The Truth About DIY Alarm Systems

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The Truth - Money


There are slew of enticing ads on TV commercials, websites and search engines (Ad words) where the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) alarm system companies offer “No Long-Term and no auto-renewing Contracts”, “No Monthly Alarm Monitoring Fees”, “No Installation Fees”, “No Wires”, and “No Aggressive Salesmen”. Sign me up you say! Here is one thing to take away before you decide to read any further; I consider some advertising as indirect marketing gimmicks to promote, sell and hide the truth of a product. I personally do not believe that any one-alarm company is out to market deceiving facts; they just do not market the technological disadvantages. Marketing if used properly and effectively for a business can lead to profitable revenues. By not revealing some of the disadvantages of a system, a company has failed to protect the consumer/customer.

So you’re a pretty handy with tools and technology; you might even be capable of replacing a hard-drive in your family computer, maybe even able to replace your home smoke detector. You have experienced a home burglary or there has been a outbreak of burglaries in your neighborhood. To combat these unfortunate issues, you load your favorite Internet Web Browser and “Google” some sites online. Your search in security related hardware has resulted in home security systems that you think may fit the bill. You might have even gone as far as rushing down to the local hardware store. One-fact remains, the alarm systems that local alarm companies offer, do not fit your budget. You say to yourself, it can’t be that hard, so you make yourself believe that you can do it yourself and bypass professional assessments, installation and monitoring fees; however, at what cost?

There are literally hundreds of alarm companies in business; companies offer DIY alarm systems that are either self-monitored alarm systems or proprietary alarm system monitoring. These companies either offer free equipment, in return to use their low monthly monitoring ($10-$19.99 a month, no contract), or you have to purchase their equipment and have a self-monitored alarm system. Consumers are led to believe that an alarm system is just a box on the wall that is used to alert you in the event that your home is broken into; nothing more, nothing less. What do you do in the event that you want another alarm company to monitor your alarm system? There are alarm systems that exist that allow you to choose the monitor company of your choice; so be weary on the technology, options, and features that come bundled with these systems.

There is another side of the DIY alarm system industry; there are alarm companies online that offer DIY pre-programmed brand-name alarm systems (Honeywell, GE, DSC, and 2GIG Go). These brand-name systems do not have any proprietary alarm system monitoring (You are free to choose your own monitoring center). Alarm systems that are sold online are typically sold directly to the consumer with little or no profit margins (This is their foot in the door); the alarm systems are mailed off in a box for the homeowner to install (Alarms in a box; Peel and Stick). These systems typically have low monthly monitoring fees ranging from $8.00 to $15.00 a month with no long term or auto-renewing contracts. To be honest, there is not much involved in the installation of the wireless alarm systems that are on the market today (Anyone can install these systems with little or no effort at all); many of the the wireless alarm systems sold online (All-in-one) is merely a control panel with a integrated touch-screen keypad, typically sold with desktop mount and the wireless alarm sensors with double stick tape. Literally, a wireless alarm system with 3 door contacts and 1 motion sensor can be installed in less than 30 minutes.

Few important issues we would like to point out; most homeowners will not take into consideration until it is too late. One thing that is consistent between all the alarm system companies is the cost of the alarm hardware. No matter what online company you choose, the cost of the hardware is relatively priced reasonable, with the average cost of a 3 door, 1 motion, 1 key-fob (3-1-1) wireless alarm system around $225.00 (plus or minus 10%). Most of the online DIY alarm companies that you purchase an alarm system from, you have to install the alarm system yourself; it might sound like a great idea, but it does come as a cost.

DIY is Affordable

I am a firm believer in you get what you pay for. I get it, most of us are living on a budget, and we all want to get something that fits our budget. There is nothing wrong with that at all; the issue is when someone thinks that “Doing It Yourself” actually saves them money. The fact of the matter is that it will more than likely cost you more money in the long run. I will explain a bit, but for now, I will provisionally agree that most DIY alarm systems are affordable either directly or indirectly.

I think one of the biggest misconceptions in the alarm industry today is that an alarm system is too expensive to own or install; fourteen years ago, I would have agreed; an alarm system would have cost 1200-1800 dollars. There are two types of pricing when it comes down to an alarm system. There is the pricing for the hardware and there is pricing for the monitoring of that alarm system; one side note, depending on the alarm company, there are three types, the third would be the cost of installation. There are some companies that lump sum the installation costs into the alarm system hardware price. If you take the average installation hourly cost of $75.00 and two hours of installation for a wireless 3-1-1 alarm system, this equates to about $150.00. Then there are markups, worse case, consider 100 percent as the industry standard. Furthermore, there are costs associated for installation, average cost is about $300. The cost of an all-in-one alarm system, $225 and add markup (100%); this equates to about $450.00 with a total due $750.00.

Today, alarms are very affordable compared to over 10 years ago depending on the alarm company that you choose to go with. An alarm monthly monitoring fee can cost anywhere from $5.00 a month to $60.00 a month. To be honest, some consumers are oblivious to the fact that in 5 years at $60.00 a month monitoring for a free alarm system, they end up paying $3600.00 for a system that would only have cost them $400-$600 dollars up front with a $15.00-$18.00 a month monitoring fee.

Typical DIYers are intrigued by the fact that you can save money with a self-monitored DIY security alarm system by calling the authorities themselves; this might work in the short term. Here is a scenario to think about; you are at work and it is around noon on a Wednesday, you take your long deserved lunch-break, and all of a sudden, you get an alert on your phone that your alarm system has just triggered. A text message is sent to your phone that your front door sensor was triggered, followed by a living room motion detector alarm, and the last text received is that your master bedroom motion detector was triggered. You are single and you have no visitors in town. This must be a bonafide burglary; you call the local police station to get an officer dispatch to your house. Low and behold, the front door was kicked in and the burglar caught red-handed!

Another scenario to consider and this time, you were not so lucky! It is Monday; Monday’s at work are chaotic. Your boss has just notified you that a client is in town and he wants you to present a proposal to the customer in a company meeting that will finally close a sales deal. In the middle of your presentation, your hip starts to vibrate (bzzzzz, bzzzzz, bzzzzz). What now? Right, what do you do! Do you take the chance of it being an important phone call; what if it is another home burglary? Do you take that chance? Some people might not answer that call, just in fear of losing that client or even being fired! Consider these examples; what if you are on a family vacation and you are in an area that has no cell phone coverage? Well, not much you can do in this situation! Here is one; what if the carrier network goes down in your cell coverage area? Finally, what about all the Facebook, Twitter and email ringtone action going on, at some point in time, you will more than likely start ignoring those alerts from your alarm system if they are false positives. In the end, you can end of losing a great deal of money or priceless valuables that can never be replaced if one of those false positives turns out that your home was burglarized.

As a professional in the alarm industry, I will say that paying $50 – $60.00 a month in alarm monitoring fees is exorbitant. Typically, these fees are associated with free alarm systems with no cost for installation or activation; these costs are absorbed in the monthly fees that are typically tied to five-year contracts. Furthermore, at the end of your term, you might even get sucked in to free equipment if you extend your contract for another 3 years. Remember, nothing is free, unless the company is absorbing the cost to bring you on as a customer.

With that being said, it is understandable that a DIY alarm system is attractive to the consumer on a budget; however, the consumer is left uneducated on the important factors and the responsibility of having an effective and operational alarm system. I say responsibility in the sense that if your alarm system continuously false alarms and the alarm system sounder is blaring at 100db – 140db at 2am, night in night out while you are at work is unknowingly-selfish. This is what you get for installing an alarm system yourself using the peel and stick method.

Most insurance companies require a certificate of installation from a licensed alarm company in order to receive any type of discount; keep this in mind when you are going to install an alarm system yourself.

The Peel and Stick Method

The “Peel and Stick” method is straightforward; a door/window sensor will have two components, the magnet, and the contact. Peel off the adhesive backing of the magnet and contact, press the magnet on the window sash or door, stick the contact (transmitter) on the frame, and arm your alarm system. When the door or window is opened, the alarm will sound.

There are several types of adhesive tapes; in most DIY alarm solutions, the tape is double sided. The problem with most DIY systems that utilize adhesive tape is that the tape is not a permanent solution. Over time, the environment can cause the sensor to fall off or move its position causing the alarm system to false alarm. Temperature, moisture, movement (Door/Window opening and closing), and weight can cause the sensor to partially or completely fall off causing a false alarm.

You do not have to take our word for it, here are some consumer that experience the same issue:

Solution and end result:

Granted some solutions that have been recommended is to use permanent double stick tape “Gorilla Tape”; sure, this solves the issues with sensors falling off, but it also poses another issue of what do you do when the sensors fail or if you need to re-position the sensor due to you incorrect installation, or maybe even to relocate the sensor. Either you are not able to get the device off, or you damage the wall/paint in the process of successfully removing the device.

A professionally installed system will ensure that all components of the alarm system are secured to the material in which they are monitoring.

Alarm System Technology Disadvantages

The trend in the alarm system market today is cellular monitoring; an advertisement might go something like “Burglars can cut your telephone line, they can cut your Internet line, but they can’t cut your cell phone line; why? Because it is wireless, there is nothing to cut!” This type of advertisement is led to make the consumer believe that an alarm system cannot be exploited by utilizing cellular monitoring. The fact of the matter is you are just as vulnerable; if the thief has half of a brain and is technologically proficient, a burglar can defeat your alarm system by jamming the cell phone channels (Frequencies).

The likely-hood of a burglar cutting your telephone, Internet line, and jamming your cellular channels all at the same time is slim to none; as far as I am aware, there has not been a case reported that a burglar used any of these methods in parallel to burglarize a home. The fact of the matter, out of all three technologies, cellular monitoring is the safest method. The burglar would require some information to successfully jam a signal. All Wireless cell carriers use different bands and channels to transmit signals. A burglar would need to know the channel and the carrier used on your alarm system.

The alarm industry has been flooded with all-in-one alarm systems where the control panel, keypad, communications, and alarm siren have all been integrated into one unit. All-in-one alarm systems have been around for years; they are not the new kids on the block. These have been around since the dawn of time. Until recently, these alarm systems have been exploitable by a method referred to “Smash and Grab”. The burglar would kick in your door, run to the alarm keypad and rip the alarm system off the wall; then wreck havoc on the alarm system with a sledgehammer. This ultimately decommissions your alarm system and it would not be able to send a signal to the alarm monitoring station. Software and technology has advanced to a point of no return; technology exists that when you enter a door that is a delayed entry alarm, an opening signal is sent to the monitoring station (Think of it as insurance); if the alarm system is disarmed before an alarm is triggered, a cancel opening is sent to the alarm station. This is an acknowledgement that the system has been disarmed. In the event that it was a burglar that broke through the front door and ripped the panel off the wall and took a sledgehammer to it, within 30 seconds if the alarm monitoring station did not received a cancel opening, this was considered a smash and grab; the alarm monitoring center would dispatch police.


Alarm Ordinances

So how does installing an alarm system cost you more money if you are doing it yourself? Well, false alarms are another reason that will end up costing you money; you can end up paying up to $500 or more a year in fines due to false alarms. Depending on how you installed your motion sensor, door sensors, water sensors, and window sensors, could cause false alarms if they are not properly installed correctly.

Some states require alarm companies that are installing alarm systems to be a licensed contractor; it is to protect the consumer. Granted, the mandatory licensing is to protect the consumer due to any legality issues when binding to a contract; however, the contractor requires so many years experience in the industry. Anyone can just start a business in the alarm industry; the company has to be licensed to install and/or service alarm systems. (Not all states have this law). In Hawaii, you are required to have a license to install and service alarm and CCTV systems.

In most states, if an alarm monitoring center (Central Station) dispatches police, each response to an alarm typically involves two police officers and can take up to thirty minutes. The idea behind an Alarm Ordinance is that the state and the county can authorize permit fees and fees for alarm registration violations.

If a police officer responds to a false alarm, the tenant or homeowner could be penalized. If a certain amount of false alarms are generated in a certain time frame, usually with a year, a homeowner will/can be directly fined from anywhere between $25.00 – $300. In Hawaii, each registered alarm can have three (3) free false alarm calls each year. Each subsequent false alarm will incur a service charge of $50.

Also note, that in certain states, counties, and jurisdictions, the alarm companies can also be fined; in turn, they bill back to the customer, so in reality, as a customer with a registered alarm system, you are being fined twice. Worse, if the local ordinance requires the alarm system be registered and the customer fails to register that alarm system. If the alarm system is not properly installed, at the end of the year, you could end up paying a total of $600.00 or more.


Many of the alarm sensors that are designed are designed with simple circuits that can be exploited by any professional burglar; the low quality electronic components keep the alarm system affordable. Then why have an alarm system you ask; well, the professional local security consultant will be experienced to ensure that the correct and proper hardware is proposed and/or installed. There are several different types of motion sensors on the market: PIR motion detectors, pet friendly motion detectors, Dual-Tech motion sensors (PIR and Microwave), Tri-Tech motion sensors (PIR, Microwave and some type of DSP analysis technology); to keep the system low-cost, most DIY alarm systems will have very basic sensors. There is literally hundreds of different type of sensors on the market based on the application; there is NOT a one size fits all solution. All alarm system installations require a site/premise site visit to assess the property.

The marketed DIY alarm systems that are sold online are typically sold as a one system fits all; these companies are not providing a true security assessment. They are relying on you, the consumer, to tell them how many sensors you need. Furthermore, they will never ask you what type of sensors you need. In the event that you do ask for their expertise, they still are relying on you to give them the information they need.

The alarm system industry has completely changed and do-it-yourself alarm systems are extremely popular and relatively easy to install. Why are they popular? Cost! The cost is the driven factor that guides the consumer to the decision to handle the home security installation as a do-it-yourself project.

I am going to tell it how I see it. My intentions are not to offend anyone’s technical abilities or assume that the typical homeowner does not use common sense, so I apologize in advanced. If you are not a security consultant, installer, or technician, you are not a professional in the alarm industry; you have no experience. I agree that turning a few screws to mount the alarm hardware to your walls, doors, and window is not rocket science. Installing a security system is not just about mounting the hardware; it is much more to it than that.

Case in point, it was not long ago, we were contacted by a local family that installed their own alarm system and it was self-monitored; their home was burglarized and they never got an alert that their home was broken into. The homeowner tested the motion sensors, and the sensors were not picking him up on a walk-test. Well, come to find out, all of their motion sensors were installed upside down; ultimately, the motion sensors were looking at the ceiling. When the burglar came through the window, the alarm system never triggered. Interestingly enough, the motion in the area where the burglar came though would have never triggered anyway; the distance from the motion to the area that should have been detected was too far away for the motion to pick up.

Let me ask you this, if your career was a financial analyst, you would not attempt to perform surgery on yourself would you? So what makes you think that you will correctly identify all the requirements to assure that a security solution meets all the requirements that a professionally trained security consultant, installer, or technician would make to assure that your home and family does not have a false sense of security? Security professionals in the alarm industry must be trained and state licensed for a reason (In some states). You cannot just purchase a low voltage or alarm contractor license; you must qualify and pass stringent tests of competence to assure that you will not harm the public, yourself, or your family. Furthermore, there are numerous hours of manufacturer training to assure that equipment installation, placement and security design are in accordance with manufacturer and industry standards.

My recommendation, get an alarm system by a local dealer and get it installed and configured correctly.


Final Words

By doing business with a local company, that local company builds a relationship with that customer; it allows the company to understand the customers concerns, allows the company to build requirements to design an effective, efficient, and secure security alarm system the way it should be designed and installed. Doing business with a local business is all about value; knowing that you are being taking care and that you have a local company that you can trust to do business is the smart way in protecting your family and assets. Yes, you might spend a little bit more money for value, and in some cases, you will find that local companies are much cost effective if you do your research, so in those cases, the value you get is free.

Additionally, DIY alarm companies have no liability after the sale of that system. You can literally install a motion sensor upside down, and you have no one to correct your mistake. There is a reason why there are professionals in the skilled-trade industry; locksmiths, computer technicians, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, alarm technicians, alarm installers, etc. They know their profession like the back of their hand and that is whom you should call rather than thinking you can do-it-yourself; it is just not about peeling and sticking. There is much more to it than that!