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What Is a DIY Home Security System?

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What Is a DIY Home Security System?
September 23, 2019
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What Is a DIY Home Security System?

While many do-it-yourself projects get messy, the best DIY home security systems offer peace of mind with remarkable ease

Many consumers are interested in DIY home security systems—even those who have never before considered buying them. Research from Parks Associates, a market intelligence firm specializing in consumer technology, finds that a new segment of U.S. households has taken to installing their own security systems. Among the leading reasons: reduced costs, ease of installation, and a desire to better understand what, exactly, these systems do.

Let’s explain what a modern DIY home security project involves, what set-ups typically include, and the advantages they offer to buyers—both homeowners and renters.

Do-it-yourself security systems, both monitored and unmonitored, use smart-home technology to remove installers from the equation

Let’s begin by clearing up one big misconception: do-it-yourself doesn’t always mean monitor-it-yourself (MIY). The difference has to do with what cameras and other devices do with the information they receive.

Self-monitored systems can allow the homeowner or renter to view footage remotely—and to receive notifications when a door, window, or motion sensor is activated—but no authorities are automatically alerted. Monitored DIY home security systems, on the other hand, transmit information to a company tasked with contacting law enforcement and other authorities during an emergency. Consumers can sleep, work, and travel with the knowledge that somebody will call emergency services if there’s a break-in, fire, or other event.

Most of these DIY home security systems, whether monitored or unmonitored, are an extension of the rapidly growing market for wireless smart-home technology. Since the early 2000s, cellular control panels, wireless sensors, and other innovations have combined to give consumers an alternative to traditional hard-wired security systems. What was once a labor-intensive and permanent process almost exclusively done by professionals—one that involved lifting carpet, drilling through drywall, and running wire—became far easier as wireless technology grew more affordable.

Old alarm system with tangled wires
DIY home security systems have displaced older, complicated, and permanently installed equipment—like this old-school control panel. Source: Reddit

Nearly half of new home security systems purchased in the last two years are DIY. And driving the shift, in part, are consumers’ concerns about “professional” installation, such as:

  • Will contractors damage my home?
  • Do these installers know what they’re doing?
  • Will I have to stay home and wait hours for an installer to arrive and do the work?
  • Do I feel comfortable letting a stranger into my home? 

If you answered “no” to the third question, you’re not alone. Roughly one out of seven people surveyed by Parks Associates reported that they decided to set up their own system in part because they don’t want installers in their homes. There are a variety of reasons why that might be the case: burglars have posed as door-to-door sales staff for alarm dealers. Installers have been accused of stealing from homes they’ve worked in. Even Netflix’s Mindhunter has revived the true story of a Kansas serial killer who worked for years as an alarm technician.

DIY installations reduce the inconvenience—and the worry—experienced by a number of consumers.

Industry-leading alarm dealers offer DIY home security systems with portable, pre-programmed devices

Companies ranging from independent retailers to the goliaths of the security industry have offered different spins on what “do-it-yourself” involves. There are even some die-hard smart-home fanatics who carefully source each piece of hardware and painstakingly integrate it into a tailor-made home security system. But most consumers are looking for a simpler yet very effective DIY home security project. It’s easy enough to install a new router or smart lamp—why shouldn’t it be just as simple to set up a camera and security sensors?

Alarm dealers have placed ease of use at the core of today’s DIY home security systems. Because many of the devices they use are wireless (meaning that they’re independent of landlines, hard-wired power, or both), these solutions are both modular and mobile. Consumers can select the devices they need—and skip the ones they don’t.

Wireless cameras, sensors, and other equipment can be disconnected, rearranged, and moved from home to home. Equipment like video doorbell cameras can be mounted with only a few screws. And adhesives like those found on a peel-and-stick glass break sensor make installation possible with no tools whatsoever.

Frontpoint glass break sensor
This glass break sensor has a 20-foot range and built-in pattern recognition—all held in place by a simple adhesive.

For all this ease, retailers often leave users with one unwanted task: connecting devices to a central hub. Many devices claim to be “plug-and-play.” But the sensors and cameras employed by home security systems often aren’t, and establishing that first connection can involve a frustrating sequence of plugging-and-unplugging, toying with the router, and reading manuals.

That’s where pre-programming comes into the picture. Pre-programmed equipment works straight out of the box. Each device is carefully configured to work with a specific hub or control panel. Frontpoint is one of only a few companies to provide truly pre-programmed DIY packages—where every device connects immediately to the provided hub—and to offer pre-programming for any new devices added to the system later.  

It’s up to homeowners and renters to define the scope of their DIY home security projects—but packages can offer greater convenience

The Electronic Security Association (ESA), the United States’ largest trade group for surveillance and security companies, provides consumers with a few basic guidelines for any home security system.

At a minimum, use a camera to monitor for motion and noise outdoors. If possible, combine “multiple layers of security.” With a video doorbell, additional audiovisual surveillance, and other sensors (including motion, door and window, and/or glass-break), users can control and monitor their system and help police do their job—both by minimizing false dispatches and providing vital information in a crisis.

Specific security system components aren’t helpful or practical in every situation. An outdoor security camera, for instance, might be overkill in an apartment with an indoor entryway. Each household (and home) is unique. But most people can find a suitable solution, either by purchasing equipment piece-by-piece or with a dealer-recommended package. At the core of either approach is the control panel—aka hub—that relays information from individual devices to a monitoring company and the end user. Devices like Frontpoint’s hub can handle as many as 80 sensors, allowing consumers to add devices on demand. Typical options include:

Making these DIY home security projects simpler are preassembled packages. Some are designed for consumers who aren’t yet convinced they need a full security system. Others contain everything needed to secure points of entry throughout a large home. Take, for example, Frontpoint’s Safe Home Starter System, which contains:

  • One central hub
  • A keypad
  • Two combination door/window sensors
  • A motion sensor
  • A yard sign, door sticker, and five window decals

Small systems like these may be enough for those living in especially small homes or an apartment building—but they fall somewhat short of truly comprehensive security. A package that better addresses these concerns is Frontpoint’s Safe Home Preferred System, which contains an indoor camera, two motion sensors, five door/window sensors, and six other items. In short, multiple layers of security are even more effective at helping homeowners and renters respond quickly to break-ins or fire emergencies.

Frontpoint DIY security system
DIY home security packages can be customized with numerous components to better watch for motion, door or window intrusion, broken glass, and other indicators of a break-in. And sufficient camera coverage puts a constant eye on the home and enables a homeowner to quickly verify whether there is an emergency by accessing the feed.

Installing a modern electronic system is one of the most effortless—and rewarding—DIY home security projects

Security systems work best when coupled with other time-tested security upgrades to your home. Good landscape design can reduce the number of places where burglars can hide and provide fewer points of entry. Reinforcing windows, doors, and locks can help thwart efforts at a break-in. But while solutions like these still matter, it’s worth emphasizing that installing electronic surveillance and monitoring equipment is extremely effective—and quickly becoming one of the easiest DIY home security projects around.

Plus, here are four more reasons to embrace the technological revolution in security systems:

  1. Traditional systems can be costly. Statistics compiled by the digital marketplace HomeAdvisor suggest that a contractor-installed home alarm system averages about $700—and can range as high as $1,850. DIY systems average about half of that cost and start as low as $69. Buying equipment up-front also allows DIY alarm dealers to reduce the costs of monitoring. Average monthly fees are $20 lower for providers of DIY solutions than traditional security systems.
  2. Wireless DIY systems are remarkably resilient. Door sensors, control panels, and even outdoor cameras can rely on a battery or standard power with a battery backup to operate during a power outage (the WiFi router will also need a battery backup for the cameras to work). The Frontpoint Hub uses both a cellular connection and a WiFi backup, guaranteeing that monitoring continues vs. systems that fail when landline and hard-wired connections fail.
  3. Repairs are faster, easier, and less expensive. Complaints about high fees—including one incident involving a $600 battery replacement—have only fueled a growing interest in DIY home security systems. Wireless DIY systems eliminate worries over installers’ credibility, skill, and judgment. Through thorough documentation, videos, mobile guides, and on-demand customer support, a reputable alarm dealer can guide consumers through the process of repairing their equipment within minutes—not days.
  4. With remote control, notification, and supervision, security is just one of many viable uses for a DIY home security system. Notifications—both texts and emails—can tell any number of recipients when a door opens, a window breaks, or the garage door doesn’t close. These notifications make responding to break-in easy. But that’s far from their only use. Creative use of sensor notifications can help protect against prescription drug abuse, keep kids away from dangerous areas of the home, and ensure proper care for family members with cognitive impairments. Cameras can keep dog-walkers, sitters, housekeepers, and even homework-averse kids accountable.

DIY home security systems haven’t completely taken over the market—yet. But there’s good reason to think they will. In addition to the convenience and cost benefits, they’re uniquely adaptable, and an increasing share of Americans rent, rather than own, their homes. And most people will move to a new home about 11 times over the course of their lives.

Having a security system that’s portable, quickly installed, and easily adapted to a new home is essential—and that’s exactly what the best of today’s smart-home security technology offer.

Frontpoint keeps families safer and more connected in their everyday lives. We've been revolutionizing the home security industry for over a decade. And we're just getting started. To shop DIY home security systems, check out our Build Your Own page and Security Packages. If you have questions or would like to discuss a quote, contact us at 1-877-602-5276.

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