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New Alarm System

James F. Carter <>, 2019-05-19

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Our NAPCO 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.

Goals and Issues

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.

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.

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.

Product Reviews:

The Best DIY Home Security Systems on, by Caitlin McCormack, updated 2019-05-08. Their list of important factors (slightly paraphrased by jimc):

These are the product lines reviewed in the article:


Provides 24/7 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.

Amazon's Ring Alarm

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.

Product Reviews: PC Magazine

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.

Abode Home Security Starter Kit

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 control panel. 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:

LifeShield Smart Home Security Kit

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.

SimpliSafe Home Security System

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 disarming.

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.

Honeywell Smart Home Security Starter Kit

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 aliveness simulation.

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 Wiselink Security 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.

Wink Lookout

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.

FrontPoint Safe Home

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.

Nest Secure

3.5 stars. $400. Stylish, but few third party devices are supported. Vary expensive. No IFTTT.

Ring Alarm Security Kit

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.

Konnected Alarm Controller

Ben sent me a useful link:

From the middle link:

Information from the website:

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.