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Home security demystified: How to build a smart DIY system

By Jennifer Tuohy | May 29, 2015
Homeowners and renters can now build and maintain their own custom-designed home security system easily and inexpensively.

This is another emerging space, and the options are limited but growing daily. There are three main categories:

* Simple system — This is a wireless alarm system that is self-installed and operated through a keypad controller and/or portable key fob. You place sensors around your home and designate security zones. If the zones are breached, the alarm will sound. Some will also notify you via phone.

These systems are expandable, allowing you to add components based on your changing needs. Higher end versions, such as the one offered by Tattletale ($558), include 24/7 dispatch monitoring and text and email notifications for a low monthly fee. Look for the "pet mode" feature if you have animals, to help limit false alarms.

* Wireless smart systems — Smart home security systems do everything the simple systems do, and can likewise be installed entirely by the homeowner. They are also expandable, portable (so you can take it with you when you move), and some come with traditional monitoring but without long-term commitments.

The added benefit with a smart system is that your home is connected to WiFi, so you can monitor it on your smartphone or computer from wherever you are, and receive real-time alerts. This essentially makes you your own monitoring service.

Some options currently on the market include Simplisafe ($229 and up), which offers a comprehensive, easy to use system with optional live monitoring (that you pay $14.99 a month for, but with no contract). Simplisafe packages include a wireless keypad, carbon monoxide sensor, motion sensors, panic button, smoke detector, entry sensor and a base station, but you can add up to 41 devices per base station. "Smarts" in the system include features such as a smoke alarm that will beep when it senses smoke, but also trigger your alarm, alert a dispatcher and notify you over email or SMS.

Another option that moves further into the home automation space is SmartThings. The smart home company offers three custom security kits ($389 and up) that include basic alarms and sensors, but with the added capability of smart home integrations. You can get alerts sent to your phone when water is detected or doors or windows open unexpectedly. Useful features include sensors to trigger lights to a certain brightness if there's motion or entry and notifications when people come and go from your home. Smart home security kits like these can be used as the basis for a complete home automation system. To learn more about setting up a home automation system, read this article.

All-in-one security system

All-in-one systems include sensors, smarts and cameras all in one device — "a whole home smart security system in a box." Ideal for renters or short term visits (hotel rooms, vacation rentals, etc.), often you can daisy-chain these stand-alone devices to create a larger system. The big advantage of an all-in-one device is that there is no "networking" required, and no need to spend time getting your devices to talk to each other.  


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