We left off of our DIY alarm system purchase, install, and configuration with a functional alarm system not yet connected to a central monitoring station, mission half accomplished. But selecting a good central monitoring station is one of the most critical, variable, and potentially valuable aspects of a home security system. But before we started researching our various options, I really didn't have a true grasp on what this component of our security system did, let alone how it all works. Here I thought the most difficult aspect of the overall purchase would be the selection of the system. As it turns out, finding the right central monitoring company can ultimately make or break both your overall cost savings, as well as your general customer experience when you have an alarm event.

Before I go any further, I want to let you know that none of this post, or any of our security system posts were in any way sponsored. We didn't get free equipment or any free services. The whole purpose of these posts is simply to let you all know our process, experience, and the vendors we decided to use. 

Before I started shopping for our monitoring service, I had a lot of assumptions led by misconception, misleading marketing, and incorrect word of mouth. I had heard everything from "You don't need monitoring if you can just have your alarm system call your cell phone," to "there are some full service places online that only cost $8 per month." If there's one thing I did already know, the rate we were already paying to ADT, $54 per month, seemed exorbitant, especially for the service level, and we no longer wanted any part of it.

However, the search for a replacement was not an easy one. The Internet is absolutely full of "security review" websites that are no more than affiliate sponsored storefront marketing campaigns, setup for Search Engine Optimization purposes to further prop up the well known brands. You can rarely see actual costs without a phone call, and when you can it's typically just the starter package without any of the additional features we are interested in. Once I added in all of the things I thought I knew but didn't really know (like my belief you could just purchase an alarm.com subscription right from alarm.com), and I was almost off the rails with confusion and general bewilderment before I even got out of the station.


After just a few minutes of research I quickly understood that I really didn't understand much and needed to do some decent research on what it was I was buying before I could begin to formulate a decision on who to actually buy from. And to be totally honest, this difficulty in comprehension led to more than one significant delay in our ultimate alarm system replacement. I'd by lying if I said we'd not attempted to replace the system several times over the years, and my efforts were not thwarted by my own ignorance and frustration.

To avoid the potential for derailment yet again, I began by making a priority list for myself, sort of a checklist of what we had to have or would like to have in a monitoring company. I came up with the following.

  • Active monitoring (by a human reviewed system at an office somewhere, not unattended notifications)
  • Dispatch of fire, police, or emergency personnel in the event of an alarm event
  • Ability to arm/disarm via smartphone
  • Cellular capable (no landline or Internet connection required)
  • Compatible with our 2Gig system
  • Low monthly cost (by comparison)
  • Ability to set monitored but not alarmed sensors (more on that one later)
  • Preferably an alarm.com reseller
  • No contract commitment (cancel at any time)

Once I had our list of preferences together I had myself a pretty solid starting point for both research and shopping. And as I started the process, I learned several very important items.

First, there are two aspects to most central monitoring systems. There's the actual monitoring service company that has people on hand to watch your system, call authorities, and provide customer support. Then there's the company that does the software support for things like remote arm/disarm, smartphone integration, user management, etc. In some cases, these companies appear as single units, like with ADT and ADT Pulse, AT&T digital Life, or Xfinity Home Security. While in others, like Frontpoint or Vivant, the monitoring company is an authorized reseller of Alarm.com services, and their responsibility is to provide the customer service support and account monitoring, while they simply resell Alarm.com packages to their customers for the web interface and smartphone apps.

I was very confused by this at first, which is why I keep mentioning it. But it goes like this...

Alarm.com does not sell to the consumer, they sell their packages to resellers at a negotiated rate based on volume. Their reseller can commit to a certain number of accounts per month from Alarm.com, and Alarm.com likely charges them a rate per account. The important thing here is that Alarm.com operates their servers and software packages, but you'll never get a call from Alarm.com if your alarm goes off.

The reseller can then factor in their overhead, desired profit, and what they'd like to make by offering the service to their customers, and they set a monthly cost. Some also include activation fees, contract commitment discounts, discounts based on service features, or premium service features. What this all amounts to is a monthly cost passed along to the customer that supports the business model of the company.

The non Alarm.com resellers typically offer a proprietary system that's similar, but it's all operated by that company. This is typically reserved for either the biggest companies with the largest budgets, or by the smaller startups with newer and unproven service offerings.

Make sense? So what I'm trying to say is that it's a volume game for a lot of these companies, and it's sort of like Costco for alarm monitoring. And, like Costco, it would make sense that the larger volume companies actually have the lowest rates for typical service offerings. Sadly, this isn't the case.

The largest companies have more employees, bigger offices, more expenses and overhead, bigger marketing budgets, and a general inclination to charge as much as possible. But these companies survive and thrive because they're large. They're the easiest to find, the ones you see on TV and in banner ads, the ones many people recommend.

That being said, there's a large market of high quality yet more affordable central monitoring companies out there just waiting to be found my the savvy shopper. And since I like to consider myself a savvy shopper (whether it's true or not), I decided to buck the big company/big budget trend and go with one of the lower cost startups to serve out central monitoring needs.

As I search the internets from top to bottom I came across one service that really sparked my interest. I initially found them under the SuretyCam.com domain but later discovered a sister website under SuretyDIY.com. When I first saw it I thought, "wait just a darn second, there's a 'DIY' in their name, this might just be serendipity!"

The more I looked into it the more it seemed to fit all of our needs. They have a great comparison table on their site that outlines their offerings and what they fulfill. The monthly price is reasonable at $20-$27 for basic or premium service. The setup and configuration is geared to the DIYer. And best of all, all of the pricing is clearly stated on the website so I knew what I was getting and for how much before I submitted be first thing.

I did a bit more research on the company and found they are somewhat new, based out of Columbus, Ohio (gotta love my Midwestern peeps, they're usually good people), and started by a guy who more or less had the same fundamentals in starting a company as I had in my search for a provider.

They even had a spot on their website where I could plug in the 3G cell information to ensure the antenna I had was not locked and could be configured to work with their service. And I could do it all without having to call and get the hard sell from a bunch of sales people.

Confident that I had the right company, and that I could easily switch to someone else of necessary given the no commitment, I pulled the trigger.

When I signed up I placed the items I wanted in my cart then proceeded with the purchase. During the process I realized that I could have bought all of the systems components from SuretyCam, spent about the same amount, and they would have all come pre programmed. Sure it may have saved me a bunch of time, but where's the fun in that?

During the process it asked me for information pertaining to my control panel, location, etc. I filled everything out and placed the order by about 8:00pm on a Wednesday.

By roughly 10:00am the very next day I had an email from SuretyCam confirming my activation and outlining configuration instructions to confirm and setup my account on both the panel and alarm.com.

To say the whole process was simple is an understatement. Not to mention that they were able to do the majority of the configuration on their end of the system, leaving a welcome message on the alarm panel with my account login information.

As you can see, we actually activated the service back at the end of January. I wanted to use it for a bit to be sure we were going with the service before I did a full writeup on it.

Since we have the cell module for our system communication I didn't even need to put on a phone number or anything? It's always communicating over the cell antenna.

As an aside, people were asking about the pricing of the cell service and if we have to have a separate contract for it, like you do with your cell phone. The pricing of the service is included with the monthly cost of the monitoring service, and there is no contract. The main thing here is that the cell antenna we have is unlocked and not tied to a specific carrier. This means we were more or less free to roam wherever we want to go with our business.

Once service was configured on the panel, the logo of the alarm panel updated to reflect the SuretyCam logo in the corner. Also, as a nice little bonus, the panel shows the current or next day's expected weather and temperate. It's funny just how often I glance at that piece of info.


The next step was to setup our phones to control our alarm. I first activated my account on the alarm.com website and setup various user profiles for the panel and website. The cool thing is that you can manage who has access to your panel, setting schedules and other accounts as needed by their friendly interface. Once everything was entered, I downloaded the alarm.com app on our phones. We both have iPhones, but it also supports Android.

Download an configuration of the app was painless and straight forward. You just login with the username and password you created on the alarm.com site.

Once installed, you can arm and disarm the system from your phone, check status of sensors, and even view history of sensor activity. I also enabled the push notifications so I could be alerted when an alarm event occurs, such as a sensor getting tripped while armed.


When I was satisfied that everything had been setup and configured properly, I tested out the system. I called SuretyCam to place the system in test mode and triggered some alarm events. Everything worked flawlessly.

Happy with my purchase and configuration I gleefully called ADT to cancel our existing service. Wouldn't you know it, they offered to lower our rate, give us free hardware, and do any number of things that should have been proposed at various points along the path. Too little, too late, we were jumping ship, and their exorbitant prices were to blame.

Funny story, ADT requires a 30 day notification of cancelation. I'm not sure why, I think it's a crappy rule, but I asked nicely and they waived that 30 day window and canceled immediately since I had called previously about cancelation and the support person didn't mention it. But about five days after I called to cancel, we got a letter from ADT alerting us to the fact that our monthly service cost would be increasing. Someone call Alanis, because that's really ironic.

Now that we've been using the system and the service for several months, we're very happy with it and its function. The setup was relatively easy, configuration of the central monitoring station straight forward, and the overall convenience of the system, with ability to arm/disarm from the phone, is absolutely great.

So what do you think? Does this sound like something you're going to tackle in your home? 

Comments 17

Comments

Laurie
3/28/2014 at 1:42 PM

This has been a great series and really helped me with my research for our own DIY monitoring/automation of our home!

Alex
3/29/2014

Great! This is exactly why I wanted to put it all together. Good luck on your projects!

Andrew
3/28/2014 at 3:35 PM

I've been stalking your website to see when this piece of the alarm puzzle would fall into place. Thanks for the clear explanation...we've been researching alarm systems ourselves. My wife has been interested in one for a while, but I've never really been able to wrap my head around how this industry works.

Maybe you covered this elsewhere, but what made you guys want a monitored service instead of just self monitoring? Alexandria's a great place, right? Alt smile (We're actually in Arlington...not too far away).

Also, did you end up having a video component to your system that is integrated with the 2gig system, or are you doing something separate in that area?

Thanks again for the posts. Super helpful.

Alex
3/31/2014

Glad this may prove useful for you. We haven't settled on a video solution yet, but I do know it won't be integrated into our security solution. It just doesn't make sense to me to pay extra per month for something that we can setup and configure with a one time cost. I'll keep you posted on it once we may a final decision.

As for the central monitoring, we want it both for peace of mind in the event of either an alarm event or an emergency situation (medical or fire). It just feels better to know someone is watching out for odd things on the other end, even though we feel very comfortable where we live.

kaylaraine
3/28/2014 at 5:50 PM

We are going to buy and install this system next month, so thanks for the step by step write ups. I hope our setup goes s as easy as yours did!

Alex
3/31/2014

Let me know if you need any additional info.

K
3/28/2014 at 7:31 PM

This series has been super helpful, and I've looked forward to it's conclusion! I, too, would love to part ways with our alarm and cable company, as they both routinely increase our monthly costs without providing better service or product. I just never understood how to. Looks like you've covered 50% of that equation well, thank you!

Alex
3/31/2014

If you give any new company a call they can probably explain how you would go about transferring your existing service. The main thing I'd try to stay away from are contracts that tie you into the same company for too long.

ciddyguy
3/29/2014 at 3:41 PM

Thanks for this, very interesting. I've found you through Manhattan Nest if I recall and have been reading chunks of it, and it's very interesting.

While I'm not in the market to buy a security system as yet, your experience with gathering info is spot on as I've run into this myself.

While I love the internet, it's really a gathering spot for TOO MUCH INFO, and a lot of as you say, is plain ol' bad info, misinformation, and when you DO find good info, it's often scattered hither and yon amongst many sites, making the whole research journey potentially daunting.

This past fall, I ran into this with researching home buying assistance programs, as I realized to move forward on my own goals, owning my own home that I can work on would be prudent, plus, I'm on month to month rent now as it is, and discovered rents in my area were shooting up into the stratosphere, and I need room for creative and artistic projects as well so a house larger than 600SqFt was becoming a need.

I got overwhelmed with the lack of coherent info, too much info, and stuff not even aggregated into one site in any meaningful way.

I had initially looked at HUD for assistance, and found there were programs within each state, seeking short term fixed rate loans (15/20 year) FHA loans and that's when I got frustrated.

Make a long story short, my ONLY options turned out to be the 30 year loans with down payment assistance programs, of which I was seeking, but hopefully with shorter term mortgages.

I ended up with the down payment assistance program put on by the state of Washington, and a program for Seattle specifically, and with the gentle help of a mortgage lender trained in these programs, I now am preapproved for a 30 year fixed rate loan, and am starting the process of interviewing for a buyer's agent now as I type.

But once you find that good resource, suddenly your research etc becomes easy and smooth, but getting there can be daunting due to the wealth of info out there.

I also ran into this when learning how to make music playlists to put on thumb drives for my then new head unit, and discovered how to tag/name the files, and none of that was evident, nor easily found online, making such technology more difficult than it should be for the technically inept since many lower end head units don't automatically parse files and folders without the assistance of tagging of MP3 files.

Anyway, a great series and a very interesting site to read.

Alex
3/31/2014

This is the horrible double edged sword of the Internet as a whole. So much information that you can drown in it before you know it. Personally, I'd rather have too much than too little and wade through the confusion. It's better than the alternative, but sometimes daunting nonetheless.

Dean
3/31/2014 at 9:49 AM

How much was the "total package", meaning time you spent, purchase of products, etc. Curious as to the total cost.

Thanks!

Alex
3/31/2014

Good question. I'd say we ended up with about $1,300 total on hardware, 8 hours of my time on the install, who knows how long on the research (let's round and call it 10 hours), and $27 per month for the service. The $20 setup fee was waived because of a deal they were running. All together, not too shabby. Now I know the system that's installed and I'm confident with how it was installed.

threadbndr
3/31/2014 at 11:16 AM

I'm really dis-satsified with my current alarm company. If these folks can take over from an existing alarm.com package without a service call to exchange hardware, I think I may switch when my contract is up.

I'd love to have the monitoring right on my phone.

Alex
3/31/2014

I'm relatively certain they can. So far I've liked them, but it has only been about 2 months. I'll report back again in a few more months to let you know how it's going.

Sara
4/3/2014 at 2:49 PM

Thanks so much for putting this information up. Just ordered a small system for part of our house because of your review, and I'm totally into the fact that it seems easy to add to and change monitoring as needed. Pulling out all the old alarm system this weekend!

Deanna
5/20/2015 at 9:12 PM

One year later- are you still happy with the setup? This series was so informative, so any update on how it's going would be awesome!

michael
6/6/2018 at 1:31 PM

27 bucks seems excessive. FYI, I'm currently with Slomins and after threating to leaving them they lowered my bill to $15.99. Before that I was at $35 bucks, but that price assumes they are trying to recoup the cost of the free system.

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