Home security systems: DIY vs. professional installation — what's the best option?

No matter where you live, making sure your home is secure is always a concern. That may have you thinking about adding a security system to your place.

In a FOX 32 special report, Scott Schneider details what you need to know when purchasing a home security system.

When it comes to home security, which door are you going to pick? Door number one?

"It’s really inexpensive now to set up these systems. You can buy one for $200 and monitor yourself using a smartphone that costs nothing," said Kevin Brasler, executive director of Consumers’ Checkbook.

Or door number two?

"The pace of professional installed alarm systems in homes is outpacing the DIY. During Covid, it swang the other way. Now it’s back to that traditional installation format," said Brad Tolliver, vice president of Illinois Electronic Security Association.

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Tolliver, who also serves as president of SMG Security Holdings in Elk Grove Village, says deciding which door is right for you comes down to this.

"I think one of the first things you need to determine is your willingness to participate," Tolliver said.

By that, he means how much of the equipment can you set up and maintain on your own. After that, you need to look at your budget.

"Generally the DIY systems cost anywhere between $150 to $300 to set up," Brasler said.

"In that price range, generally you’re going to get door contacts, a motion detector, a control panel with a cellular communicator and battery backup," Tolliver said.

"Professionally installed systems, usually it’s about $1,000 minimum all the way up to $3,000 if you have a large home," Brasler said.

Then you have to decide if you are going to monitor it or are you going to pay a service to do it, which will cost you roughly another $30 a month.

Whether you use a service or not could be determined by the number and type of cameras you set up.

"With the cloud-based cameras, I would say that’s configured for one to four cameras. Otherwise, it starts to consume the network or bandwidth of your internet or network at home," Tolliver said.

Before you even decide which door is right for you, our experts say you need to get back to the basics of home security.

"But what really hasn’t changed is how burglars get into homes," Brasler said. "Make sure your doors are secure, make sure you have good lighting. That’s really the most benefit in terms of home security that you can do compared to even a whiz-bang high-tech home security system."

When it comes to lighting, Tolliver says motion detector lights are no longer the hot item.

"I think one of the easiest things to deploy with that is to replace the outdoor light bulbs with photocell or dusk to dawn light bulbs," Tolliver said. "You can get them at the box stores. Home Depot, Lowes, any of those places and they’re fairly inexpensive."

Still not sure which door is right for you?

"Minimal, do something with the lighting outside. Make sure the shrubs and bushes are trimmed and you can see your window openings. You can see the door areas from the street. So if someone driving by sees suspicious characters outside, they will report that," Tolliver said.

No matter what type of home security system you have, experts say you should test it on a regular basis. Some of the batteries it uses may wear out quicker than you think.