Understanding DIY vs. Professional Home Security

Marcela Otero
May 13, 2014

Installing a home security system is not the same as monitoring it. Where installation consists simply of placing the different equipment elements of the security system around the home, monitoring is the actual day to day, 24/7 surveillance and supervision of aforesaid equipment.

Traditionally, security companies provided professional installation of their equipment, which they then monitored themselves, or turned over to professional monitoring services. This has been gradually changing, however, and many security companies provide a wider range of options. Some give customers the choice between DIY or professional installation, whereas others only offer one or the other.

The same goes for monitoring. Though most home security companies prefer to handle the monitoring services, some also allow homeowners to monitor their security systems themselves, via cellular or broadband remote access. This requires customers to expend a considerable amount of time and effort into supervising their system, however.

DIY Home Security Installation

Many, if not most, home security companies currently offer DIY installation-ready home security solutions, as well as customizable options which are ideal for creating a personalized solution for home security needs. A common worry is that you may install something incorrectly—but this should be allayed by noting that DIY companies usually offer step-by-step, over the phone assistance that guides you every step of the way, and remotely verify the system’s correct functioning once completed.

PROS

  • Lower costs - DIY installations are considerably less expensive than professional ones: the cost is zero, as you’re doing it yourself.
  • Immediacy - Once you receive the equipment in the mail, you can install it automatically, and usually within minutes, without having to schedule an appointment.
  • Customization - Since you are doing the installation, you are completely in charge, deciding not only where to place the different pieces of equipment, but also how many, depending on your needs.
  • Knowledge - Since every part of your security system was placed and set up by you, odds are you’ll have a level of familiarity with your home security that’s far greater than if you’d opted for a professional installation.

CONS

  • Lack of expertise - If you do decide to install your home security system yourself, there is a chance that you may miss something or run the risk of an incorrect installation, and suffer a break-in due to your lack of knowledge.
  • Simpler system - Home security systems that are made for DIY installation tend to be considerably simpler than professionally installed ones. Home automation, for instance, is a feature that can only be done by an expert. Cameras, depending on the level of complexity, are often only offered with professional installation.

Professional Home Security Installation

Some homeowners may find DIY installation impractical or they may have chosen a company that only offers professional installation. Another possibility is that the customer is looking for a security system that’s more complex than can be installed on their own, featuring home automation, for instance.

PROS

  • Professional assessment - One of the first things a company technician does during a professional installation is assess the home with a professional eye, generally stemming from years of experience.
  • Ease of installation – A professional installation delivers peace of mind for little more than taking a few hours out of the homeowners day. Depending on the type of security system, this can be done in as little as a few hours, but may take up to a day or more, if they run into unforeseen complications.
  • Possible discounts - Though some companies offer completely free installation, others provide discounts or additional equipment as incentives for choosing a professional.
  • More complete system - Features which require wiring, such as home automation or some types of cameras, are best left to professionals. In fact, most companies don’t even offer this equipment as part of DIY packages, to ensure their correct installation and guarantee their reliability.

CONS

  • Cost - A professional installation is almost always more expensive than a DIY one. A few companies do offer the service free of charge, but these are in a minority. Remember, if you decide to move, you may have to pay another activation fee, as well as for the second installation.
  • Time commitment - Home security installation is generally done during business hours, so homeowners may have to take time off from work to wait for the process to be completed.
  • Standard installation - If you’re looking for customization, it’s important to make sure that the company offers it as a perk. Many home security systems are only installed in standard ways, which may not fit your security needs.

DIY or Professional Installation: What to Consider

Though we’ve discussed the particulars of both DIY and professional installation of your home security system in some detail, it still remains to be seen which is best for which particular set of circumstances. For instance, elderly homeowners, the technologically un-inclined, or those with reduced mobility may find it more convenient to choose a professional installation, simply due to practical reasons. Similarly, if you’re looking for advanced features such as home automation, a professional installation is the way to go.

On the other hand, DIY installed systems make good sense if you’re planning on moving soon or are renting—why pay costly installation fees more than once, if you’re going to need to pack up your system and do it all over again within the standard three-year contract term? The choice between a DIY and professionally installed home security system depends on the type of security equipment needed and your technical proficiency.

Finally, consider the equipment itself. Companies have different policies regarding this: some sell it to the homeowner initially, but others simply charge a monthly rental fee. With most DIY home security systems, you own the equipment, which is generally wireless, making it even simpler to transport and install.

Self-Monitored Home Security Systems

One of the most important choices when considering different home security systems is whether pay a fee for professional monitoring, or do it yourself. With DIY monitoring, when the control panel receives information that something’s wrong from one of the sensors placed around your house, it sends you an alert. It’s then up to you to determine the gravity of the situation and call the appropriate authorities, as the case may be.

While budget can be a strong consideration for homeowners looking into DIY monitoring, there are some factors that should be considered. In the first place, review the ease of installation. Generally, DIY systems are wireless and require minimal setup, but it’s always good to make sure that the company offers technical support. A particular appeal of this sort of system lies in its inherent amount of control and customization for the customer. Finally, be sure to check the company’s warranties, which should apply to both systems sold as kits, and any additional devices you may purchase.

Professionally Monitored Home Security

Live, professional monitoring has many advantages over DIY. When an alarm is triggered, the call center generally calls the homeowner first, verifying that there is a true emergency, and then handling all necessary calls to the police, the fire department, or paramedics. Even if they can’t reach the homeowner, the monitoring service generally dispatches the relevant authorities automatically, thereby guaranteeing peace of mind.

However, these systems can be a costly investment, with monthly fees and a standard three-year contract. When looking at the different associated costs, remember that the amount of your fees will depend not just on the monitoring, but also on whether equipment and installation fees are paid upfront, or spread out over each monthly payment. Another thing to consider is the size of your home, as larger properties need more equipment, and this may also increase your payments. Finally, verify the company’s cancellation policies, as some require payment of the remainder of the contract, whereas others are more lenient.

DIY vs. Professionally Monitored Home Security Systems

In the end, the decision between DIY and professional monitoring generally comes down to budgetary concerns. If you go the professional route, you’ll have expertly staffed call centers dedicated 24/7 to ensuring your safety, not just a control panel and sensors. DIY monitoring is less expensive, but it can also be less safe, as it relies solely on your ability to assess a threat and take the appropriate steps. In case of an emergency, you may not find yourself in a position to take those steps.

Whatever decision you make, the single most important thing to do is conduct thorough research into the different companies and services available. The home security landscape has changed considerably in recent years, and there are options for every budget, which may surprise you. For the complete list of security systems and equipment available please visit our list of the Best Home Security providers.