The Best Self-Monitored Alarm SystemsBy - 10/04/2016
Home alarm systems can be monitored or unmonitored. With monitored security systems, you typically sign a contract and pay a monthly fee to have someone watch your back 24/7. With self-monitored or unmonitored home security, you’re responsible for calling for help should the need arise. There is also “do-it-yourself” home security, which refers to monitored systems which are self-installed, and no contract systems which provide monitoring without a contract. (Check them out here.)
Obviously, there are pros and cons to all four approaches, but if you’re here, I will assume you’ve decided to go the self-monitored route.
Why You Should Trust Us
I’ve been in the technology business since 2003. I’ve been a technology reviewer since 2013 specializing in home security and smart home technology. I’ve tested multiple self-monitored systems including eTiger, Scout, iSmartAlarm, SimpliSafe, SmartThings v1, SmartThings v2, Piper, Armorax, SkyLink, Oplink, and dozens of security cameras. I’ve also attended multiple Consumer Electronic shows in Las Vegas as well as other trade shows where I’ve had hands-on experience with self-monitored systems such as MyFox, Insteon, and more.
What To Look For in a Self-Monitored Security System
Self-monitored home security is relatively new and the technology young. Companies like SimpliSafe have been in the game for a while, but there is an explosion of new companies offering self-monitored alarm systems through the smart home market. With all the new choices, picking one can be a challenge. In general, you will want to look for a system that can communicate to multiple people in multiple ways, that you can control and customize, and that will provide protection beyond burglaries.
If you plan to self-monitor your alarm, you are solely responsible for responding to any emergencies. From a communication perspective, it’s important that a self-monitored system can:
- Send push or text notifications.
- Call you if your system is breached.
- Call designated contacts, like friends or family members.
- Stay up and running if your power fails.
I would venture to say that communication is the most important feature, but the ability to self-service the alarm is also important. Look for things like:
- Being able to remotely arm and disarm a system
- Full control over system customization.
- Full control over modes like home, away, vacation, and sleep
3. Protection Beyond Burglaries
A self-monitored system should be smart. It should have the ability to follow rules with cause and effect relationships between different devices. In doing so, it can potentially protect your home from flooding, fire, or even rapidly changing temperatures.
SmartThings vs. Scout. vs. Piper NV vs. iSmartAlarm Home Security
|Push or Text Notifications||Starting at $9.99/month|
|Phone Call Notifications||Via IFTTT||Via IFTTT (Starting at $9.99/month)|
|Alert Friends and Family||Starting at $9.99/month|
|Remote Arm and Disarm||Starting at $9.99/month|
|Power Failure Redundancy||Battery Backup||Battery Backup||Must Add UPS||Battery Backup|
|Internet Failure Redundancy||NA, but devices can work locally.||NA||NA||Cellular – Starting at $9.99/month|
|Motion Sensors||$49||Included||1 Included||$49.00|
|Door/Window Sensors||$39.99||$49.95||2 Included||$29.00|
|Siren||$49.95||Included||1 Included||1 Included|
|Smoke / Fire / Heat||$99.00||Temperature Sensor Included||Detect Smoke Alarms with Spot $99.99||NA|
|Video Surveillance||$159.99+||Included||$99.99+||Works with Nest Cam|
|iTunes App Rating||2.5||1.5||2||3|
|Google Play Rating||3.6||3.5||3||4|
|IFTTT||Starting at $9.99/month|
|Other Home Automation||Z-Wave, Zigbee, Amazon Echo, Stringify, Amazon Echo, Google Home, and More||Limited Z-Wave||iSmart Smart Plug||Starting at $9.99/month – Integration with Amazon Echo, Works with Nest, and more|
|Professional Monitoring||Through Scout’s Service||NA||NA||Starting at $19.99/month|
|Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now|
The Three Best Self-Monitored Alarm Systems
1. Most Comprehensive: SmartThings
2. Easiest to Use: iSmartAlarm
3. Camera Based Approach: Piper
SmartThings requires a touch of creativity. Unlike the others, it starts with a hub and you add the equipment needed to secure your home. What makes it the best option is versatility.
The new hub supports battery back-up and allows devices to work locally as well as in the cloud. It also has a feature called “Smart Home Monitor”. From this one screen, you can arm your system, disarm it, check your system status, and even check the status of specific sensors. SmartThings can also connect to other devices, like Amazon Echo for voice control and web-based products or applications through IFTTT. You can even add professional monitoring for $19.99 per month through Scout’s (yes Scout’s) professional monitoring service. SmartThings will also be able to use ADT Canopy for monitoring once launched.
Finally, SmartThings can support multiple home security cameras including cameras by D-link, Samsung, and Arlo Wire-Free. When paired with a SmartThings system, these cameras support recorded video clips. The system uses video buffering to record not only what happened during an event, but also what happened before – starting at 15 seconds pre-trigger. This service does come at a cost: $4.99 per month. However, live streaming is always free.
- Extremely Customizable
- Works Locally When Internet Is Down
- Professional Monitoring Available
- App Is Difficult to Navigate
- Must Buy All Components Separately
If you just want something simple, you should buy iSmart. It isn’t as expandable or customizable as the other two options, but it’s easy to install and use. Also, it is the only option of the three whose primary function is unmonitored home security. Out of the box, you will have everything you need to protect your home. The iSmartAlarm starter kit includes a siren, two door/window sensors, a motion detector, two key fobs, and access to their mobile app.
iSmartAlarm comes with IFTTT integration. Through IFTTT, you can connect iSmart to other popular home automation devices like SmartThings, WeMo, Homeboy, Nest, Philips Hue, and more. If you don’t want to expand into home automation through IFTTT, you can add a smart plug to the iSmart system. The smart plug can be used to automate small appliances and lamps. Finally, iSmart offers four different camera options. I’ve tested KEEP and SPOT (both iSmart cameras), and I’m not a fan. However, the iCamera KEEP Pro is launching soon and looks appealing. It offers FHD video, Amazon Echo integration, robotic motion tracking, sound recognition, a wide field of view, custom activity zones, and more.
- Easy to Use/Works Out of the Box
- Completely Free
- App is Slow
- Not As Expandable As Other Options
The Piper NV if first and foremost a camera. It offers night vision and a wide-angle view, so you can use one camera to monitor a large space. Through the mobile app, you can stream live footage of your home or even use two-way audio to communicate with others. If Piper detects motion or sound, it will notify you via text, push notification, email, or phone call. In fact, you can even use all four methods at the same time.
In addition to being a camera, it can integrate with specific Z-Wave devices like door/window sensors, smart bulbs, smart switches, and a water sensor. It also has its own IFTTT channel. Through IFTTT you can connect to other web-based devices and applications using recipes. Recipes work using an action and trigger like, “If Piper detects motion, trigger my smart lights.”
- All-In-One Approach
- Ever Expanding List of Compatible Devices
- App Is Confusing
- False Alarms More Common With Cameras Than Sensors
No Contract Security Options
Scout, SimpliSafe, and SmartThings are all no contract security systems. You can compare Scout and SimpliSafe here.
As of December of 2015, we no longer recommend Scout as a self-monitored home security system. In the past, they offered many features for free. But now, they charge. A paid plan is now required for:
- Push notifications
- Text message alerts
- Email alerts
- Phone call alerts
- Access to Scout’s web portal and mobile apps
- Cellular backup
- 24/7 UL-certified professional monitoring (Always On+ only)
- Police dispatch capability (Always On+ only)
- Integration with Amazon Echo, Google Nest, IFTTT and more
As you can see, Scout does a whole lot, but only if you are willing to pay a monthly fee. If you are, the system can work with IFTTT, Amazon Echo, and Nest.
Through Works with Nest, you can connect to the Nest Thermostat, Nest Protect, and Nest Cam. Using the Nest thermostat you can lower your home’s total energy consumption. When you connect Scout to Nest Protect, you can sound your alarm when smoke or CO is present. And of course, with a Nest Cam, you can have eyes on your home from anywhere.
Scout offers professional monitoring without a contract. If you go on vacation one month and want a vacation from self-monitoring, simply give Scout a call and add service for a month. There are no contracts and no long-term commitments. They even have packages that will help keep your system connected. For example, you can add cellular backup to keep your system working during internet outages or you can skip the internet altogether and pay for a cellular connection.
I do not recommend SimpliSafe as a self-monitored system. As a self-monitored system, it is nothing more than a noise maker.
If you want to add service, you can do so without a contract month-to-month. They offer three basic packages ranging from monitoring only to app access. And like Scout, a paid plan can also provide access to Works with Nest. Unfortunately, SimpliSafe only works with the Nest Thermostat.