When looking at buying a DIY wireless home security system there are benefits to consider but there are also costs to think about over and above the obvious cost of the purchase.
They are not all monetary but neither are many of the benefits just to do with money saved.
In fact it is a bit like buying homeowners insurance or any other kind of insurance – it’s a very wise decision to have it but you hope you never have to use it.
I’m going to look at the features as well as compare the system against alternatives such as wired and wireless, monitored and unmonitored, cell phone or landline and so on to give a full list of advantages and disadvantages.
Cost of Product
The first step after you’ve decided on looking into buying a home security system is to determine what sensors and what kind of monitoring your want. (See buying guide here). These decisions can impact on the upfront cost and the ongoing cost.
You can spend under $200 for a no-frills DIY wireless system that can give you coverage for 10 entry points, 3 rooms with 2 loud sirens and contact up to 6 people when there is a security incident. You do need a landline or VOIP line for them to be able to contact you. (see Fortress S02-B Review for an example )
As you pay more you get more features such as being able to monitor your system with an App, home automation, the
ability to use cameras with the system and using a cellular network to notify you.
The best DIY wireless home security system for you will depend on your circumstances (is it for your main home, a cabin, apartment, rental property or vacation home) but you probably should plan on paying between $200 to $500 to get started. The benefit that comes with this cost is you own the system outright and with it being wireless it is portable so you can take it with you. It can sometimes seem that this is more than you would pay for professionally installed and monitored system but they recover the cost in the monthly fees they charge you (just like when get a free phone and then are signed up to a plan) and you are locked in for years with penalty clauses.
Depending on the system you go for there are going to be some ongoing costs in addition to or instead of monthly monitoring fees.
There is ongoing maintenance which is checking everything is in working order which is more a time cost than a monetary cost. It will be just checking sensors are working and changing any pass codes etc as required. Today many sensors are battery powered so there is cost of replacing the batteries on top of the time spent on checking.
You may need to pay for VOIP, landline or cellular network, cloud storage depending on the system you buy. Some systems that use the internet do provide communication with those monitoring in a self-monitoring system (such as iSmartAlarm) and/or cloud storage of videos (Piper) for no extra cost but that may change in the future.
Monthly Fees, Monitoring Fees, Self Monitoring
With DIY systems you have the choice to self-monitor or have third party monitoring or no monitoring at all.
With the no monitoring option there are no monthly costs to consider as the system does not contact anyone when there is security incident it sounds a siren like the GE Personal Security Alarm Kit (not a system as such but does secure your entry points and sounds an alarm). Also, you can install a self-monitoring system and choose not to connect it to a phone line and use it as standalone system.
With self monitoring the ongoing costs will depend on the system you go for. For systems that use a SIM card to dial out using a cellular network you’ll have the cost of the card plus costs of texts and phone call. This can be under $100 if you use Alarmsim.com with either Pisector GS08-M Alarm System or Fortress Security Store GSM-B Alarm System Kit (2 top rated wireless systems that use the cellular network as back up or main notification method).
Systems that use the internet can be at no extra cost if you have internet installed both iSmartAlarm and SmartThings offer this option where you can monitor and control the system with your Smart Phone using their App but there is no backup if the internet is down so you won’t get notified if there is a security incident during this time. Scout is another system that offers a no cost internet solution but they plan to add to cellular backup system in the near future at a monthly cost of $9.99. It does give you more comfort that you are covered even when the internet is down.
You can also install DIY systems that come with monitoring as part of the package. There is a monthly monitoring cost for this. The best system we’ve reviewed is Simplisafe where you own the equipment outright and pay a monthly fee that can be cancelled at anytime. The cost per month ranges from $14.99 to $24.99 depending on the level of support you want.
With a DIY system you save on the cost of having a system being installed – with professionally installed systems it is either charged upfront or added to the ongoing monitoring costs that you are tied into for a number of years.
You are going to spend some time setting up and installing a DIY system. Fortunately these days they come pre-programmed to work together thereby minimizing the time required to set up the system. Installation is made easy to as they are wireless you just need to stick the sensors in place using double back tape. Most systems take 2 hours or less to set up and install.
Wireless vs Hard Wired
As we are looking at wireless it is important to compare them with wireless. I did a detailed comparison of wireless and hard wired systems here.
The benefits of wireless is that there is less installation cost, mess, drilling and patching up. With a wired system you run cables for the system through the walls of the house. Unless your house comes wired up it requires drilling holes in the walls and all the mess that entails and then there is the patching up after that is completed.
With wireless systems there is none of that required. You stick the sensors where you want them in your house and that is it. However, a wired system is going to have a more secure communication lines between the sensors and control panel than a wireless system as the signal between the two parts of the system can drop out just like any wireless signal. Wireless systems are much more reliable now and many poll the sensors to ensure they are still communicating properly and will let you know if there is an issue.
The risk of burglary is reduced by 60% when a home has a monitored home security system according to The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology Report. A further study by The Study on Burglar Alarm Effectiveness for Suburban Homes Using Data Gathered from Greenwich showed that the amount stolen in a burglary when there is a working system present is 60% of that taken where no system is present.
The system does need to be turned on to get the full benefit of this.
The benefit of this is something that can be hard to quantify as you can’t actually ever measure individually how many burglaries of your home were prevented by having a system.
Most burglaries occur during the day when you are out even if is only for a few minutes (see misconceptions post for more details)and are crimes of opportunity.
So it is important that the system is turned on, criminals do check these things out through observation. You could consider this a cost of having to remember to do this but many systems have a scheduling system from the basis systems like Pisector to more technology advanced systems like SmartThings and Scout that use IFTT (if this then that) rules or “Geofencing” that can remind you when you leave the home and you haven’t armed the system. You can also arm them remotely with your phone.
Fire , Flooding, Freezing, CO Poisoning Prevention
You can integrate smoke, water detection, carbon monoxide detection as part of most systems nowadays. The sensors are an added cost but they can prevent damage and save lives. They work with the system to sound the siren and send out a notification to those monitoring the system to warn them that they have detected an event that needs addressing. This gives time to take action and hopefully have the problem sorted before it escalates.
Depending on your insurer you can get a small insurance discount for a self-monitored system. You do get a bigger one with a monitored system. This is a saving but at best it is only going to go part way in covering the cost of having the system monitored.
The costs of a system are easy to quantify. You have the upfront costs and any ongoing fees, ongoing costs and maintenance such as replacing batteries that you can then work out the total cost. You can also figure out the time to a certain extent for installation and maintenance for a reliable system. Then there is the time for monitoring and investigating notifications of any incidents which is more difficult to determine but you can estimate it. It should be minor with a well put together system with very few false alarms.
The benefits are a bit softer and difficult to put a time and monetary figure on them. You can make savings on your insurance and spend less than you would for an installed wired system. Then it comes down how much is it worth to have the peace of mind knowing you have done the best you can to protect your family, home and valuables from criminals and preventing damage from disasters such as fire and flooding.
Filed under: Buying Advice
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