NOTE: InGrid recently changed their name to LifeShield, but the equipment and service is still the same as is reviewed here
UPDATE (05-10-2012): I’ve been less-than-thrilled with the business practices of LifeShield lately. I still am a big fan of their products and services, so these reviews stand true, but if you’d like to know what they are up to, read this blog post.
UPDATE 12-08-2011 – THIS IS AN IMPORTANT ONE: In the past year LifeShield has changed their business plan a lot. As you read the review below, bear in mind that the following things are now the case for new customers:
- They no longer sell the base systems outright, they are free-ish and subsidized by a…
- Minimum 3 year contract. Sign up for a 5 year contract and your monthly rate will be cheaper (of course). Minimum $35/month for a 3 year contract, minimum $30/month for 5 year. One nice thing about being on contract is that the hardware is completely supported by LS, even including the batteries in your sensors.
- There is a (minimum) $99 activation fee. It can be higher if you select certain options, such as the Cellular Backup unit
All this being said, it is still a decent deal. If I were security-system shopping today (instead of 2 years ago), I’d probably still go with LifeShield. I recommend you call the competition and get a quote, then check out LifeShield and see how it compares. If you are handy enough to install the system yourself (and you are… it isn’t hard), I think you’ll end up being happier with the LifeShield system.
As a security-conscious home owner, I recently came to the conclusion that I want a security system in my house. Partially because I have a family and belongings that I’d like to protect, and partially because I’m somewhat paranoid, it just seems like a good idea. I thought I’d blog about it to share my experiences with others who may be considering the same thing.
You have a lot of options, of course, but the big two options are: DIY or professional. We’ll talk about the professional option first.
I got quotes from two different home security companies: one big one you’ve heard of, and one local shop. I asked for pretty much the same coverage and monitoring on both systems, and both quotes ended up being very close. Here’s what THEY were able to accomplish for me:
- open/closed sensors on every accessible window and door (all wireless)
- one central keypad/base unit
- two keyfobs for arming/disarming system (big clunky keyfobs that look like car alarm remotes from 1994)
- smoke detector (which is in addition to my existing house-wired smoke detection system)
- GSM module for communications with the call center (rather than using a landline… this accounts for $15/month on each service)
- warranty on all the system parts as long as you are a paying customer
- and the call center that monitors for burglary, fire, etc.
Both quotes were in the neighborhood of $1400 for installation. The local shop was going to charge $45/month for monitoring, the big company was going to charge $54/month. The biggest catch? Both came with a standard THREE YEAR contract. If you want to cancel the service before then, you have to pay a hefty fee. Lame.
FYI: I’ve heard horror stories about certain companies that will install a bunch of equipment for almost no cost, but then they have a big, nasty “buy out” fee (often over $1k) that drops WHENEVER you stop paying for monitoring service… even if it is after your initial contract is up. You basically have to buy out or pay for monitoring until you die. Neither of these companies work that way, but be sure to look at the fine print if you hear tales of free installs.
Neither of these were terribly attractive to me. I didn’t like the high install cost (I know they are gouging me on the hardware costs…I can look up the quoted parts on the internets, folks). I didn’t like the high monitoring costs (especially the big company… they charge extra every month for smoke alarm monitoring. Really?? It costs you more to call the fire company than it does to call the cops?). Those were perfectly acceptable, however, compared to the 3-year contract. Why three years? They clearly aren’t subsidizing the installed hardware with the subscription cost… so it is clearly just to screw the customer. They are simply afraid that you’ll decide in 6 months that you don’t want (or need) their service any more. I say BS.
I was also very disappointed in how low-tech all this stuff is. These companies seem to be mired in equipment and concepts from a decade ago, such as using POTS lines. The ability to use a GSM module to communicate with the monitoring center is clearly just tacked-on and meant to be used as a backup for landlines. It adds no functionality. There is no option for any kind of internet integration, such as email notifications or even SMS. The systems still simply call the monitoring stations when there is a problem rather than having some sort of heartbeat that is monitored, showing that all systems are green, etc. There is no mention of adding cameras to the system or integrating surveillance in any way. Even the salesmen are low-tech. The big company rep provided us with a quote that he came up with using a big calculator and wrote out on a piece of note paper. It was like I was buying a set snow tires. I’m guessing that this industry’s target audience is retirees.
So that brings me to the DIY systems. I did a great deal of research on these systems and learned quite a bit. I decided that a DIY system should do all the cool stuff the other systems cannot. It should be able to send me e-mail alerts or call my cell phone, at which point I can decide what to do about the alarm. It should be cheaper, and I shouldn’t have to pay for monitoring fees. I’d love to find a system that had a minimum of hardware and lots of software… perhaps a USB device that can interact wirelessly with some standards-based window/door sensors and an application that runs a web server of some sort. Wait… then I’d have to open a port to be able to access it from my phone… and I’d have to depend upon the software coders to be security-aware and not have a flawed httpd (not very likely)… and the whole thing would be worthless if my internet connection was down and/or my power is out longer than my battery backups last… so I guess I would need to have the software talk to an off-site server… and no such software/hardware seems to exist. Well, not as a DIY (please correct me if I’m wrong). This means we are back to paying for monitoring.
I’m OK with that, actually. The more I think about it, the more I understand the value of having pros monitor my system. If I’m unavailable to take a phone call and my alarm goes off, I want the cops or fire department to get called. I’m tied to my cell phone enough, I don’t need another reason to stare at it at all hours… “I need to check my phone and make sure my alarm system hasn’t called or emailed me!” No thanks. I also don’t want to trouble my neighbors or family by having it call them. So now I’ve settled on paying a monthly fee, it is just a matter of how much I am willing to pay.
In the course of my research, I looked at systems on the following sites:
Smarthome.com and homesecuritystore.com both offer monitoring service via Alarm Relay for $8.95/month. That’s a pretty nice price, right? I guess so, as long as you are only interested in simple phone monitoring. The service requires you to have a landline phone for the system. So much for my dreams of a nifty IP-based monitoring system. I don’t even have a POTS phone line and I don’t really want to get one. If I was a thief, that’s the first thing I’d cut before I enter a house. They also require a 1-year contract. Meh.
I found a few people talking about Elk systems…evidently, you can put together a pretty hard-core system using their hardware and software, but the stuff looks pretty intimidating. You can buy it and DIY it, but it is really meant for installers. I don’t want to be an alarm installer. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty for certain projects (especially if I think the knowledge gained will be useful in future projects), but this isn’t really one of them. I want something that is fairly simple to install yet feature-packed…and I don’t think that is asking too much. I also want the system to be super-reliable, not something that is a learning experiment for me.
After hours and hours digging through these sites, I tried another google search and I found something called InGrid (LifeShield) Home Security. A quick look around their website and they had my undivided attention. I started closing the other browser tabs that I had left open. Here are a few of the features that caught my attention:
- No contracts. They bill month-to-month and you can cancel any time you want. Period.
- Monitoring for $19.99 or $29.99 per month (more on this later)
- Simple DIY installation
- Loads of options for email alerts/notifications
- Totally IP-based monitoring (a landline can be used as a backup)
- Complete control and personal monitoring via the web and smartphones (I can see if a door is opened or closed, for instance)
- Keyfobs that are 2-way, so you get a response as to whether or not your command was received (awesome)
- Camera integration, also viewable via the web and smartphones
- Inexpensive hardware, and very modular
- A sweet referral program
Sounds pretty good, right? I wish the monitoring was cheaper, but at least I’m paying to get a bunch of nifty features that I really want. Simply put, the $19.99/month plan is for self-monitoring (so you can use all the web features and alerts and such), $29.99/month is for full monitoring (which includes all the self-monitoring features, plus the main feature you want: they’ll call the authorities when there’s a problem). They also have a referral program that will net me free monitoring for life if I can get 5 people to get their own InGrid systems. Their website links to over a dozen glowing reviews from PCWorld, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Tech, and more.
Sold. I priced out a system that would cover all the same bases as the quoted “pro” installs. It came out to $485 for all the hardware. Not only is that crazy-cheap, but I actually am getting MORE than the pro installs offered: even the basic InGrid system comes with the central keypad AND with a secondary keypad that also acts like a phone… perfect to keep in the bedroom. There’s a 30-day money back guarantee, and since there is no contract, I could ditch the whole thing 6 months from now and sell the parts on ebay.
Since it is so cheap, I figured I’d add on a few more features: 2 more open/closed sensors that I’ll put on the garage doors and a motion sensor that I’ll use inside the house. Now I’ll be able to get a clear answer when I get to work and say “did I close the garage door when I left the house?” The only thing I didn’t order is a camera. I think I’ll get one or two eventually, but I can’t think of a good use for one quite yet. You have to use the InGrid IP cameras, unfortunately, and they only make one. I’m hoping they add a weatherproof outdoor version soon. Cameras inside my house that feed to a server I don’t control… that makes me a little queasy. Cameras outside my house showing me who is at the front door? That sounds OK.
So now my system has been ordered and I’m anxiously awaiting delivery. Their offices are less than an hour away from my house, I should have just offered to drive down and get the stuff… In my next blog post, I intend to meticulously document the install/setup process (including video) so you can see how it all really works. So come back in a week or so and a new post should be up.
Part 2 of this post is now available here, detailing my experience installing the system.