'DIY' vs Professional Alarm Systems

By: Brian Rhodes, Published on Apr 18, 2012

A growing yet controversial trend in alarm systems is for people to do it themselves, installing their own alarm systems and monitoring it themselves. This is certainly a controversial practice, especially to professional providers, made worse by the various quality concerns over DIY systems. In this note, we contrast 'professionally installed' alarm systems with the DIY variety, examining each's strength and weaknesses.

Professionally Installed Systems

Systems installed by professional alarm companies generally include a warranty and some form of service contract. Additionally, installers may have special licensing, insurance, and design training that the typical 'DIY' installer will not have.

Professional System 'Pros'

  • System operation is guaranteed: The alarm company fixes problems as part of service agreement or warranty
  • Central Station Monitoring: System is supervised 24/7 for alarms, and Police can be dispatched to respond
  • Broad sensor/contact selection: Alarms sensors are custom selected to protect specific environments
  • Backup power: Batteries are included so system remains operational even if AC line power drops
  • Video, home automation support: Professional panels support services like 'Total Connect' and 'Z-Wave'

Professional System 'Cons'

  • Costly: Hardware, labor, and monitoring contracts cost thousands over the lifetime of the system (e.g., $99 for install, $30 per month for a minimum 24 months - totaling nearly $1000)
  • Privacy: Some end users are extremely uncomfortable with alarm technicians working in their home
  • Some alarm companies have bad reputations: see Vivint 
  • Slow issue response: Alarm companies can take several days to address service requests

'Do-It-Yourself' Systems

DIY systems are designed to be installed by non-professionals. In general, sensors and panels are wirelessly connected to eliminate wire runs, and sensor expansion (if supported) is limited to respective manufacturer units. 

DIY System 'Pros'

  • Cheap: The purchase cost of a single system (under $150 for the kit, far less than the total cost of a monitored professional system)
  • No costly monitoring contracts: No protracted subscription fees or nefarious autorenew schemes 
  • Everything in one kit: Completely operational system in a box, no system design skills needed
  • Privacy: end user decides where sensors are installed, no 3rd party has knowledge of the system
  • 'Do it yourself, do it right': Workmanship quality is determined by endusers, not subcontracted installers

'DIY' System 'Cons'

  • Limited, or zero, expansion capabilities: If it is not in the kit, it is not included
  • Limited sensor selection: One size fits all' sensor selection may not sufficiently address coverage 
  • No 'throat to choke': If the system fails to work at the proper time, you have yourself to blame
  • No monitoring support: Even when dialers are included, central stations only monitor their equipment

Conclusion

DIY is certainly a growing trend that will be attractive to certain segments:

  • Budget minded and technically adept end users may find the recurring monthly contract fees compelling rationale to pursue the 'DIY approach'.
  • The reputation of 'professional' alarms companies may drive some end-users away, and the DIY option might be an appealing alternative.

On the other hand, other segments likely still value what professional companies offer:

  • Many value the greater security of a continuously monitored alarm system that will quickly respond in case of emergency
  • Those wanting advanced features like video integration or home automation will find many more attractive options on the professional than the DIY side
  • People without the time or skills to DIY will prefer to pay a reasonable fee to not have to bother with it themselves.

1 report cite this report:

DIY Alarm Kits Surveyed on Apr 22, 2012
When protecting one's home with an alarm system, deciding between professionally installed and DIY offerings is a fundamental choice. DIY options...
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