Pros and Cons of DIY Home Security Systems

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According to the FBI, there were over 2 million home robberies in 2010; occurring an average of every 23 seconds, the threat of burglary drives many homeowners to consider home security systems. Newer technologies have brought options such as wireless security to the marketplace, and simplified standard hardwired security systems. Should you pay a professional to install your security system or should you do it yourself?

Components of Home Security

In order to decide whether to install your own security system, it is important first to understand the key components of a solid alarm system.

  • Sensors: At the root of every alarm system are its sensing devices. Door sensors and window sensors react when doors are opened or windows are raised. Glass break sensors react to glass vibrations or the sound of breaking glass within a determined distance; sensitivity is important with this component so that a dropped glass doesn’t sound the alarm. Water sensors can alert homeowners to a burst pipe, water leak or sump pump overflow. Smoke sensors are often sensitive to carbon monoxide as well as fire.
  • Motion detectors: With a 90-degree swath of coverage, motion detectors are ideally situated in corners. Many families opt to not install them on the upper floors so they can roam freely upstairs. Some motion detectors detect all pet movements, while some allow for a 20 lb. to 60 lb. weight standard to accommodate pets.
  • Output devices: Features like sirens, horns and strobe lights will let you, your neighbors and, most importantly, burglars know that your alarms have been activated. Horns or sirens are optional but effective at scaring away potential thieves. Strobe lights alert the neighborhood, help police locate your home in the dark and warn hearing-impaired family members of an intrusion.
  • Circuitry panel: Considered the brains of your alarm system, the main panel contains circuit boards in a locked box, along with a telephone connection line and a battery backup. Wiring from all components of your alarm system connects to this panel; alarm wiring should be either copper or 18-gauge stranded wire. Wiring should be carefully installed, as one loose wire can cause a short that creates system failure or false alarms.
  • Keypad: All alarm systems contain a keypad that activates and deactivates the system. More advanced options allow homeowners to program individual component settings or record their alarm histories. Keypads are always installed near the main entrance of the home; many families also opt for keypads at other exterior openings and in the master bedroom.
  • Monitoring: Purchased on a subscription basis, monitoring service companies watch your home 24 hours per day. If your home is burglarized law enforcement will automatically be paged to your home. These companies send trigger alerts via text or email and offer alternate configuration options for iPhones and Androids. Connectivity is available wirelessly or through a landline, secondary landline or Broadband service. Many services offer video coverage, and some allow you to access video with your smartphone. Smaller, do-it-yourself monitoring systems allow you to watch your home or receive trigger alerts; while law enforcement is not involved, you can use these services to monitor your residence whenever you like.

Professional Installation

Experts argue that professional installations ensure the expertise and knowledge of a certified technician. Hardwired alarm systems require some level of comfort with detailed electrical systems in new construction and especially in retrofitting an older home. Do-it-yourselfers may unwittingly invalidate warranties on windows, doors or other areas of the home when drilling holes for wiring; plumbing, existing wiring and insulation may also lie in unexpected places. While considerably more expensive, professional installation carries warranties on equipment and offers state-of-the-art monitoring for approximately $30 to $50 per month.

DIY Installation

The primary benefit from installing your own home alarm system is cost. A professional installation can cost as much as $2000 for a standard 2200-foot home, while a package of supplies for the same size home can be purchased for as little as $300. Many weekend warriors opt for wireless alarm systems; while still not plug-and-play, wireless systems won’t often require a landline, and they involve little to no drilling. It should be noted, however, that wireless systems are easier for intruders to crack. If you choose to install your own system, you have more monitoring options, including cheaper, more customizable service. For less than $10 a month, you can purchase a monitoring system without automatic law enforcement. Smaller services like this are also more likely to be available on a month-to-month basis.

Ultimately, the choice between professionally installing or DIY installing your alarm system rests on your comfort level with certain variables. Are you an accomplished do-it-yourselfer who is knowledgeable about electrical wiring? Do you feel that a wireless alarm system is adequate for your needs? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” then you may be able to save a considerable amount of money by installing your own system. However, if you find you aren’t especially confident in your home improvement skills or you simply trust in 24/7, video-monitored service with law enforcement protection, it may be prudent to leave such a tricky project to the professionals.

Helpful Resources

  • Side by Side Comparison: One do-it-yourselfer researched all the available options and chose to install a wireless alarm system in his home. Read about his conclusions and his experience.
  • HouseLogic: The National Association of Realtors offers this resource on home security systems. Numerous articles on system components, do-it-yourself guides, professional product reviews and more can be found at this comprehensive site.
  • DIY Alarm Forum: This message board forum is dedicated to home security alarm systems. Individual product lines, reference materials, tools, and general FAQs are all topics listed for homeowners seeking alarm system information.

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