Review – Alarm.com Home Security and Automation System
Before I go into the review, I want to first introduce myself. My name is Joel McLaughlin and I am a good friend of Chris and have followed him for years. I am a Senior System Administrator for a company I’d rather not divulge at this time; and a co-host of the iTechGear Weekly podcast (well until we figure out a better name). I want to thank Chris for the opportunity to provide content for iTechGear.
In July, my wife and I closed on a brand new home built by D.R. Horton and as a part of the package they included some smart home features all connected to a panel provided by ADT that uses their Alarm.com application. The system as delivered is expandable and works with both Google Home and Alexa as well as their own app itself. After a few months of use I think I have a good feel for the system I will talk about how useful it is for both security as well as home automation.
First, when you build with D.R. Horton, they install many things but not the panel itself. The panel gets installed by your local ADT dealer. The equipment D.R. Horton installed was a Honeywell T6 Pro Z-wave thermostat, a Kwikset Smartcode888 smart deadbolt lock, one Z-wave smart switch and a Skybell Doorbell Camera instead of just a pushbutton for the doorbell.
The switch is usually connected to the front porch light but this could vary depending on if D.R. Horton built your home or if you work directly with ADT to do a similar project on your own home. This switch is a simple on/off switch and can be controlled both from the Qolsys IQ Panel along with the Alarm.com app and the website(once the panel is installed). The app can let you turn the light on and off even when you aren’t at home. Since the Panel uses Z-wave to connect all of the items you can expand the system at a later date by installing another Z-wave compatible switch.
The Skybell doorbell camera is similar to a Ring doorbell camera but does not have some of the features Ring does in their own app. Ring let’s you control in what locations in the camera view and how far from the camera that it will alert you that someone is on the camera. Skybell does not let you do this, but both my door and the house are far enough from the street this is not an issue for me. It also has a button for ringing the doorbell and you can talk to people at the door from the Alarm.com App.
The lock is a Kwikset Smartcode888 lock and it has a combination pad on it that you can program with a code so you can give that to people who check on your house or you can unlock the door from anywhere in the world via the Alarm.com app.
The Skybell and Smartcode888 lock can both be used with their specific apps, but once the ADT installer connects them to your Qolsys IQ Panel you can only use them from the panel or the app. At least that is my experience. I’ve tried hooking up the respective apps after the fact and couldn’t get them to work. I probably could get them to work if I completely reset them but I personally don’t want to do that as they work well enough in the Alarm.com app.
The ADT installer came and installed the panel and walked you through all of the sensors for the system that you can add. I had a credit and was able to put sensors on both the front door, the sliding door, the garage service door, sensors for detecting open windows in the owner’s suite and in my son’s room along with a window break sensor in my wife’s office. They also setup a smart plug which can be used to turn off/on a lamp or electric device. Currently it is plugged in not far from our front door and I have yet to use this for anything as it is easier to use the Alarm.com app. They have many more different types of sensors they can install but this is what we went with. This includes water leak sensors as well as Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors which I did not need since the builder had installed regular detectors. If you got every sensor they showed you could could spend 5000 dollars JUST on sensors. Not something I wanted to do after setting up a mortgage on this new home but it’s enough that I am comfortably secure and I can always add sensors later.
The installer also walks you through setting up the Alarm.com app. This is ADT’s app used for working with the system. The monthly cost can vary depending on features you add. We pay 49 dollars a month and that gets us some storage for the camera and the ability to use the system. Note: if you decide you don’t want the monitoring you can go that route and the panel can be used to control the smart home stuff but you won’t get the application. This is only the case if you get this as part of a builder’s package. If you go direct to ADT you will be charged. Granted you COULD buy the panel on your own and install it for JUST the smart home features but there are many other hubs that you can use instead of this. Although I will say it IS convenient to have the smart home and security stuff in one system.
The app is pretty powerful but there are some things you can only do on the website. For example, you can automate when the system arm’s and disarms and what kind of arming it does. You can Arm Away which will set off an alarm that ADT can pickup and send to Police or Fire when you aren’t there. This will do it within seconds of the door being opened. This is in case you don’t have the geofencing enabled and you open the door. This gives you enough time to get to the panel to disable the system. Geofencing is feature that can track one or more phones with the app installed and can disarm the alarm when you get within the fence. This is really handy as you never really have to go and disable the alarm from the panel. I have the system setup on both my phone and my wife’s but I can also add my son’s phone to it as well. You can also arm the system from the phone. We do this as soon as we are out of the garage. You can also disable the alarm AND unlock the door from anywhere with internet. That way if you have a family member come to put a package in the house they can call/text you when they are there and you can allow them to come in. You can also view the doorbell camera and talk to people that are on the cam from the app. All in all the app is my primary mode for interacting with the system and I rarely touch the panel for much of anything.
Important to note the panel has 4G and wifi. It usually uses Wifi when there is power but when it goes on battery backup during an outage it will use the 4G connection. This means your house is still monitored during power outages. The app will also notify you when power goes out. Handy if you aren’t home.
Oh and the system itself will work with both Google Home and Amazon Echo smart home speakers. There is no support for Apple HomeKit.
Overall, I am satisfied with the system. It shows me how far home alarm systems have come. The tech built into the panel makes it much easier to add on to the system and much more reliable. It gets rid of the old requirement of an active phone line considering I have not gotten a phone line connected to the house. It’s wired for it but there is no point as each of us who live here have a cell phone. The 4G built into the panel is necessary for all modern alarm systems in my opinion. Plus with advances in battery technology and technology in general makes it so you don’t have to cut a big hole in the drywall to install the panel. Our old house had a much simpler alarm system and had a big metal enclosure installed in the laundry room to hold the gel cell battery. The Qolsys IQ panel in our house has everything self contained in the panel and a small hole for the power pack wire to be run through the wall and another small one near the power outlet which you cannot see once everything is in place. A much cleaner install than in our old house. This system is one we will continue to use for years to come and may even upgrade as it’s much more convenient than our old system thanks to the new technology in the system. I would recommend this especially if your builder offers this as a part of the build like ours did. It’s simple enough for my wife and son to grasp and it should serve you well.
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