Solved! What Is a DIY Security System?

Designing a safe home doesn't have to mean installers combing your home for weak spots and placing security cameras and sensors everywhere. There are options that allow you to do your own design and installation so you can choose your preferred level of monitoring.

DIY Security System

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Q: I’m interested in a home security system, but I’m not sure I want people in my home installing a lot of hardware or “listening in.” I keep hearing about systems that I can install myself. What is a DIY security system?

A: While a DIY security system may initially sound like a substitute for a “real” security system, nothing could be further from the truth. DIY systems offer a wide range of options that allow you to match your home security to your needs. They function similarly to traditional security systems: Made up of sensors, alarms, and cameras, the hardware for the system will detect doors and windows opening and closing, unusual movement, fire, and other concerns, and will then provide an alert. Unlike standard systems, however, DIY security systems require homeowners to install the equipment themselves, and they offer monitored or unmonitored options (so you can have alerts sent to your phone or purchase a contract for a home security company to monitor the system and alert authorities if there’s a problem). There are a number of benefits to the DIY route if you’re comfortable with the installation process—the biggest being that you can adjust the number of the system’s components as you wish in addition to opting for a monitored or unmonitored system.

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DIY security systems require the purchaser to install the system themselves.

DIY Security System Purchaser Install the System

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Installation can account for a significant portion of the cost when you choose a traditional security system—while a simple system can cost as little as $300 to install, more complex options can run between $800 and $1,600 for installation. The security company may waive the installation cost if you sign a monitoring contract with them for a certain length of time, but then you’re locked into the contract. DIY systems require that you pull out some basic household tools—a screwdriver, and maybe a hammer—and probably a stepladder to attach the sensors and cameras in the correct locations. Many sensors arrive with repositionable adhesive on the back so you may not even need the tools, but the central control keypad and cameras will likely require something stronger. All the hardware is included in the package, along with instructions for how and where to place them, and the company that sells the system will provide online and telephone assistance if you get stuck.

You’ll then need to connect the system to your home Wi-Fi, and depending on the system, you may need to download an app. Instructions for this are also provided, or you’ll be able to contact telephone or online support to guide you through the process.

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DIY security systems can be monitored or unmonitored.

In the past, having a home security system meant subscribing to a monthly or yearly contract with a monitoring company, where trained professionals would keep an eye on the sensors and video monitoring set up in your home and contact you and, if necessary, law enforcement if an emergency arose. This is a very effective method of securing your home, and it’s one option with DIY systems—you install, and the professionals monitor. Usually, these monitored systems also include a smartphone app that will alert you as well, or the monitoring company may use it to contact you if there’s a potential problem.

Alternatively, you can choose a system that is unmonitored, which means that instead of a professional monitoring company receiving notification of a potential problem, a combination of smartphone notifications and audible alarms will let you know there’s an issue. At that time, you’ll be able to call law enforcement yourself, hit a panic button on the app that will summon help for you, or dismiss the notification if you know the home is secure. Unmonitored systems can be as simple as a doorbell camera or as complex as a series of glass-break sensors, cameras, and door alarms.

DIY Security System Tailored to One's Needs

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DIY security systems can be tailored to fit one’s needs.

One of the greatest benefits of a DIY system is the ability to customize. Perhaps your chief security concern is car theft. In that case, all you may need is a motion-sensor light and a well-placed camera focused on the driveway. Or perhaps you have an escape-artist toddler (or teenager), and your primary concern is being notified when a door or window opens, but you don’t need to alert authorities every time that happens. Maybe you’re able to sleep only when you know that every door and window is equipped with an alarm and that cameras will immediately record anyone who may pose a threat to your home, so you need a complete and complex system.

If you travel frequently, a fully integrated smart home system that turns your lights and televisions on and off at various intervals and offers monitoring of the entries, smoke detectors, and premises may be ideal. All of these are options with a DIY system, because you can choose the number and location of the sensors, lighting, and cameras, and you can choose whether you prefer monitoring by a professional or by yourself.

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Many DIY security systems come with preprogrammed equipment.

While you’re free to individually select the components of a DIY system and connect them to your Wi-Fi and control panel, for many people that offers an overwhelming array of options and quickly becomes too complicated. For most people, a preprogrammed system alleviates the stress involved in designing a whole system—a box arrives with a central hub and components that are truly plug and play. The components (which can include glass-break monitors, door and window alarms, a security camera, smart-home components, and fire and flood monitoring) are already connected to the hub, so all you need to do is attach the sensors and cameras, turn everything on, sign into Wi-Fi from the hub, and everything will automatically connect and work together without input from you. Simple and easy to select and install, this is a great option for those who don’t need or want to know the intricate details of setting up a networked system.

DIY Security System Convenient Packages

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DIY security systems often come in convenient packages to help buyers choose the desired level of coverage.

Once you start looking at the options, it can be easy to keep adding more and more equipment to your cart—but not all components of a security system are necessary or desirable for every homeowner. If you live in a building with a centralized smoke detector and sprinkler system, you don’t need to add a connected smoke detector to your own system, and if your garage isn’t connected to the home and doesn’t contain equipment or gear you’re worried about losing, an additional garage door sensor may be unnecessary.

Some people are thrilled about the option of smart locks and smart lights and appliances—a true smart-home experience—but others feel that approach is intrusive and would rather avoid it. Most DIY security systems will allow you to choose whatever equipment you’d like, but they offer packages that contain the elements you’ll need for different levels of coverage to make it easier to choose and purchase. You’re free to add other components a la carte, but unless you’ve had a security system before, choosing one of the packages will streamline your purchase and installation.

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DIY security systems aren’t for everyone, but there are many pros to going the DIY route.

Those who are sure they prefer professional monitoring, are uncomfortable with the DIY installation, or are leery about connecting the equipment to their Wi-Fi and making the various connections on their own may find a professionally installed system more reassuring. On the other hand, DIY systems are the right choice for many homeowners and renters: Saves the hassle of scheduling installers to come to your home: check. Allows for full customization of the placement of the components: check. Offers the options of monitored or unmonitored security and the flexibility to change your mind: check. Transferable from one home or apartment to another if you move: check. These are some of the many reasons a DIY security system is a cost-effective, customizable option for many people, and it’s certainly worth investigating to see if it’s the right option for you.