SimpliSafe is a smart home security leader paving the way to provide more accessible home security options for homeowners who want many of the features of a traditional alarm system without the cost of professional installation.
Early alarm systems required professional installation. Miles of wire were used to connect an alarm panel to each door and window in a home. Then, hidden push buttons or magnetic contact sensors were installed on doors and windows to trigger the alarm system when the door/window was opened. Strips of foil were glued on windowpanes to trigger the alarm system if the glass broke.
The development of wireless alarm systems eliminated the need for the majority of this wiring. Today, these “traditional” alarm systems typically use a mix of wired and wireless sensors. However, even when just using wireless sensors traditional alarm systems are designed to only be installed by professional alarm installers as the process of setting up and configuring these systems is still quite complicated. In addition, a relationship between the homeowner and the company that installed the alarm system is required so that the home can be monitored and emergency services contacted in case of a fire or break in.
SimpliSafe created one of the first full-featured alarm systems that is designed to be easily installed, configured, and maintained by a homeowner. The first thing SimpliSafe did to accomplish this was to create an alarm system that is entirely wireless. There are no wires required to connect any of the components of the system to each other.
Second, SimpliSafe developed a user-friendly smart phone app that guides the user through the process of installing the system, provides an easy-to-use interface for configuring all the different alarm system’s settings, and provides an user-friendly interface for operating the alarm system on a day-to-day basis
SimpliSafe’s “Essentials Kit” is their most popular alarm system. It consists of a base station, one keypad, three entry sensors, and one motion sensor.
The base station is the brains of the SimpliSafe system. It communicates wirelessly with up to 100 SimpliSafe motion sensors, SimpliSafe entry sensors, and the other security sensors/accessories that SimpliSafe offers. It also connects to the home’s network through Wi-Fi and includes a cellular radio for communication with SimpliSafe’s professional monitoring centers.
Similar to a traditional alarm system, the base station includes rechargeable batteries that provide up to 24 hours of battery backup operation in the event of a power outage. And, while a traditional alarm panel is typically hidden in a basement or closet to keep it from being tampered with by an intruder, the SimpliSafe base station is designed to be “smash-safe.” In other words, it will resist an intruder’s attempts to break the unit to stop the built-in siren and to keep the unit from reporting an emergency.
Similar to a traditional alarm system, a SimpliSafe system includes keypads that are placed near exterior doors in the home and are used to arm/disarm the system. When the homeowner uses a keypad to arm the system in “away mode” there is an exit delay to allow everyone to leave the home before the system is armed. When someone enters the home while the system is armed in away mode, the keypad beeps and provides time for the disarm code to be entered before the siren is sounded.
Keypads can also be used to arm the system in “home mode.” In home mode, the sensors that guard the perimeter of the home are active but internal motion sensors are ignored.
Finally, the keypad can be used to configure the system and make adjustments to system settings, including adding new sensors to the system or adjusting the exit delay time setting.
Just like a traditional alarm system, SimpliSafe entry sensors come in two parts. The first part contains a simple magnet housed in a plastic enclosure. The second part consists of the sensor that detects the presence of the magnet and the electronics to report events to the base station. One part is mounted on a door or window, and the second part is mounted on the door/window’s frame. Both parts are held in place with double-sided tape or screws.
When the door or window is opened, the magnet moves away from the second part of the entry sensor, and the event is reported to the base station using a 433MHz radio signal. These radio signals are designed to penetrate standard walls in a home to maximize the distance a sensor can be located from the base station. According to SimpliSafe, a sensor can be placed up to 800 feet from the base station.
Just like a traditional alarm system, SimpliSafe’s motion sensors provide a backup to sensing an intruder who has somehow managed to get past the entry sensors in a home – possibly through a window that was left open. The SimpliSafe motion sensor is pet friendly, meaning that it won’t be triggered by small/medium sized pets left in the home.
If the SimpliSafe alarm system is armed when it receives a signal from an entry or motion sensor and the disarm code is not entered on a keypad, then the base station’s 95-db siren will sound the alarm, the event will be sent to the SimpliSafe app on your smart phone, and, if the homeowner has subscribed to SimpliSafe’s professional monitoring service, the event will be sent to a SimpliSafe monitoring center so they can notify emergency services in the town where the home is located.
Again, like a traditional alarm system, SimpliSafe offers additional accessories that can be added to a homeowner’s SimpliSafe system:
- Glass Break Sensors – Detects the sound produced when a window is broken in an attempt to gain access to the home
- Temperature Sensors – Detects freezing temperatures in the home that could cause the water in a pipe to freeze, break the pipe, and flood the home with water
- Water Sensors – Can be placed in locations where leaks are common in a home. For example, sensors could be placed under toilets, the hot water heater, or a refrigerator with a built-in ice maker.
- Carbon Monoxide Detectors
- Smoke Detectors
- Indoor and Outdoor Cameras
- Video Doorbells
- Smart Locks
- Panic Buttons – Triggers the alarm when the button is pressed
- Key Fobs – Includes buttons for arming the alarm system, disarming it, and a panic button that can be used to trigger the alarm if you find an intruder as you enter your home
- Indoor/Outdoor Siren – Provides additional notification of an emergency beyond the siren built into the base station
- Yard Sign and Window Stickers – Acts as a deterrent to break ins by informing a potential thief that the home is protected by a SimpliSafe system
Again, SimpliSafe alarm system installation is simplified because all sensors and accessories are battery powered and communicate wirelessly with the SimpliSafe base station. There are no wires to run in a home. The entry sensor and water sensor have a battery life of five to 10 years. The motion sensor, glass break sensor, temperature sensor, smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector have a battery life of three to five years. The keypad has a battery life of eight to 12 months.
When a battery in a sensor gets low, a low-battery warning will be shown in the SimpliSafe app’s timeline and smart alerts, if enabled. In addition, homeowners can check the status of all components in the device section of the SimpliSafe app.
The smoke detector has the added benefit of a visual warning. When the smoke detector has a low battery, the light on the device will flash yellow and the device will chirp once per minute.
In addition, SimpliSafe sensors are housed in paintable plastic enclosures. This allows a homeowner to paint the sensors so that they match the color of the background where they are mounted and won’t clash with the home’s décor. For example, the white plastic enclosure of an entry sensor would stand out in stark contrast to a dark brown door in a home. Painting the entry sensor to match the door makes it nearly invisible.
Professional Monitoring from SimpliSafe
Professional monitoring is a standard part of traditional alarm systems. However, many first-time alarm system buyers are confused by what value professional monitoring offers them. Professional monitoring is actually reasonably simple and works as follows.
If, for example, your SimpliSafe alarm system detects an intruder, then the SimpliSafe base station will contact SimpliSafe’s monitoring center using a built-in cellular radio. This assures that the emergency is reported in a timely manner and that an internet outage doesn’t impact the system’s ability to report the emergency.
In addition, SimpliSafe has six monitoring centers. So, if one of the centers is having technical issues, there are plenty of backups to handle the emergency.
When an incident is reported to the monitoring center by your SimpliSafe alarm system, the monitoring center will first call the emergency contact numbers listed with your account to see if, for example, you came home and accidentally triggered your alarm system. If you don’t answer the call, or you answer and tell the monitoring center that nobody is home, then the monitoring center will contact the police so they can respond to the incident at your home.
SimpliSafe offers three different tiers of professional monitoring – standard, interactive, and self-monitoring with camera recording.
With standard monitoring ($14.99/month), your SimpliSafe alarm system is monitored 24/7 by SimpliSafe. Emergency services (police, fire, medical) will be automatically dispatched depending on the type of alarm event that is reported. SimpliSafe will always attempt to contact you before sending emergency services to your home.
In addition, standard monitoring includes the ability to define a “duress code” for your SimpliSafe alarm. Entry of that code into a keypad sends a silent alert to the monitoring center that the homeowner is, for example, being forced by an intruder to disarm the alarm system and needs immediate assistance. Again, the monitoring center will contact emergency services to send help to the home.
The interactive monitoring tier ($24.99/month) offers everything included in standard monitoring, with a few important additions. If your SimpliSafe system includes SimpliSafe cameras, them the people at the SimpliSafe monitoring center can optionally view the video from the cameras to validate if, for example, there is an intruder in the house. If there is an intruder, then SimpliSafe will inform emergency services that there is a burglary in progress and the response will be much faster than a generic call to them that an alarm system has reported an intruder, which historically has a reasonable probability of being a false alarm.
Additional benefits of interactive monitoring are expanded control over and access to the SimpliSafe App, third-party integrations (Amazon Alexa, Apple Watch, and August Smart Lock), and unlimited recording storage for up to 10 SimpliSafe cameras.
With SimpliSafe’s self-monitoring with camera recordings option ($9.99/month), the homeowner will be notified through the SimpliSafe app when their SimpliSafe alarm system detects an emergency in their home. The homeowner is then responsible for contacting emergency services. Video from SimpliSafe indoor/outdoor cameras and SimpliSafe Video Doorbell Pro in the home will be recorded and available for viewing.
Self-monitoring is an alternative to each of the above plans. In this case, the SimpliSafe system will send a notification to the homeowners’ smart phones whenever it detects an intruder, fire, etc. at their home. It is then up to the homeowners to call emergency services in their town so that they can respond to the incident at the house.
On the plus side, self monitoring eliminates the fees associated with professional monitoring. However, if you are in a meeting and your phone is set to “do not disturb,” or if you are on a hike in a remote area and don’t have cell service, then you are not going to receive the notification from your SimpliSafe system, and emergency services will not be informed of the break in at your home until long after the thief has left. Even worse, emergency services will not be informed that there is a fire in your home until a neighbor notices the smoke and flames coming from your house.
SimpliSafe’s professional monitoring service is reasonably priced compared to other alarm vendors and doesn’t require a commitment to a lengthy contract. Some insurance companies will provide a discount on a homeowner’s insurance policy when an alarm system is professionally monitored. This discount can offset some of the cost of the professional monitoring subscription.
Hands on with SimpliSafe
SimpliSafe provided me with an alarm system to evaluate for this article, and the first thing I found when I opened the box was a large envelope. On the envelope was a sticker informing me to: “Download the SimpliSafe mobile app before continuing”. So, I followed instructions and downloaded the app. It was assuring that the app had 246K reviews in the Apple App Store and was rated five stars.
I then opened the envelope and found it contained an owner’s manual, a SimpliSafe yard sign, and two SimpliSafe window stickers. The yard sign and window stickers displayed the message “Protected – SimpliSafe Home Security”.
Putting these aside, I opened the owner’s manual and the first page was a repeat of the envelope’s instructions to download the SimpliSafe app and to use the app for installation.
Now, some people may find this hard to believe, but not everyone uses a smart phone. SimpliSafe has those people covered and the next section of the owner’s manual includes detailed, and easy to follow, instructions for installing the SimpliSafe alarm system using only the SimpliSafe keypad. While I expect that most people will install the system using the SimpliSafe app on a smart phone, this is a welcome addition that brings a professionally monitored alarm system to all segments of the population. For example, some older adults have avoided the complexity of smart phones and this allows this particularly vulnerable segment of the population to protect their homes with a SimpliSafe alarm system.
When installing the system with the SimpliSafe app, the first requirement is to create an account. Once that process was completed, I was provided with two options:
- Start setup now
- Already installed? – Skip installation and connect your system to the app. This option makes it very easy to connect the system to the SimpliSafe app on other family members’ smart phones
I selected “Start setup now”. The setup process then began with the installation of the SimpliSafe base station as follows:
- Since a homeowner could own multiple properties the first step is to name this property by entering a descriptive name for the residence (home, beach house, etc.)
- Provide permission for the app to use Bluetooth on your smart phone
- Remove the base station from the packaging and pull the small, plastic, battery tab. Removing the tab connects the batteries inside the unit. The tab keeps the batteries from being run down while the system sits on a shelf in a store awaiting purchase.
- Plug the base station in at a central location in your home using the included power supply
- Identify your base station by either scanning the QR code on the bottom of your base station with your smart phone’s camera or entering the serial number on the base station manually in the app. Once this is completed the app will connect to the base station.
Here I ran into a problem. For some reason my phone would not connect to the base station. The app provided me with an alternative method of using the SimpliSafe keypad to connect to the base station to the internet. After I removed the keypad’s plastic battery tab the keypad started up and immediately connected to my base station. The keypad then walked me through the process of creating a four digit, master PIN (used to arm and disarm the alarm system) and connecting the base station to my home’s WiFi network. Once that was done, I could again use the SimpliSafe app to continue with the system’s installation and start adding my sensors to the system.
I chose to just setup a single sensor at this time – an entry sensor. The process of adding a sensor to your alarm system is as follows:
- First you select the type of device you want to connect to the base station in the app. I chose the entry sensor
- Next you are instructed to pull out the plastic battery tab and press the setup button on the top of the entry sensor
- Next, you just need to provide a name for the sensor; such as front door
- Instructions for mounting the sensor are then displayed. In the case of an entry sensor the instructions are that magnet and sensor must be less than 2” apart when the door, or window, they are monitoring is closed. Mounting can be accomplished using the self-stick tape that is attached to the entry sensor and the magnet. Alternatively, the sensor and magnet can be mounted using small screws that are also included.
Since I wasn’t going to install any additional sensors at this time, I next selected the option that I was done. However, it is important to note that the process of setting up other SimpliSafe sensors is identical to the process I followed for setting up the entry sensor.
Finally, you are provided with the option of selecting one of the SimpliSafe monitoring plans that I described earlier. SimpliSafe alarm systems come with a free 30-day trial of professional monitoring so a new owner can try monitoring before making a final decision.
At this point the alarm system is fully set up and you can use the app or keypad arm the system.
I’ve gone into this much detail on the process of setting up the SimpliSafe alarm system to show how easy SimpliSafe has made the process. However, for people who still aren’t comfortable installing a SimpliSafe system themselves, SimpliSafe does offer professional installation for an additional fee.
Some additional nice features that SimpliSafe has included are:
- When entry sensors are triggered by the opening of a door/window, the base station will emit a beep. This is useful, for example, for parents that want to know if a child opens an exterior door while they aren’t in sight
- The base station will verbalize events through its built-in speaker; such as the system being armed/disarmed
- The buttons on the keypad are backlit; making it easy to set the alarm or disarm it at night. However, the text that tells you what the functions are of the buttons is small, possibly making it challenging to read if you wear glasses and don’t have them on.
- SimpliSafe offers a key fob that can be used to disarm the alarm system, arm it in home mode, or arm it in away mode. In addition, the fob includes a panic button that triggers the alarm system. The fob could be used as a personal emergency reporting system (PERS). An elderly person could wear the fob on a necklace and use it to call emergency services if, for example, they fell and were injured. However, like the keypad, the text that tells you what the functions are of the buttons on the key fob is small.
How Does SimpliSafe Compare to a Traditional Alarm System?
SimpliSafe offers a great deal of the same functionality provided by a traditional alarm system, including:
- Sensors for detecting intrusion, fire, CO, and water leaks
- Keypads for arming/disarming the system
- Panic buttons
- Key fobs for arming/disarming the alarm system
- Interior/exterior sirens for signaling an alarm is occurring
- Professional monitoring
- And more…
In addition, SimpliSafe offers direct integration with the SimpliSafe Smart Lock, SimpliSafe indoor/outdoor cameras, and the SimpliSafe Video Doorbell Pro. You won’t need additional equipment and separate apps to leverage these products.
For many people, the above features are all they will require and SimpliSafe offers these at a very competitive price. However, an important feature that SimpliSafe doesn’t offer, that most traditional alarm systems provide, is the ability to integrate an alarm system with a smart home processor/hub. There are three key features that this integration offers.
First, the smart home processor/hub can take actions when an alarm is triggered. For example, if a smoke alarm detects a fire, the smart home processor/hub can turn off a forced air HVAC system to stop the spread of smoke in the home, turn on lights in the home to make it easier for family members to find their way out of the home at night, open motorized shades to make it easier for family members to escape through windows if other pathways are blocked by flames or smoke, flash exterior lights to make it easier for first responders to locate the home, unlock smart locks on exterior doors to make it easier for both family members to leave the home and for first responders to enter the home, and much more. These are all important actions that could save the lives of family members during an emergency.
Second, an alarm system is a great way of determining occupancy of a home. If the alarm system is armed in away mode, then the smart home processor/hub can be absolutely sure that the home isn’t occupied. In this case the smart home processor/hub can set back the thermostat to save energy, turn off all the lights to save energy, turn off all TV’s and other audio/video equipment to save energy, stop all streaming audio/video players to save internet usage against an ISP’s data cap, and more. When homeowners arrive home and disarm the alarm system the thermostat set point can be restored and, at night, pathway lights can be turned on to allow for a safer entry into the home.
Finally, the sensors connected to an alarm system can provide a vast array of information to a smart home processor/hub. Motion sensors can be used to turn on pathway lights at night to make it safer for family members to move around the home. They can also be used to turn off lights, and other devices, in a room that isn’t occupied.
Water leak sensors need to be able to turn off a motorized water valve to save the home from damage. A water leak can cause thousands of dollars in damages to a home. Being able to trigger a motorized valve to turn off the water supply when a leak is detected is one of the most important things a system that detects water leaks can do. Imagine how much damage can be done if a pipe bursts while the homeowners are away on vacation. Not only does the actual damage from the water have to be fixed, but the inevitable growth of mold in the home has to be remediated.
SimpliSafe should integrate with the leak detection systems from Phyn and Flo by Moen. These systems would supplement SimpliSafe’s water sensors by using AI to detect very small leaks, anywhere in a home; not just in locations where a SimpliSafe water sensor has been placed. They also include built-in shutoff valves to stop the flow of water after a leak has been detected.
These are just some examples. There are many, many more ways that an alarm system’s sensor data can be used by in a smart home.
Unlike a traditional alarm system, SimpliSafe also doesn’t provide a way for third-party sensors to be integrated into the system. For instance, I am a fan of the leak sensors with integrated shutoff valves manufactured by FLOODSTOP. FLOODSTOP makes systems for some of the most common sources of leaks in a home including dishwashers, clothes washing machines, water heaters, and ice makers. When a FLOODSTOP device detects a leak it closes the built-in motorized valve that feeds water to the appliance, it sounds a built-in alarm, and closes a relay that can be used to integrate the FLOODSTOP with a traditional alarm system to inform it that a water leak has been detected in the home. SimpliSafe offers no path for third-party devices, like the FLOODSTOP, to be integrated with their alarm system.
Currently, the integrations that SimpliSafe offers (Amazon Alexa, Apple Watch, and August Smart Lock) are only available to people who pay for an Interactive Monitoring subscription. While Amazon Alexa and Apple Watch integration could be described as “added conveniences” that some people may find worth paying extra for, the integrations I have described above provide significant added safety for a homeowner and their family. Not even traditional alarm systems require added fees for the third-party integrations that support these safety features. I hope that, in the future, SimpliSafe will make them available at no cost to all their users.
Finally, SimpliSafe offers quite a few accessories/sensors for their system. However, there are a number of accessories/sensors that are available for traditional alarm systems that aren’t offered by SimpliSafe. For example, SimpliSafe doesn’t offer a rate-of-rise heat sensor. A garage is an easy place for a fire to start. Unfortunately, because of the exhaust fumes generated by non-electric vehicles, a smoke detector can’t be used in a garage. Instead a special rate-of-rise heat sensor, to detect a rapid rise in temperature associated with a fire, has to be used in garages.
Two other sensors not offered by SimpliSafe are a sensor to detect if a garage overhead door is open and a long-range entry sensor that can be used outside. Anyone with an outdoor pool would like the ability to monitor if a child opens the gate to access their pool when an adult isn’t present to supervise. And, there are other uses in a smart home for this type of sensor. In my own home I have attached one of these sensors to my curbside mailbox. The post office randomly delivers my mail anytime between the middle of the afternoon and 8pm at night. I use a long-range entry sensor to detect when the mailbox is opened and provide me with a notification that my mail has arrived.
A SimpliSafe alarm system is very easy to both install and use. In addition, SimpliSafe offers sensors, accessories, and monitoring plans that will meet the needs of the majority of homeowners.
However, people who own smart homes, which is a fast-growing segment of the population, need more functionality. Smart home owners specifically need integration between the SimpliSafe system and their smart home processor/hub so actions can be taken by the smart home processor/hub based on both the alarm state of the SimpliSafe system and events that are detected by the SimpliSafe system’s sensors. This integration is fundamental to leveraging the other systems in the smart home (smart lighting, smart thermostats, smart shades, etc.) to provide added safety for homeowners and their families. Smart home integrations should become a part of every SimpliSafe system and not require a paid subscription. The adoption of the new Matter smart home protocol by SimpliSafe could be the best solution to this issue.
Another Review from Jay Basen: Assessing the Latest Generation of Smart Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms