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Home security on a budget

If you’ve always wanted your own home security system but weren’t willing to drop the monthly cash on a service, wait no more! You can install your own home security system — complete with cameras you can access while you’re away.

Home security system

Home security monitoring services, such as the ones provided by companies like ADT, can cost hundreds of dollars a year and thousands (or even tens of thousands) over the life of your home.

While the constant monitoring is nice, unless you really feel you need it, there’s a much cheaper solution with readily available technology that can be purchased online or at local electronics’ stores. Here’s how to set up your own home security system.

Plan the perfect caper

Before you start, you need to evaluate your needs. Most burglars aren’t pros, either, so unless you’ve got a rare and very expensive lost Rembrandt laying around, you’re probably safe from the Danny Oceans of the world.

Walk around your house and ask yourself: What are the easiest ways to get into the house undetected? Where could thieves hide to avoid the prying eyes of the neighbors or passersby? Get the kids involved, too, if they’re old enough. Children are endlessly creative. Just make sure they’re old enough to know they shouldn’t go blabbing what they discover around the schoolyard.

Start low-tech

We know. You want to know about the cool keypads and security cameras you can control with your blender (not really), but start low-tech first. Make sure your windows and doors are secure, hard to remove from the outside and have no flaws (wood rot, cracks or breaks) that might make it easier to get in.

Keyless entry solutions

Generally, keyless entry is safer than keys. Keys can be copied, lost or even stolen. And that fake rock you have with your backup key isn’t fooling anyone, least of all thieves who know all the popular stash places. A keyless entry system allows you to assign codes (and even change them at will if they’re ever compromised). Not only does it eliminate the risk of your key falling into the wrong hands, it’s safer to enter your house at night (and keeps the kids from getting locked out when they forget their key… again).

You can find keyless entry devices in a range of price points and styles. No matter which one you choose, make sure you look for a model that prevents “lock bumping” (using a specially crafted key to open a regular pin tumbler lock) and lock picking. They also vary in sophistication, so consider what features you’d like.

Options to consider:

  • Keypad vs. biometric (fingerprint) scanner
  • Number of access codes and whether they can be changed
  • Backup entry options (keys, mechanical keys, etc.)
  • Auto-locking (door automatically locks each time it’s closed)
  • Ease of installation
  • Fit and size matches your existing door
  • Remote or smartphone app options (can also be purchased third-party)
  • Weatherproof
Expect to spend $100 to $450 on keyless entry locks

Security cameras

Security cameras are a great theft deterrent by themselves. While there are several fake cameras on the market, consider that thieves can do online searches, too… they could easily know what the fake models look like unless they’re very close to the real thing. But security cameras that work have other benefits, as well.

You can watch people you’ve hired to work in your home (babysitters, constructions workers, etc.) remotely if necessary. You can also check in on the kids to make sure they’re not throwing a rager while mom and dad are away. (And be honest… you’ve always been curious about what your dog does while you’re at work.)

You should buy enough security cameras to monitor every potential entry point of your front and backyards and driveway. Remember that the cameras can be placed on your house or attached to other structures or trees in the yard. Plan to place the cameras strategically so you can see as much of your yard as possible. Indoor cameras should be placed where they can monitor things likely to be stolen or rooms that may be occupied by the kids or workers.

Just like keyless entry systems, cameras come with a variety of features (and price points to match). Make sure you research the options carefully so you understand how everything will work together. Note that you can buy kits that come with multiple cameras, a dedicated monitor and digital video recorders to save footage for a predetermined number of days or weeks.

Options to consider:

  • Outdoor vs. indoor
  • Ease of installation
  • Storage options (you must have a dedicated digital video recorder if you’d like to save any footage)
  • Wired or wireless
  • Computer or smartphone integration/apps
  • Remote control
  • Motion detection
  • Picture quality
  • Adjustable direction

We recommend a wireless system, as they’re easier to install and don’t require an in-depth knowledge of wiring (or that you hide any wires that could be snipped by clever burglars). The drawback here is that you need to understand wireless networking a bit to set it up, but they’re easy to install and the Geek Squad guys are a lot cheaper than an electrician.

We also recommend adjustable cameras so you don’t have to be as precise when you install them and that you invest in a DVR-capable kit, which will have complete instructions on how to make everything work together and give you evidence in the event of a break-in.

Expect to pay $200 to $3,000

Other helpful installations

Your security cameras won’t do you much good if you can’t see who’s on them. Make sure there’s adequate lighting. We recommend investing in motion-detector lights in the backyard, front yard and driveway and anywhere else someone could hide.

For windows, you can purchase little mechanical fobs that go off automatically when the button is released. Just install them on all your windows, and they sound the alarm when someone tries to open it. They may not work, however, if someone does break the glass.

Expect to pay $10 to $300

Total cost of DIY home security

The total cost will obviously vary depending on how large your home is, how many potential entry points you have and how much you want or already have in place. On the lower end, you’ll pay a little more than $300 for a minimum amount of security. On the higher end, you could pay as much as $4,000 or more. However, in many cases, you’ll save money on your homeowners insurance, as well. Additionally, some home automation systems that have home security features built in, while more expensive, also allow you to control other devices in your home.

If we assume the average consumer will pay need around $2,000 of equipment and install it themselves, that still pays for itself after five years and saves you money (even with maintenance costs) over 10 years.

More security tips

Is your home a security risk?
How to help your family feel safe after a break-in
Summertime fire safety tips

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