The following is a list of practical DIY home security systems tips for homeowners that own or have a security system installed. We bring you detailed insight from our security consultant, who contributes regularly in our discussions forums. He is an alarm system installer and security expert and has been providing us and our readers with a steady stream of security advice. You’ll learn how to take full advantage of your system, closing loopholes and glitches that come in “out of the box” security systems.
Because this page has grown so long, we have divided it up into easy to access sections:
If you’re looking to build your own security system, jump down here.
- Separate Keypad and Control Panels
- Understand DIY Home Security
- Transmission of Alarm Signals: The Time Factor
- Pay Heed to the Design of Your System
- Are You Protecting Your Family, Or Just Your Belongings?
- Arm Your System While You Sleep
- A Complete And Effective Home Security System
- Read Your Contract
- Summary of DIY Home Security Tips
We recommend an alarm system that has a separate keypad and a separate control panel. This is very important as the control panel is the “brains” of the unit and should be hidden away from sight, not installed in some convenient “out-in-the-open” place for a criminal to easily attack.
If you’re going to purchase a wireless DIY all-in-one self-contained huge keypad system that is being promoted by many dealers today, make sure you understand how to install and secure the system properly. These systems, when improperly installed, are by far the easiest alarm system to defeat (as is well documented on the Internet and posted here). What’s the point of having an alarm system that claims to be “super easy and fast to install”, but that can be defeated in under 20 seconds by someone kicking down the front door and yanking the keypad off the wall before the entry delay expires? If you are going to get an all in one system, make sure it has Crash and Smash protection.
If you’re going to invest in a wireless DIY home security system, make sure it provides so-called Crash and Smash protection.
“Smash-and-Grab” refers to smashing a glass window (or door) to gain entry and then grabbing something of value before quickly leaving, usually while the alarm system is still “ringing”. Alarm systems do NOT prevent “Smash-and-Grab”, so you must still hide and secure valuables that can be easily and quickly taken, such as a laptop or keys to a car parked in your driveway.
“Crash-and-Smash” refers to “crashing” into a building or home with the specific intent of quickly “smashing” the alarm control panel’s communicator to disable it before it can complete its transmission to a monitoring station. The possibility of “Crash-and-Smash” is completely eliminated with proper alarm equipment and installation techniques. The good news is that many alarm systems now come with technology in place, so that if the system is destroyed, an emergency signal is sent to the central monitoring station.
Statistics accurately show that a home with an alarm system is less likely to be targeted by a thief; homes that have alarm systems and which are broken into, suffer less financial loss than homes without alarm systems. The logical assumption is that the thief will spend less time inside a home that has an alarm system; the belief is that once the sirens start ringing, the criminal will take what he can and quickly leave. Unless – he quickly disables your alarm system and/or silences your siren(s).
There once was a time when an alarm system was an unknown and “feared” product. However, as knowledge of alarm systems spreads throughout the criminal community, we now see some homes being broken into which have surface mount sirens and alarm control panels being ripped off of the walls. A reader of this forum has recounted his own personal experience of coming home to find his all-in-one self-contained alarm keypad unit (which is the “brains” of his home alarm system) on the floor, thus disabling his equipment and his home was vandalized.
When I was approached years ago to offer my clients this exact same model of alarm system, I refused to even consider the product; I feared exactly this same type of scenario occurring to them once criminals discovered its design weakness (which was immediately obvious to me). The purpose of this forum is to gather information and learn from others’ experiences. This is why I have pointed out the need to hide and secure your alarm system’s vital components if your system does not have “Crash and Smash” enabled.
It’s important to understand the steps (and time) involved with how alarm systems communicate using a connection (such as a telephone line, Internet, or cellular signal) to contact the monitoring station. An alarm is triggered and the control panel seizes the line. It dials the monitoring station where a connection is made between the modem at the station and the modem inside your alarm system. They then “talk” to each other, explain to each other “what happened” and then they hang up.
The time involved is comparable to you dialing someone on speed dial, getting connected and then speaking to them for 15 seconds. If you don’t have a wireless cellular or radio communicator, your unsupervised telephone line and your alarm system must “survive” for approximately 45 seconds to one minute after your sirens are activated (which is when the alarm system will start its transmission) to ensure that the call has gone through.
You can see from this explanation that the “all-in-one-self-contained-keypad/alarm systems” are easily defeated during the entry delay necessary to disarm the system after the front door has been opened. This is well before an alarm condition is triggered. Stay away from any alarm company that continues to push this piece of garbage, as better security products exist. Admittedly, there are ways to overcome the obvious design weakness and better secure this product, but why bother? Just purchase a better alarm system to begin with, that you don’t have to “fix”. Besides, the huge keypad is an ugly eyesore!!
Be an informed consumer, research the Internet, talk to friends and family for references and most importantly, ask a lot of questions before you purchase an alarm system.
There is a time factor involved with transmitting alarm signals and the alarm equipment has to “stay alive” long enough to complete the transmission. Unless your security system has supervision heartbeats which transmit at timed intervals or “check-ins”, your security equipment can be defeated by a rapid attack which destroys it before a transmission can be completed. If the alarm equipment has been compromised, or is defective, a missed “check-in”, or self-test, is the only way that the monitoring station will be aware of a potential problem.
Ask your alarm system company if your system has supervisory heart beats. If it doesn’t, then it is just as vulnerable to a very rapid attack as any other alarm system, especially if that attack occurs before an alarm is triggered. Security systems marketed towards self-installation by homeowners versus a professional installation may be missing this option. This is a very problematic situation since most homeowners don’t have the security knowledge necessary to properly design an adequate alarm system for their residence, nor do they possess the skills necessary to install a more complex, professionally designed, hard-wired alarm system if they were given the components in a box.
For additional security, stay away from wireless key fobs which can disarm your home alarm system with a simple push of a button. A thief who steals your home keys will now have a convenient way to disarm your security system without having to enter a 4 or 6-digit access code.
Start thinking about security, not convenience and low cost! Typically, you usually get what you pay for.
Most home security system owners set their motion detectors to be automatically bypassed at night if the homeowners arm their system using the stay mode of arming. This effectively kills the motion detector which you have “aimed at the main all-in-one keypad” sitting on the kitchen counter and it now becomes the homeowners’ responsibility for “securing” the main all-in-one keypad unit while they are sleeping!
For example, a promotional video for a DIY wireless system we saw recently shows the homeowner placing the all-in-one main keypad unit on a kitchen counter. If there is a motion detector in the kitchen, it will typically be “bypassed” at night to allow the homeowners access to the fridge for a “midnight snack”.
Where is the security that is supposed to be supervising the most important and vital piece of the all-in-one system?
If the glass patio door in the kitchen has a contact on it, the glass window can be shattered and direct access is now available to the all-in-one unit sitting on the kitchen counter (since the motion detector is inactive at night in stay arming mode). A glass breakage detector in the kitchen now becomes a required component of this home alarm system in order to properly supervise the all-in-one keypad sitting on the kitchen counter.
Although you may think this scenario difficult to imagine, (how’s a criminal supposed to know all this?) this is an example of a badly designed and poorly thought-out security system installation. If this situation never happens to you, your family or friends, great!
But – if this event does happen to you, in your home while you’re sleeping – isn’t this exactly the type of circumstance that you’d expect your home alarm system to be properly designed for, and to work flawlessly and react to?
Another issue I have is that consumers are buying home alarm systems for all of the wrong reasons, such as “I’ll get a discount on my home insurance policy” or “I’m out of town on business frequently”. No bodily harm can occur to you if your home is broken into while you’re away on business or saving money on your home insurance premiums. Here’s the right reason that consumers should be clearly indicating to their alarm providers, as to WHY they want to own an alarm system:
“I want an alarm system that is properly conceived to help secure my home while I’m inside sleeping. While I understand and acknowledge that no alarm system or warning decals can prevent a deranged person from breaking into my house or apartment, I don’t want to find out about it only once the thief is in my bedroom. I need an alarm system designed to remove the element of surprise (and danger) created by someone entering my home unannounced while I’m sleeping. Siren(s) must be activated once the perimeter is breached, long before the intruder makes it to the bedroom”.
When you set about to purchase the equipment needed for your security system, you must first take into consideration the most important usage of the alarm, which is at night, while you’re sleeping, when you’re the most vulnerable. I am absolutely shocked when I learn that some homeowners never arm their alarm systems at night! Your home alarm system must include the additional components necessary to detect intrusion from all potential entry points when you’re inside sleeping. You must accomplish this design requirement to a security level that you can “sleep comfortably with” and in a lot of cases this goal must be achieved without the use of motion detectors.
You don’t need an alarm system while your residence is unoccupied; that’s what you need home insurance for! If your alarm system can “do the job properly” while you’re at home sleeping, it will have no problem performing when you’re away and the house is empty. If the motion detectors in your home are inactive (bypassed) at night while the alarm system is armed in stay mode, you must compensate for this reduction in intruder detection by installing additional door and window contacts, glass breakage detectors, pressure mat sensors, etc.
One “easy fix” would be the very simple and inexpensive addition of installing an extra keypad inside your bedroom, which will allow you to activate and use all of the motion detectors in your home (which are outside of your bedroom) during the night while you’re sleeping. You can now fully arm your system, including motion detectors, from within your bedroom before you go to sleep. You’ll also have the reassurance of knowing that the alarm has been armed at night since you’ll easily see the status displayed on your bedroom keypad. Another solution is to use a mobile app, which is offered by the leading alarm companies.
Once you do your homework and start to understand the real reasons for owning an alarm system, the multiple uses that it has, the security benefits and peace of mind that it provides, only then can you begin to recognize that a properly installed, complete and effective alarm system is truly a very valuable addition to your home.
I haven’t even mentioned smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, sump pump overflow detection, water detection for washing machine’s hoses bursting, low temperature detection for your vacation home or high temperature detection so that the meat in your basement freezer doesn’t spoil. These are all additional benefits which can be added onto your home alarm system, which some consumers only believe are useful for “when they’re not home”.
Without all of the facts, information, advice, examples and valuable life lessons being offered in this forum, I’m beginning to understand now why there are so many consumers who are eagerly trying to get bargains and price shopping for the cheapest piece of junk being offered as “an alarm” on the market. People are naturally reluctant to invest money into a product that they don’t fully understand or appreciate.
Your security system contract is key not only because it may lock you into paying your monthly fee for years, but it also determines whether or not you can move your system to your new home should you move (if you can’t, you’re stuck paying potentially two home security system bills!). Read our article on home security contracts and moving terms for more.
- Think out of the box – when our security consultant designs home alarm systems for his clients, he always assumes that the potential criminal attempting to break into their residence has all of the knowledge of security systems that he does. Therefore, he designs security systems that professional alarm installers cannot defeat in under one minute, which is more than enough time for a wireless radio or cellular communicator to complete its transmission. In addition, he factors in that a criminal is desperate enough to shatter a patio door while the homeowners are sleeping. He takes the security of his customers very, very seriously.
- Hide your main keypad – DIY systems with all-in-one, self-contained wireless main keypad units with cellular communication are easy products for a homeowner to self-install. However, it’s key that this type of self-contained, all-in-one main keypad be securely hidden, and that other “regular keypads” be installed at the entry/exit points. Once you start to closely examine the security issues, you will immediately realize that the all-in-one keypad should only be used for its communication purposes and not be openly accessed by the homeowner to arm/disarm their systems.
- Think like a criminal – try and closely examine how criminals will attempt to attack and defeat your alarm system, especially if it’s a wireless self-contained DIY system. Homeowners who want to save money by self-installing their own security systems must be able to understand how to counter-measure the criminal techniques used to defeat alarm systems.
- Understand your security equipment – poor conceptualization and lack of understanding of alarm components leads to under-designing (insufficient alarm detection equipment) and poorly installing (improper placement of key system elements in an exposed area of the home, making them vulnerable to easy attack and defeat) what could have been a decent alarm system, thereby reducing its security effectiveness to near-zero.
- Ask for what you need – DIY alarm companies are responding to consumer demand for “ease of self-installation”, “low cost”, “good customer service” and I applaud their efforts. However, to properly secure your home, you will require more alarm detection devices than provided in the basic “starter kit”, which I’m sure that they will gladly provide if the customer asks for it.
- Choose a home alarm system that has the capacity to expand and accommodate your future needs. This is usually achieved through the addition of zone expander modules to increase hard-wired zones. Wireless zones add on effortlessly with the addition of a wireless device receiver. Most alarm panels on the market today can easily expand to 32 or more individual zones.
- Consideration and compensation for motion detectors which must be inactive (bypassed) at night in stay mode.
- A more secure alarm transmission method such as a wireless radio or cellular communicator is preferable over an unsupervised telephone line.
“The best home security systems are never cheap, and cheap home security systems are never best.”
There is a great need for further education on understanding how alarm systems work, how to properly design and install a competent home security system, how to stack the odds in your favor that your alarm will not be easily or quickly attacked and compromised by a criminal and how to use the equipment and its many features to your advantage.
How to build your own DIY security system
Ready to setup and install your own security system? We bring you some top-of-the-line, affordable home security equipment options you can use to set up your own security system at home. You’ll learn about everything from a wireless motion detection camera to sirens and flood water sensors.
Wireless Motion Detector Camera with a Base Station
Setting up a simple motion detector camera and base station is an affordable option; however, it does not allow for immediate contact with a dispatch agent to ensure full security.
External Video Cameras
Smoke and Heat Detectors
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Flood (Water) Sensors
Motion Sensor Lights
Glass Break Detectors
Door and Window Sensors
More home security equipment
For a full list of home security system equipment options, visit our home security terms and definitions page. If you see something missing from or that you’d like added to this list, please comment below.
For those that don’t want to take the time to setup and monitor their own system and its components, consider purchasing a home security system that includes some or all of the above features in a package. Our article on the top home security systems should help you find the best home security system for your needs. Our awards articles are written by teams of independent researchers that go in-depth with their research to help find our readers the best alarm systems from the most reliable and honest alarm companies (sometimes hard to find). You’ll find reviews of DIY systems, systems with no annual contract, as well as professionally installed options.
Installed your own alarm system?
We’re always looking to hear back from our readers on their stories/ successes/ attempts at installing their own home security systems. If you’ve ever tried installing your own security equipment, please comment below with your experience.