DIY home security is on the rise, offering an affordable security solution for property owners of all types. Self-monitoring can be just as effective as professional monitoring, but it does take some extra work and attention. To ensure your home is as secure as possible, keep a few tips in mind as you set up and maintain your DIY home security system:
- Avoid hidden fees
- Place cameras and sensors carefully
- Ensure your Wi-Fi is strong and steady
- Invest in cloud storage
- Integrate with your smart home system
- Customize rules
- Display a list of emergency contacts
- Perform regular maintenance
1. Avoid hidden fees
If you haven’t yet purchased your security system, be sure to read the fine print and check pricing and fees in order to save money. Installing a system yourself is inherently cost-effective, but there could be other charges waiting in the wings:
- Activation fee. Most self-monitoring options don’t charge an activation fee, but keep an eye out for it just in case. Security system activation fees can be anywhere up to $200—and sometimes more.
- Monthly fee. Should you pick something with fancier self-monitoring features, such as recorded video or location-based modes, you could be looking at a monthly fee. For example, SimpliSafe offers a self-monitoring package for about $10 per month that comes with text and email notifications, smart home integration, unlimited recording for five cameras, and a couple of other added features. Monthly fees vary across different brands and systems, but you could be looking at around $25 per month for a self-monitoring system.
- Installation fee. Again, if you install your system yourself, you shouldn’t have to worry about an installation fee. But if you choose professional installation, it could cost you somewhere around $100 or more, depending on the size of your system.
If cost is an issue, start your search with the DIY security systems known for being the most affordable (and that most likely don’t have a ton of hidden fees or extra charges).
2. Place cameras and sensors carefully
If you choose to install cameras, motion sensors, and window or door sensors, place them in the most effective areas. Install security cameras with a clear view of outer doors, or if you have a garage, put a camera at the back to face the opening. Place door sensors at every exterior door, and put window sensors at any accessible windows, such as a main floor or basement windows.
For added security, you can put motion sensors near bedroom doors, in exterior spaces, and near any valuables. However, be wary of placement, as it can affect functionality. For example, Ring recommends facing its motion detectors away from heat sources, vents, windows, or stairs. (1) Fluctuating temperature can cause false alarms, and uneven surfaces can make it difficult for the detector to work properly.
3. Ensure your Wi-Fi is strong and steady
Security systems work best when they have a steady connection to the internet. Check your connection and verify you have enough bandwidth for your household. If not, you may need to upgrade your plan or suss out what may be eating up the bandwidth. For most residential internet setups, homes share bandwidth with their neighbors as part of a service area. If you’re having consistent issues, reach out to your provider to see what can be done.
4. Invest in cloud storage
While some security cameras have local recording capabilities (meaning the video is recorded directly on the camera and is retrieved manually), cloud storage is safest. Local recordings can be lost if the camera is damaged or completely destroyed, and some cameras will delete older recordings to make room for new ones.
Most smart cameras have a cloud storage option for a small fee, typically ranging from $2 to $12 a month. In this case, the extra charge is worth the benefit—and most of the time, cloud storage comes with other features and services too. If you still like to have locally saved recordings, you can usually download recordings from cloud storage to save to an external hard drive or other storage devices.
5. Integrate with your smart home system
If your DIY security system has smart home integration, definitely use it. It’ll put everything into one app for easy use, and you’ll be able to use voice commands at will through Alexa and other devices. Some folks piece together a smart security system of their own, using devices from multiple brands—if that’s you, double-check that all your devices will integrate with the same smart home hub to keep things simple.
6. Customize rules
Some smart security systems or devices offer home automation through set rules or predetermined responses to certain events. For example, you could set a rule that automatically locks the doors once an alarm is triggered. Or you could set a camera to record during specific times, like when your dog walker is scheduled to arrive and return. This is particularly important when you're out of town.
Not all DIY security systems have the same level of customization, so pay particular attention to home automation capabilities if you’re still researching systems and brands.
7. Display a list of emergency contacts
Whether your system starts acting up or you run into a real emergency, it’s always a good idea to have important contacts listed where the household can see them. Most favor the fridge or the family bulletin board, but choose what makes the most sense for your home.
Alongside emergency dispatch numbers, list any close contacts, like trusted neighbors or family members, and add the security company’s customer service number as well. If you have younger children or regular babysitters, list your home address so they know what to tell a dispatcher in an emergency. It’s also a good idea to include numbers for the poison control center, family or household physicians, workplaces, schools, and anything else you think is important.
8. Perform regular maintenance
On a monthly basis, check the batteries and connections to all your security devices. Usually, they’ll alert you to a problem right away, but it doesn’t hurt to ensure everything is operating and placed properly. You can also take a peek at your home security app to see where the energy levels are and if any connections have been disrupted. To stay on top of those monthly checks, set a reminder on your phone or with your home’s digital assistant.
Self-monitoring takes extra effort, but with a little up-front work, you can secure your home affordably and easily. Thorough research, careful installation, and a bit of automation can go a long way in keeping your home and family safe.
If you have yet to decide which DIY solution to go with, take a look at our favorites to see if any suit your needs—or at least give you an idea of what you’re looking for.
Laura West is an editorial expert with a specialty in simplifying concepts, software, and tech for the everyday person. She’s worked in a variety of topics, including solar, home security, and B2B finance software, and she’s passionate about providing clear, concise answers in the most useful ways. In her free time, Laura writes creatively and rants about her current TV obsessions—usually with a steady stream of coffee.
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.