Neutral Axis

SafeMart pricing blows away local companies

by on Apr.02, 2013, under Uncategorized

We’d been looking at home security systems for a couple of months and had three local companies come to the house to propose systems and offer quotes.  In all cases, they were significantly more expensive than we had anticipated.  In my mind, I had guessed a mid-priced system for our size house might cost $800-$1000.  When the first quote came in over $4000 we had to struggle to not show our shock.  I mean, doesn’t ADT advertise systems for $99 with free installation?  The other quotes weren’t much better.

At those kind of prices, we had to back burner the idea, but it kept nagging me that it didn’t seem like it should cost that much.  These were 100% wireless systems, so there was no complicated installation required.  The only complexity was the initial programming of the system to receive the signals from each sensor and the monitoring setup.  Why was it so expensive?

I knew from some research that parts were available online, but I wasn’t sure if I could get monitoring online.  So last week I did some checking and found SafeMart.com, which offered both equipment and monitoring.  At 6:00 pm  on a Friday, I clicked the live chat button at SafeMart.com and was surprised someone answered.  I told him what I was interested in and he sent me a quote.  Bingo.  Their quote was roughly $700, for exactly the same system one of the local suppliers had proposed, plus it had an upgraded touchscreen control panel.  Safemart required a 1 year monitoring contract at $29.95/month rather than the local guy’s 5 year contract at $44.50/month.  Safemart even handles the initial programming of the system.  All the standard sensors types were available; door and window sensors, recessed door sensors, shock detectors, glass breakage detectors, motion detectors, smoke detectors, leak detectors, video cameras, etc.  The system can be armed and disarmed from smartphone apps and can be set to send messages whenever someone turns on and off the system.  It can even send you a reminder if the alarm hasn’t been engaged by a certain time of the morning.  For an additional monitoring fee there are electronic locks, lighting controllers, and thermostats that are available.

I hated the idea of not supporting a local business, but the cost difference was simply too great.  The cost from SafeMart for equipment plus 5 years of monitoring was less than the cost of the lowest local bid’s equipment alone.  Every once in awhile we hear about some new “disruptive technology.”  I think the wireless technology for these alarm systems is just that.  When a home alarm system meant having someone run wires through the walls, it made sense for the costs to be higher to pay for installation.  But when installation is literally peel and stick, there’s no good reason anymore for costs to be so high.  These local companies simply haven’t lowered their prices to account for the simpler installation.

I mulled it over for a week, checking Safemart’s reputation, and then last Friday placed the order.  Once the order was complete, they transferred me to a monitoring agent who took some basic information, and set up an online account for me at their website and said there were 3 steps remaining for me to do on my own.

Step 1:  Digitally sign the monitoring contract.  This was done via their website.  After reading through the contract, there were about 6 places for me to click that indicated my acceptance of the terms.

Step 2: Provide information to their staff so they could pre-program the system.  This was done through a screen that listed all the sensors I had ordered.  For each sensor, I chose from a long list of location names such as Bedroom Window, Garage Door, Patio Door, Family Room Motion, etc., and for each of those, if it should set the alarm off immediately or if there should be a delay.  Upon receiving the equipment, I’d plug in the control panel and mount it to the wall near the entry door.  Each sensor arrived individually boxed and labeled as to where it went.  Installation for all of them was as simple as peeling the backing off an adhesive pad and pressing the device to the wall, door, or window as the case may be.  Two special hidden door sensors I had ordered require drilling a 3/4″ hole in the door jamb.  The regular window and door sensors are two pieces; a magnet and a sensor.  The magnet and sensor are placed close together on the closed door and frame.  When the door is opened, they separate and the alarm is triggered.  The window sensors are the same.  The hidden door sensor is a plunger device that is pushed in and out as a door opens and closes.

Step 3:  Schedule a time for a monitoring agent to call me back after everything is mounted.  I gave myself two weekends to get it done before the agent was to call, run some tests, and finalize it’s activation.

The order arrived via Fedex (free shipping) within 48 hours of when it was placed.  Everything was already programmed with the local emergency services phone numbers in place and all the sensors coded to their locations.  Well, almost.

There was one sensor for a sliding door that was mis-programmed.  I could tell something was wrong because as I was installing the sensor, the control panel never indicated an open door.  I found the list of sensors in the control panel and confirmed that the #10 sensor for the sliding door was not there.  Also, a door sensor labeled “garage” was showing up on the panel as an “area” sensor (eg smoke detector, freeze detector, etc,) rather than as a door sensor.  I called in to their tech support number to ask how to add the missing one, and fix the other one, and was happily surprised that they were able to do all that remotely.  The sliding door sensor problem was that the sensor ID bar code had been scanned incorrectly.  I read him the ID number off the box and within a couple of minutes it had updated on the panel.  He also explained that the “garage” sensor was that way because I had not called it specifically “garage door”.  Unless the sensor description the customer gives includes the word “door” or “window”, they assume it’s not one of those and set it as an “area” sensor.

In all, I had 9 windows, 3 doors, and a glass break sensor installed between the time I got home from work and when dinner was ready.  Another 2 motion detectors, 2 smoke detectors, and 2 special, hidden, door detectors (which required drilling a hole in a door frame) took another hour tops.  And most of that time was deciding where to mount the motion detectors for best coverage.  I also mounted the smoke detectors using some included screws rather than the double-sided tape since they’d be hanging upside down on the ceiling.  I should also mention that the glass break sensor, and motion detectors came with screws and drywall anchors as well as double-sided tape. [Edit: I’ll probably change the glass break sensor to be attached to the wall with screws. It seems a little wobbly with just a couple of pieces of tape holding it up.]

I have some suggestions that I think should be mentioned in Safemart’s installation instructions.  First, the larger transmitter piece of the door and window sensors has a battery in it that will eventually need to be changed.  On one end of the device is a little notch that will be used to remove the cover to gain access to the battery.  This means that thought should be given to the location of the device on the door or window so that nothing is blocking a little screwdriver from fitting into that notch.   Second, for a double hung window (the type where there is an interior sash that slides up, and an exterior sash that slides down) the sensor should be mounted on the middle rail where the two windows meet.  If it were to be placed on the lower sash’s side frame, a burgler could simply lower the top sash from the outside and possibly still climb in.  Also, while it’s on their website, it seems like it should be included within the package. The motion detectors have manufacturer documentation that says they should be mounted tilted downward, while Safemart sends them with pre-applied mounting tape that would mount them level.  On their website, they confirm that they recommend mounting them level unless they’re in a small room.

They also recommend placing the larger part of the window/door sensors on the frame where it’s immobile.  I did that on the doors, and on the top sash (least used) of the windows, but I had a few windows where I did it differently.  For those, I put the sensor on the main sash and TWO magnets on the frame, with one at the closed position and one at a position with the window open a few inches.  With that arrangement, I can leave windows partially open in mild weather without having to bypass that window when the system is armed.

As I was installing everything a thought occurred to me.  These switches are based on a switch being held in place by the small magnet just a quarter of an inch away.  I wondered if a burgler could use a large magnet from the exterior to create a new magnetic field that would override the small magnet?  After a little research, it looks like I stumbled across the dirty little secret of the home security industry.  Yep, with a strong magnet from the hardware store, those magnetic window and door sensors can easily be defeated.  I guess that’s why they also sell motion detectors.

I may do a short video after the system is completely activated showing its operation.


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