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Sep 11 2014

DIY Home Security

This article originally appeared at Living on the Cheap

If you have reviewed your household budget lately, you might have been amazed by how many recurring monthly charges have added up over the years. One that jumped out at me recently was the amount we spend for my home security system’s alarm monitoring.

ADT service starts at about $30 a month. If you’ve been paying that for three years, you have already sent the company more than $1,000 in monthly fees. Ouch.

So, what are your other options? If you have taken Living on the Cheap up on some of our tips over the years, you may already be getting a discount on your homeowner’s insurance policy for having that system installed. Information on State Farm’s discounts are here;they amount to about 2% off your bill.

Some companies offer discounts as high as 15% for having a monitored security system. If you are not receiving a discount for using a monitored alarm system, call your agent. Almost every insurance company offers some discount.

Trimming your bill

If you are no longer under contract, the alarm system hardware you have installed could be transferred to another monitoring service, which might charge you less per month. A company such as NextAlarm will happily help you make the move. Its normal rates are $17.95 a month, but the company will discount that to $14.95 if you prepay for a year’s service up front.

True cheapskates can opt for a self-monitored plan at $9.99 a month. This means if someone tries to break into your home or an alarm goes off, you receive an automated notification, in the form of an email, text or phone call, but the home security provider will not call the police or fire department on your behalf.

Those without a security system currently installed also have options. But the “free” security systems that large home security providers install typically come with a three-year contract requirement, so they are not the best deal.

Basic systems

Until recently, you needed wires running through your walls to connect the myriad sensors that protect your home. Luckily, wireless technologies have come a long way in the past years, making the installation of many home security systems possible for DIY-ers.

GE Security produces some very basic systems that are easy to install yourself. For about $20, you can install wireless sensors on your front door and up to three additional doors or windows in your home. This simple alarm doesn’t connect to any monitoring system, but it will make a very loud noise if any door or window with a sensor is opened without entering the code.

Because the system won’t contact any emergency services, this type of alarm is probably best for an apartment or condo where your neighbor might call the police for you, if only to get the noise to stop.

Higher-functioning home security systems are a bit more complicated, and set-up can be a challenge. There are some options to make you feel more secure.

Security cameras

Self-monitored, wireless cameras allow you to view what is going on at your house while you are away. The Linksys WVC80N is a reasonably priced option at about $70. It has a built in web server, so while you will need high-speed Internet service at your home, you don’t need a computer running to access the camera.

These cameras don’t require any monthly service fees, but using this type of security system will require a little bit of network knowledge during installation. You will need to be able to set up port-forwarding on your router to access those video streams remotely. You can also set the camera to send you an email if it detects motion, including a snippet of the video for you to review.

For about the same price, the D-Link Cloud 1100 gets you a day and night-vision camera that comes with set-up software to work around those installation issues. There is no monthly fee for the company’s MyDLink service, but it costs 99 cents for each copy of the mobile app if you want to view more than one camera from a mobile device. You can set up the D-Link cameras to send email notifications as well.

Companies like NetGear and Logitech broaden your options with the ability to pan and zoom the cameras remotely. Price tag about $250 apiece. These systems also add features such as text alerts and smartphone notifications, but you will be looking at yearly service fees in the $50 to $100 range.

DIY systems

A couple of self-install kits are available, if you want to go beyond just peeking into your home while you are away.

Lowe’s Iris Systems actually bridge the gap between smart-home and security-based systems, allowing you to automate your house, alarm it, or both. The system connects to your existing high-speed wireless Internet to control all of the devices you attach to it, and it is expandable to up to 20 devices. You do not have to purchase monthly service to get email, text and phone alerts and the install is simple.

If you are a total klutz, the company will send someone out to install it for a fee. Lowe’s goal is to sell you one of its upgraded service packages, but at $179 for the basic system, it is both reasonably priced and an effective security tool without monitoring. This basic system only includes one motion sensor and two door/window sensors so you will likely end up having to add additional sensors to this package.

Another system that is perfect for self-install is the iSmartAlarm system. The “Preferred” system is $199 with the same number of sensors that are in the Lowe’s systems, plus a couple of remote tags that are perfect to give to younger children who do not have a cellphone.

The system is primarily managed via smartphone apps on the Apple and Android platforms and promises to never charge a monthly monitoring fee. You hook up its core system to your home Internet and it will send you alerts of what is going on to your smartphone. The system is expandable and cameras and other options can be added to its packages.

The weakness of both of these systems is that they use your Internet for sending messages and controlling your system. If your Internet goes down, or your power is out, then the systems are essentially useless.

If you don’t want to install anything, you may want to buy a Piper system and set it on a bookshelf facing the main room or entrance to your house. It combines a camera, microphone and motion sensor into a single unit that can send you alerts if something funny is happening at your house. Piper is also a Z-Wave access point, which means you can use it to interface with other Z-Wave compatible home-automation equipment. At $199, it is a cost-effective way to dip your toe into the security and home-automation pond.

Lowe’s Iris system is based on the other home automation network standard called Zigbee, which means it has a broader range of customized add-ons than the iSmart system does. This allows you to add things such as remote door locks and thermostat controls to its system. You also have the option of adding cellular back-up to this system so that it will work if your Internet is down, but this does require a $4.99 monthly fee.

If you want some security, but are concerned with interfacing with your home networking system, Fortress Security systems can sell you a simple to install, wireless system that has three motion sensors and 10 window/door sensors for $270.

The power of this self-monitored system is that it adds a GSM cellular backup to its landline connection. You can go to AT and T or T- Mobile and pick up a prepaid SIM card to put in the system. If your phone lines are cut by a more sophisticated burglar, you will still get a call and a text message that something is wrong at your home.

Professionally monitored

Some home insurance providers only offer discounts for professionally monitored systems. There are low-cost options, but they are limited.

Simplisafe packages can be put in without a large degree of fuss, and it Economy system represents a great value. At $260, it includes four door/window sensors and one motion sensor. Additional pieces are reasonably priced and its $14.99 per month monitoring fee includes an ongoing cellular connection for the system.

This makes the Simplisafe system much more dependable than Internet or land-line based systems. While Simplisafe does not interface with home-automation systems, it does have smoke and carbon monoxide sensors that connect to its core system to broaden your protection.

Although they’re not nearly as friendly to install, you can buy the same systems that a lot of the professional alarm companies use, such as the GE Simon XT system. The system is primarily wireless (except for the klaxon loudspeakers), but the programming is a bit complex. You can put in the same system, but you may be comforted or concerned by just how many YouTube tutorials are posted on installing this product. My guess is that the big alarm companies want to keep it hard to install.

Conclusions

So… what are you not thinking about on the self-installed security system front? In a word: batteries. Wireless sensors make installation much easier, but they are no longer getting power from the base station. Systems that use standard batteries like AA or AAA are going to require that you check them every three or four months to make sure that you are being protected.

Systems that use watch-style batteries will last longer, but replacing those batteries may be more expensive and challenging to find. A dead window or motion sensor is not doing you any good at all.

Here are my words of encouragement: You can do this. You may hate me at some point during the install, but we will get past that. If you don’t have anything installed, you are taking a step toward protecting your family while still saving serious dollars.

If you already have a system installed, you could save a significant amount of money each month if you are outside of your contract period with your current company. Shop around on the monitoring. It will be worth your time.

If you choose to do the self-monitored approach, and move toward one of the home automation systems, think of me when you open your front door for your spacey 16-year-old. He forgot his house key and no one is home. But you have your smartphone, so it is all good!

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