My Elk versus HAI OPII Comparison (having owned both)


Active Member
I've been meaning to do this for awhile since HAI vs. Elk is a frequent topic. We built our previous house in ~2007, and went with and Elk M1G, as the feeling at the time was that HAI was not DIY friendly. Our current house was built in 2012, and I went with HAI this time around, installing both panels myself into builder pre-wired security. Here are my thoughts:
Cost is a tricky area since you really can't compare the two panels on a feature by feature basis. Superficially, they both offer security and automation, and a smiler number of zones. Things get fuzzy when you look at expansion. HAI includes an ethernet interface, which is an extra charge versus Elk, however the Elk interface includes an ability to send rudimentary emails, which is an extra cost for a server somewhere on the HAI side.
What I disliked about Elk was that most expansions (i.e. lighting control, thermostats, etc) require a serial expansion module. HAI gives you a few built into the panel. In either case, you'll need an appropriate interface (i.e. a UPB or RadioRA module), Elk just tacks on another ~$100 for each serial connection. In contrast, HAI doesn't include any relays on the panel whereas Elk does, so you're getting "upcharged" for expansion somewhere with either panel.
In our case I would guess cost was more or less a wash, or slightly more expensive on the Elk side. If you're concerned about cost, make a spreadsheet with the features and expansion important to you (or better yet, get a different hobby since this one isn't cheap), but realize that the cost of the panel only tells part of the story as expansion can really change the cost of either solution, depending on what/how you do it.
I liked installing the Elk panel more than the HAI. It's easier to wire, and there's a nice diagram on the unit versus reading etchings on the PCB on the HAI panel. Elk also has a nice on/off switch, with is inestimably better when monkeying around with the unit during setup/upgrade than pulling the plug and disconnecting the battery terminal.
HAI is certainly not onerous to install, the Elk just seemed a bit more thoughtful in its design.
I did minimal programming via keypad, and doing setup in software is vastly preferable. HAI charges for its software versus Elk providing it free. Prepare for a time warp back to Windows 3.1 days as neither is particularly user friendly or modern in appearance. Both have their quirks, but both also get the job of configuration and testing done without too much fuss. Do buy/download the software though!
Both companies offer a couple of different keypads, and I can't say I really favored one over the other. I liked the dedicated Fire/Police buttons on the Elk keypads, and also liked that some had inbuilt voice announcements (this is an extra module on HAI). I really like that HAI displays the name of any zone that's been tripped; Elk just showed zone number if I recall correctly. Neither keypad is particularly user friendly to operate, and I'm planning on transitioning to iPads in major rooms in our current house.
This was the kicker for me into the HAI camp. In our first house, I went with Lutton Radio RA. I had to do the "Elk Dance" of buying a serial module, and uploading specific firmware to support the interfaced device. There's then some voodoo on the controller to configure the lighting loading XML files and such, and then crossed fingers that it all works. In my case, it never worked correctly, and I basically wasted several hundred dollars in switches, interfaces, and test software. Granted, RadioRA was pretty new at the time, but the power of Elk, it's ability to interface with nearly anything, is also its Achilles Heel. Basically, you're relying on multiple companies and two layers of interfaces to all work together.
With our HAI panel, after my previous experience I went with all HAI lighting, since HAI offers their own branded switches and UPB-based standard. It has been flawless thus far, and if there's a problem, I can contact one company, and avoid the "multi-vendor shuffle."
I haven't integrated any thermos to our HAI panel yet, but it's nice knowing there's an HAI-branded solution. In out previous house I went with Aprilaire, which involved an Elk serial expansion module, Aprilaire interface panel, and an Aprilaire interface module. It didn't work initially, which was finally traced to a faulty cable after replacing multiple parts. Once this was done, it worked flawlessly, and the problem wasn't specific to the Elk, but when debugging I was troubleshooting something Aprilaire deemed as "unsupported" and required Automated Outlet going to bat to replace my cable.
There's decent 3rd party applications that support both panels. That said, I really like Haiku for its "out of the box" mobile/tablet interface. I didn't want to try and design my own interface after finding CQC too complex with my Elk, so this pushed me in the HAI direction as well.
If I hadn't had the poor experience with getting lighting to work with my Elk panel, I'd probably have an Elk in this house, since it's a local (NC-based) company, and they've supported DIY for a long time. That said, the main reason I avoided HAI the first time around, their lack of DIY support, is now a completely moot point. They're active here, and their products readily available through Amazon and the usual automation outlets.
While I like "open standards" conceptually, when something breaks it's more difficult to track. HAI interfaces with most of the "goodies," but also has their own suite of integrated products that seems to work well, and provides a single vendor to yell at when it does't work.
In either case, both are good panels, and I have yet to come across major misses on either side. There are some dumb things on both sides (i.e. why doesn't HAI sync it's time from a time server, and why can't Elk seem to figure out DST), but both are good. Decide if you want an "open" panel that will try to work with anything, or a single vendor approach as that's the major difference between the two.