Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The SimpliSafe Story

My recent move has been... well, eventful. It's been one of those experiences where you shout-sing Kelly Clarkson's "What doesn't kill you makes you STRONGER" as you're spackling and power-drilling and unclogging and fixing. One of the first things I wanted to take care of when I got here was an alarm system. I did my research and decided that SimpliSafe would be my best option: You own the system, no contracts, and it's simple to install yourself wirelessly. The company agreed to let me review the system for this blog. (Hey, thanks, guys.)

As soon as it arrived, I began setting up the sensors, then the keypad and alarm. Just an hour after I got it all set up, one of the sensors started to chirp.

Dang.

I walked over to it and couldn't figure out what was wrong. So I did what reasonable people do in these situations: I gave it a little smack. It stopped chirping. Solved!

I went back to work, but a minute later, the chirping started again. I adjusted the sensor, but couldn't see anything wrong with it. I smacked it again, and again it stopped.

You can see where this is going. I felt like I was living under a little black raincloud.

I didn't quite understand why the sensor would chirp at all-- there wasn't any speaker in it, as far as I knew. And yet every time I walked away, it started this loud chirp again, and every time I tapped it, it stopped. I was on hold with SimpliSafe's customer service line when I opened the door to look again, and guess what?

There was a cricket two inches away from the sensor, on top of the door frame.

Every time I smacked the sensor, it scared the cricket enough to shut it up, and then as soon as I walked away, it started in again.


Now, that would be a cheery end to my story if it were the end, but unfortunately, it is not. Two of the sensors (not that one) were not responding. It turned out that the metal doors they were on interfere with the magnets in the sensors, and I was able to reposition one of the sensors to fix the problem, but the other refused to be fixed. That led to my first real call to SimpliSafe's customer line. They told me how to solve the problem: put extra double-sided tape under the sensor so the metal door doesn't confuse the system. Cool.

But then the keypad announced that there was no link to the central monitoring dispatch. Which meant that the wireless connection... wasn't connecting. I called customer support again and they talked me through where to place the base-- they had a map of my area's wireless towers and knew which direction in my house would have the strongest signal. I placed it on a windowsill in the right direction and it worked immediately. Cool.

I had been worried about the wireless signal because as of today, their systems are all still through T-Mobile, which has iffy reception in my area. They have, however, signed a deal with Verizon so that areas like mine that have better Verizon reception will have connections through Verizon instead. (If you have a system already and it's not connecting well, they can send you a new Verizon base in about 5 weeks, according to the rep I spoke with. That was as of the beginning of September, so it sounds like they'll be ready in early October.) The website wasn't clear about this-- I thought the Verizon units were already shipping.

Then I installed the smoke alarm, and two days later, it began beeping to alert me to a low battery. Back to customer service, who said they'd send me a new battery. They did right away... but it was the wrong battery. So they're sending me a new one.

Cool?

Okay, so by this point I was a bit frustrated. Things hadn't gone as smoothly as I'd hoped, but the true test didn't happen until yesterday.

They give you the first few days to "practice" with the system without having it connected to dispatch. Practice... ha! What could be so hard about setting an alarm and then turning it off? I was smart. I didn't need to practice. I was, like, gifted with alarms. Until day 4.

I was half-asleep at the computer at 2 a.m., gave up on work, set the alarm, and went up to bed. That's when I realized I'd left my sheets in the dryer and hadn't made the bed yet. I had to go out to the garage to get my laundry. Which I did. Forgetting that there was a sensor on the door leading to my garage and that the alarm was activated. Thirty seconds later...

EEE, EEE, EEE, EEE, EEE, EEE, EEE, EEE, EEE, EEE, EEE, EEE, EEE, EEE!

HOLY TOMATOES.

I about started convulsing on the floor. I knew I had to get to the keypad and shut off the alarm, but the siren was right near there and it was like ear torture getting any closer to the speaker. But with the knowledge that my new neighbors were not going to be fond of me if I let this go on, I decided the decent thing to do would be to shut off this blaring alarm at 2 a.m. or at least have the courtesy to set myself on fire and run out on the lawn so it would look like there had been some purpose in this commotion. I chose the former, and the phone rang IMMEDIATELY.

It was the alarm company asking for my "safe word." I was still shaking when I picked up the phone and told her my safe word. Then I said, "I scared the poop out of myself!"

She said, "That's okay."

No, it wasn't okay. It was fantastic, because you know what? Had I been an actual intruder, NO WAY would I have stuck around for that.

So, yes, it took me a bit of messing around to get the system set up, but once I got it, it functioned just right. (And then I was so adrenalined up that I couldn't fall asleep, so I started assembling furniture at 3 a.m. By the time my pulse returned to normal, I had a new sewing cabinet set up.)

Then I got better news: I get a discount on my insurance for having monthly monitoring (burglar and fire). So if I choose to have monthly monitoring-- and I do, but you don't have to... you can just use the system as a deterrent and not have it connected to a central station-- I pay just $15 a month and there's no contract. And I get $60 a year off my insurance, which is like getting 4 months of monitoring free. So my real cost for a year of monitoring is $120. And with the system itself, you can choose from a variety of configurations; you decide how many entry sensors and motion detectors, whether you want things like a panic button, freeze sensor, extra siren, carbon monoxide detector, etc. So you can even start small and then add components later once you see if the system works for you. Check with your insurance company, though-- mine would give a discount only if I had a burglar AND fire alarm with central monitoring. The 10% discount that some insurances give will just about cover all of your monitoring costs.

It has some very cool features, like a "duress code"-- a code you can program that's not your real code, to alert dispatch that you're being forced to turn off your alarm against your will. And you can set temporary codes for people who might need access to your house (guests, workers), then erase those codes anytime. You can turn the system on and off via the keypad or the buttons on the keychain-- which also has a panic button that sounds the alarm if you're in or close to your house.

The other thing that's cool is that it's portable. If you move, you take it with you. 

Keeping in mind that it's a wireless system, you have to be in an area with good T-Mobile or Verizon coverage. But as long as you are, then I recommend this as a great option to save money and stay away from locking yourself into a contract where someone else owns the equipment.

You can learn more and buy a system at www.simplisafe.com or on Amazon.



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