DIY monitoring made easy – my 8 reasons that make it so

Like many of you, I have been looking to modernize my home alarm monitoring experience. Over 10 years ago I signed up with a local alarm company who provided a First Alert/Honeywell system at practically very little cost in exchange for a heftily priced 5-year contract. A few years later, when I opted to have a cellular/radio backup unit, I was faced with an additional increase in my monthly monitoring fee. Granted, my requirements were (and are) to have central station monitoring to dispatch the authorities as needed.  

When I asked about programming event notification to be sent via pagers (remember those?) the company told me that I’d need to pay $300+ as a service visit to get that setup. That was a downer. Although I had the manual at my disposal, I never got around to doing it for fear of “messing” with the system would result in hundreds of dollars of service visits to set it straight. I did not want to be an Expensive Chaos Monkey(tm).

Chances are there are many of you reading this and finding yourself with a similar dilemma. If so, this article is for you. If not, keep reading anyway. 😉

Fast forward to 2016: the cellular industry is going through a 2G phaseout and my friendly alarm company sent me a note inviting me to upgrade my cellular communicator for a discounted price of $150. I’d get a new communicator but would not get any of the newly available capabilities that are available with mobile technologies today. If I wanted those, that’d be an additional $100 for a new system, plus an additional $3/month monitoring with a 5-year contract. 

See where I am going with this?

So I chose to see what else is “out there”. (After all, the creators of X-files did not work in vain.)  With a set of my requirements being newly reshaped, I set out to do my research.  There are many choices available, ranging from wireless systems and wired systems to various technologies that provide self-monitoring or central station monitoring as an option. I already have a Smarthings hub with sensors but it does not provide central station monitoring and has no cellular option.

Often times you have to get brand new equipment, which did not work for me as I knew I had equipment (panel, keypad, sensors, detectors) I wanted to continue to use.  In fairness to the other choices that I came across I won’t name names because I have not had experience with them. I opted not to — once I came across

Here are a few reasons the folks at AlarmGrid won my trust and earned my respect and, subsequently, business.

1) no contract needed; you pay month-to-month. If your life changes because someone “will move your cheese”, you have a safety net. Most people are afraid of contractual obligations with no easy exits. Just ask Larry Ellison 😉

2) flexibility of monitoring plans. You pick what works best for you. Want to monitor for $10? Sure. Want extra features and a peace of mind for a few extra $ per month? Sure. The world is your oyster.

3) not just awesome support forums, but also real people on the phone – from 9:00 to 21:00. That’s value. And yes, I called a few times as I was navigating my way toward the solution that’d work for me. I’ve always learned something new and felt increasingly confident proceeding.

4) products selection and expertise. I had a First Alert system from 10+years ago with a cellular backup from 6+ years ago that not only started waking me up in the middle of the night with audible beeps, further: it stopped working due to 2G phaseout! (Talk about Google’s Site Reliability Engineering being put to practice!)  Becaise I wanted to re-use the panel and sensors, I did not feel comfortable  investing in the new system and have it installed/built from the ground up.  Julia and Sterling aided me by navigating me toward a newer 3G/4G communicator  with a PROM chip upgrade that, while incurred  an out of pocket fee, has given me (and others in the family) mobility vis a vis Honeywell’s TotalConnect 2.0 AND lowered my monthly payment (as compared to my previous (!) alarm company. Cha-ching. BRILLIANT !

5) courteous staff. I mentioned calling in. This is important. These folks are right here in my time zone, in sunny Florida, doing what they love and pleasing customers– (just read other reviews). Why wouldn’t they be good at what they do and be spreading happiness? They are in FLORIDA! 😉

6) proactive notification. When I called in for my activation and spoke with Frank, not only did we have a good time getting going, he provided me a couple pointers on what else I can do in terms of expanding my options with the system I have. thanks Frank! During that activation, I temporarily ran a Cat5 wire in a “OSPF-like” manner just to get the proof-of-concept going (read: wire through the living room). Wife reminded me to make it go away so when the weekend arrived I ran a Cat6 from the communicator directly to the switch …much more discreetly. That’s what weekends are for, right? While I had the Cat5 disconnected, I got an email from Michael that my system is only reachable on the backup cellular and that I should look into my IP connectivity. Of course I knew what was up, but this is an illustration of solid monitoring one should expect. Thanks Michael!

7) tertiary path. Most of the systems (and plans) assume a single path — IP via your internet connection. Some systems (and plans) increase your reliability in case of an event by providing a cellular communicator that acts as a radio backup. Given that I have an older system (that did not have a RJ45/Ethernet port) — it only had a RJ11/telephone port, I was able to now use this port and, thus, have an additional path of communication. 

8) content-rich site. Not ad-enriched, CONTENT-rich. How-to articles, videos. SEO-optimizes with Spree! Makes it way easy to find information and seek guidance.
And now for a bit more detail …in terms of the super-fast overview. Umm, right!

Here is how the GSM radio communicator looks like  — my original Honeywell one and the new one are identical in terms of exterior attributes. This is the pic of the new one, notice the Ethernet wire on the bottom:


Here is the view of the original communicator:


The new communicator looks similar inside: a battery on the lower right-hand corner, a circuit board with RJ45 and terminals, switches and lots of lights!

Inside the panel box there is a … panel! I got to give credit to the original installers, they labeled all of my zones neatly and made it easy to work with for anyone else.  With AlarmGrid’s product guidance, I purchased an upgrade kit that, while preserving my existing zone definitions, involved me taking the chip out…

…revealing a processor socket:


…and insert the new chip in.

Bravo for the bonus of having my zones preserved. 

When it comes to mobility, Honeywell’s TotalConnect interface is slick. Here is one of the screenshots that makes it easy to toggle state:


I hope you found my thoughts useful and ultimately you’ll find what you’re looking for.  

Giving a close look will be worth your while.
And of course, if you end up approaching tell’em @hypervisaac sent ya!

Please let me know what you think.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: