DIY Alternatives to Expensive Home Security Companies

When you think about home security it’s hard to not think about monitored security systems.

A lot of people think that the best way, or even the only way, to keep your house safe is with a security system.  While we here at DIY House Security don’t believe that’s true, we too recognize that these security systems do have some big benefits.  The question is, do you really need all the stuff that the salesman says you need?  And is it worth the arm, leg, and first born child that they’re going to charge you for it?

They try to sell you on things like “free installation” or even “$400 of the cost of equipment”.  They’ll tell you that you get basic monitoring for only $35 per month, but only later tell you that if you want alerts and monitoring sent to your phone, you’ll need to pay the $70 per month monitoring fee.  But don’t you think it’s worth $70 per month to keep your family safe?  I mean, how can you put a price on that?  Am I right?

What’s worse is that most of these companies lock you into a long-term contract.  If you sign a 36-month contract, and then have to move for a job due to unforeseen circumstances two years later, you’ll end up with two options…  Either pay all or at least a good portion of the rest that you owe even though you won’t get any monitoring service out of it, or sign up for alarm monitoring at your new house… but of course you’ll have to sign a new long-term contract.

Well, I believe that there’s a better way.

Why do you get a security system?  What benefits does it really give you?  Here are the top benefits of security systems, at least from my perspective.

Automatic call for help

This is the top benefit that I think most people would agree to.  If someone tries to break in the system will automatically call the police.  Or if there is a fire the system will automatically call the fire department and get someone on their way, but only if you have paid extra to add smoke detectors to your security bundle…  The same goes for carbon monoxide.   You can add carbon monoxide monitors to your system that will alert you and rescue personnel if levels get to high, assuming you’re willing to pay for it.

But here’s the thing about all this monitoring.  In virtually every case, when an alarm goes off you get alerted by the system.  A really loud alarm wakes you up and tells you there’s a problem.  Then, within a minute or two, you’ll get a call from the security company that will ask you if everything is alright.  At this point, you probably have no idea if it’s a false alarm or a real one unless you can actually hear someone rummaging through your stuff in the other room.  So if you’re like me, you’ll check it out yourself.  And if you’re not like me, you’ll tell them to go ahead and send the police.  Now, another ten minutes pass and the police show up.  Turns out it’s a false alarm… like it is the vast majority of the time.

So what did monitoring get you?  You’re paying a small fortune for it each month, so what benefit did it provide.  The alarm already woke you up…  You could have called the police yourself, and probably just as fast as or faster than the monitoring company.  Same goes for a fire or carbon monoxide.  If you have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors like you should, then those will wake you up and you can call for help yourself.  The benefit of monitoring, when it comes to the automatic call for help, is really small and only really helps in a tiny fraction of real emergency cases.

“What about when you’re out of town?” you ask.  “When the alarm goes off and you’re on the beach somewhere or on a business trip, then how can you call the police?  The alarm going off will trigger a call from the monitoring company and then they can send the police.”  This is true… but what if your security system sent you alerts directly to your phone?  Then you would know, wherever you are, that you should call the police to check on the place.  Again, we’re not talking about a lot of benefit here for the $35 (or more likely $50) or more that you have to pay for this monitoring each month.

Scare off burglars who try to break in

This is true.  When a burglar tries to break into your house and a loud alarm goes off, then in most cases they will realize that the jig is up.  If the homeowner is home, they’re awake now.  If they’re not, then the neighbors probably are.  Either way, the police might be on their way.  Smart burglars are usually getting outta dodge at this point.

But then I ask, what benefit does an expensive, monitored security system have over a DIY system from the hardware store?  Both systems will alarm if someone tries to enter your home, so I see literally no benefit here for the fortune you’d have to pay to have your system monitored.

Deter criminals from even trying anything

Again, there is a lot of value in having a security system.  Just having one and putting up a sign on your lawn and stickers on a few windows and doors will be enough to keep most people from breaking in.  Most burglars are looking to get in and out quickly and don’t want to get caught.  The threat of a security system puts them at greater risk of getting caught, so they’ll probably pass right by your house and choose another.

But again, why pay out the nose for a monitored system?  You can buy a sign on Amazon for under $10 and that’ll be enough to deter most people.  If you’re looking for the other benefits of security systems, then get one you can install and monitor yourself.

So what should I do?

Owning a home security system has its benefits.  I really does.  But what I don’t understand is why so many people are willing to spend a fortune for a company to install and monitor it.  Let’s just run a few number here for the sake of argument.

One of the most talked-about security systems today for the DIYer out there is made by Simplisafe.  Their system is versatile.  They have all the main sensors you would want and it’s completely customizable.  If you want motion sensors, they have those.  Entry alarms for doors and windows come standard.  If you’re looking for a glass-break alarm, they have you covered.  You can even add a louder second alarm for a second location in your house so you’re sure to wake up everyone in the home if the alarm goes off.  The best part is that monitoring is completely option and there are no contracts.  If you want basic monitoring, they offer that at a fraction of the price of the other guys.

A basic system with the base, keypad, motion sensor, 4 entry sensors and a keychain remote costs around $260 from Simplisafe.  The same system will probably be offered to you for free from most other companies.  With Simplisafe, you have to install it yourself… Some people are concerned about this because installation seems complicated.  Let me assure you it’s not.  If you can use a screwdriver or peel two-sided tape then you’re good.  And for the not-so-complicated installation, the other guys usually charge about $100.

Let’s talk monitoring.  If you do want the monitoring despite everything I have been telling you throughout this article, you can get it from Simplisafe for about $15 per month.  The most basic monitoring for this basic system from about any other company will cost you at least $35.  If you’re thinking of adding cameras or the ability to monitor your system from your phone, then prepare to pay at least $50.

But using the $35 number, the annual cost for these other guys is $420 every single year.  Plus, remember that in the first year you’ll pay $100 for installation.  Oh, and you’re stuck paying this amount for at least 3 years…  For Simplisafe, even with monitoring, your annual cost is $180.  You pay $260 in year 1 for the equipment, but there are no ongoing contracts.  So let’s compare.  In year 1, you pay $440 for Simplisafe and only $180 a year after that (if you want monitoring), but for the other guys you pay $520 and $420 every year after that.  This seems like an obvious choice to me.

Now, if you follow my logic on the monitoring and you don’t think it’s worth paying for, then your cost for Simplisafe is $260 up front and nothing ever again!

Just to be clear here, I’m not being paid by Simplisafe to write this about them.  I used them for comparison because they’re becoming the well-known alternative to the other companies out there.  But the same principle applies for many other DIY systems out there.  A few of my favorites are Iris made by Lowes, Simplisafe, Wolf-Guard, and Fortress.  You can see a side-by-side review of these systems here.  Some of these combine home automation with home security which I think is awesome!  Think about it, instead of paying $50 or more a month—that’s at least $600 every year—for a monitored system with video cameras and an app, you can deck out your house with cameras and automated lights and monitor it yourself from your phone or other connected device.

You can buy a lot of cool equipment for $600 a year, and then you control your security on your own terms.

Ricky Kesler

Ricky Kesler has been an avid DIYer for years. Recently he's really taken to home security, but he has a lot of experience with all sorts of projects from Plumbing to Electrical and Framing to Tiling.

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