What you need to know before buying a DIY home security system
Home security doesn't have to be an expensive proposition. Thanks to today’s advanced technology, there are plenty of inexpensive ways to safeguard your property and belongings without committing to a full-service alarm system.
If you want to beef up your home security without spending a fortune, you may consider installing a DIY home security system. Not only can it be more cost-effective, but it also allows for customization and third-party add-ons. Compared to a professionally installed home security system, homeowners enjoy that the DIY route is less permanent. The great thing about DIY systems is that there are self-monitoring and professional monitoring options to choose from.
Still not sure which direction you want to take? Find out how DIY home security systems stack up against professionally installed ones, and what features to look out for. After weighing the pros and cons, you can decide whether it makes sense for you to buy one.
How do DIY and professionally installed security systems differ?
Before diving into specifics, let's explore the difference between DIY and professionally installed security systems.
DIY security systems
These can be a promising solution for the tech-savvy homeowner. If you like to tinker and make things work, then a DIY system may be right for you. You can even adjust your system as your needs change over time. Renters and homeowners on a budget often opt for DIY systems because they are easy to move around and don’t need to be hard-wired—unlike professionally installed ones.
DIY security systems are readily available in stores like Home Depot or online on Amazon. If you know what you’re doing, you can save a ton of cash by skipping installation fees and contracts.
While most DIY home security companies have monthly monitoring subscriptions, you get the freedom to select one that fits your needs and budget. With just a few pieces of equipment and some patience, you can create a unique security system customized to your preferences and needs.
When choosing a DIY home security system, you can opt for self-monitoring or professional monitoring. For example, SimpliSafe and Abode offer a variety of packages with optional pro monitoring. On the other hand, Wyze has a DIY system that requires a pro monitoring subscription. All of these are fantastic options. But if you want the flexibility of not needing to commit to a pro monitoring subscription, SimpliSafe or Abode may be better choices.
Professionally installed systems
Rusty with technology? A professionally installed system may be less daunting. If you worry about getting a home security system working on your own, it may be better to trust a professional to get the job done. This way, if anything goes wrong, you don't end up with unnecessary repair or replacement costs. Some homeowners prefer having an expert secure their home—even if it means paying more money.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that professional-install brands often have proprietary technology that some DIY systems lack. For example, a professionally installed system may include a security keypad that is hardwired into a home. Typically, only technicians can relocate or remove them. Unlike a DIY system that relies on a strong internet connection, professional monitoring 24/7 (even if your Wi-Fi goes out!) provides extra peace of mind.
Things to keep in mind when shopping for a home security system
Before deciding on the DIY route, ask yourself three questions:
- Do you have the patience to set up a home security system? It can take hours of research and trial and error before optimizing your system's performance. And if something goes wrong, it could be difficult to troubleshoot. In this scenario, you may save time and hassle by trusting a professional who deals with common installation issues every day.
- How much control do you want? A DIY system allows you to customize and configure them to work with smart home devices like Alexa Echo or Google Nest. This can be an advantage, but many who elect for the DIY route often buy devices from different brands. If this sounds like you, you may need to use different apps to control each device. The inconsistency can become cumbersome and difficult to keep up—just something to keep in mind!
- What’s your budget? Although DIY systems are often less expensive than their counterparts, they can still cost hundreds of dollars. This does not include installation fees or repairs that may become necessary down the road. On the other hand, big-box brands usually require contracts, hefty monitoring fees, and more rigid equipment for a premium price.
In addition to these questions, consider the pros and cons, cost, ease of installation, and monitoring types to make the best investment.
Pros and cons
As with any major purchase, buyers should weigh the pros and cons of DIY security systems before making a decision:
- Affordable options
- Straightforward installation (if you’re tech-savvy)
- Customizability to your needs and lifestyle
- Optional subscription monitoring
- Flexibility for renters and homeowners on a budget
- Options to buy only what you need and build up as needed
- Potentially pricey add-ons can depending on what you need to buy
- Room for error (which can cost you more later)
- Some technical know-how needed
The cost of a DIY home security system varies depending on your needs. For example, if you need more pieces to cover a larger area of your home, it can add up. Alternatively, you can select a bundle, which goes for around $200 to $400. A basic bundle might include a controller or keypad, an indoor camera, yard signs, window decals, motion detectors, and door/window sensors. Most popular DIY home security companies like SimpliSafe, Ring, and ADT offer different packages to accommodate various home sizes. A bigger security system may come closer to $1,000, depending on what it includes.
On the flip side, a professionally installed home security system can run anywhere between $500 and $2,500 and up. Again, the precise cost depends on the number of sensors you need and what kind of equipment you install.
Another thing to be mindful of with professionally installed home security systems is that many contracts have strict credit requirements. This means that if your credit check comes back reporting you to have low credit, you won’t be eligible to sign that contract. Have poor credit? Fear not—a solid home security and automation system is within reach with a DIY approach.
The DIY option is more wallet-friendly. But it requires a certain level of comfort working with electronics and wiring. In the long run, handy homeowners may be able to save money by going this route. But as mentioned earlier, DIY systems need a reliable Wi-Fi connection. If yours goes out, so will many of your smart home devices. DIYers should look into backup options to ensure protection in every scenario.
Satisfied with your existing home security system, but want to save some cash? Read our article about how to save money on home security.
Ease of installation
The majority of DIY security systems are fairly easy to install. Many that we’ve tried take an hour or less to set up. When in doubt, there are plenty of installation videos to walk you through the process. Some sellers upload tutorials on YouTube or their websites.
An added benefit to DIY home security systems is that they often work seamlessly with smart home devices like smart locks and thermostats. So it would be a big plus if you already have these installed in your residence!
Monitoring type (self-monitoring vs. professional monitoring)
There are two distinct monitoring types: self-monitoring and professional monitoring.
On a tight budget? Start with a self-monitoring system. These are free and do not require you to sign any contracts or pay monthly fees. But you must set up the system and monitor it via a smartphone. Simply download the brand's mobile app and follow the instructions to get set up. From here, you can keep an eye on your home anytime, anywhere, right at your fingertips.
Professionally monitored systems are not free, but they can be a better option for some. For example, if you live in a "dead zone," self-monitoring systems may not be reliable. Going the pro route is a mostly fail-safe option that gives you full control of your alarm system, even during an emergency. Professionally monitored systems keep a close eye on your home 24 hours a day. If something suspicious happens, you can count on it to notify you right away.
What to look for in a DIY home security system
If you pick the DIY route, be sure that your alarm system includes basic components like motion sensors and window sensors. These will make your life easier during the setup process, and provide top-notch security.
Here is a handy checklist of items to look for when shopping for a comprehensive DIY home security system:
- Motion sensors are a vital component of any home security system. They serve many purposes, such as detecting movement and providing alerts. You can also calibrate them to turn lights on inside and outside of the home.
- Door and window sensors sense when someone is trying to break into your home. When they go off, you receive an alert on your mobile device. We recommend installing several of these sensors around each exit point.
- Yard signs and window stickers help deter potential criminal activity. Place the sign right in front of your home and stickers on all windows facing the public.
- Indoor and outdoor security cameras are essential for optimal safety. Set them up around your home and in your yard. You can capture suspicious activity and send it straight to your smart device for viewing.
- Doorbell cameras can help prevent package thieves. Think about it: If your home has a doorbell camera but your neighbor’s home doesn’t—which home is the thief going for? More likely not yours.
- Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are necessary to ensure good health. Because carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, it is easy to overlook until it becomes dangerous. Having carbon monoxide detectors set up in your home prevents CO poisoning. Smoke detectors inform you of when potential smoke is coming from your home.
Should I buy a DIY home security system?
A DIY home security system offers a plethora of advantages over traditional systems. But it is crucial to understand how they work before jumping the gun. While DIY systems are usually cheaper and offer more flexibility than professionally installed systems, they may be tricky if you’re not tech-savvy.
When deciding between the two options, you should also consider your living situation and lifestyle. If you are renting an apartment, it may be smart to try a DIY option as it doesn’t need hard wiring. But if you’re retiring in your forever home, then a professionally installed system may be worth considering.
Regardless of whether you go with a DIY or professional approach, home security systems are a reliable way to protect your home and family. They have come a long way since their invention. You can now tailor them to your needs, with more than just doors and windows in mind. The right system can give you peace of mind and a sense of safety, whether you’re at home or out of town.
If you're ready to buy a DIY home security system, check out our top systems and learn which one might be best for you.
Sharon Wu is a Contributing Writer for Switchful with 8 years of experience covering home security and technology. With a background in research and content marketing, she helps people find the best products and services, tailored to their needs. Sharon is committed to providing accurate, resourceful, and digestible content to her readers. When not sharing her expertise, she enjoys spending time with her pugs and attending European car shows.
Eric Paulsen is a writer, editor, and strategist who has been creating content in the B2B, healthcare, FinTech, home security, and government sectors for more than five years. He holds an MFA in creative writing and lets everyone in his life hang that over his head. When he doesn’t have his hands deep in some piece of content, he’s either watching baseball or praying for the offseason to end quickly.