no documentation, to be taken over by a SmartThings home automation hub. She got it working.
From the middle link:
Konnected claims to work with
common wired security system
panels such as… and all other hardwired systems.
You buy a chassis and mainboard, and up to 4 modules each handling
up to 6
zones. You can add more modules later. 6 zones cost
$89, 24 zones cost $219.
They have pre-written drivers for the SmartThings, Home Assistant, Hubitat and OpenHAB home automation frameworks. She prefers Samsung's SmartThings and has it installed at the test venue. You won't be using your keypad; if the mobile app isn't enough, there are instructions for mounting a tablet on the wall.
Communication with the hub is by Wi-Fi (2.4GHz).
The board turns the siren on and off, but the siren (not the Konnected board) has to generate the sound it's going to play.
There is an alternative board that can
tap into an existing
alarm controller, mainly for using the sensors for home automation,
but you keep your professional monitoring unchanged.
Information from the Konnected.io website:
The photo shows a board with screw attachments for six lines and
grounds (1-wire sensors). It has a pair of connectors for a
hat which has the CPU and a slot for the comms
module including a visible meander antenna. For more zones, you get
more complete devices, with a separate CPU and IP address for each
set of 6 zones; a photo shows an elaborate system with six devices.
A backup battery is available. LiIon, 7.8 A-H, DC out 12v 2.5A, USB port out (5V 2.1A), input 12V, runs the system (how many zones?) for 14hr. Use the wall wart that came with the Konnect board. $36.
There are 2 kinds of boards: alarm and add-on. The alarm board has a 12V output for a siren. The add-on board has a 3.3V output for a beeper (door open chime) or various other items. Same price.
The supported hubs: SmartThings is the Samsung product. Hubitat is a less-known commercial thing. Home Assistant and OpenHAB are open source software; run on your own server, often a Raspberry Pi. Home Assistant has only an iOS app (showstopper).
More features of OpenHab:
most wireless protocols.
Jimc is looking favorably on the Konnected board, and on switching from our back-version Domoticz to OpenHAB. (The current Domoticz lacks support for Z-Wave because it's a proprietary protocol which creates licensing problems, so they say.)
Replacing the old alarm system is not going to happen, because I haven't been able to find a modern DIY system that can handle the 1-wire door/window sensors. [Update: see above about Konnected.]
As for a supplementary system, we have been considering a security camera setup with remote storage on our own cloud server, which we already have set up for other purposes. It's going to take some work to set up and understand the camera control software. I'm thinking of maybe 3 wireless PTZ cameras in vulnerable spots, with motion detection, so only moving pictures are stored.
The acoustic smoke and CO detector relays could be added to the existing Z-Wave home automation system. Also a water leak detector.