Do-It-Yourself vs Hiring a Pro
When it comes to home security systems, there are pros and cons to both doing your own installation and hiring a professional to do the job. Doing the work yourself will cut down your installation costs by half, but you will also need some skills with tools and electrical equipment, especially if you've opted for a hard-wired system.
If you're unsure what you want to do, ask around. Visit your local dealer and don't be hesitant to ask as many questions as you like. Mass manufacturers like Brinks are a popular option, but you are likely to receive more personalized service if you go to your local dealer.
A huge advantage with opting for professional installation is that you have a provider ready on call if something should go wrong with your system. However, there are many small dealers who also take on do-it-yourself (DIY) customers.
You could opt for buying a DIY system from such a dealer, and also maintain a relationship with them from the time of the purchase, so that they are at hand to provide replacement components and perform routine servicing.
Most people do prefer to go with 'big' names like ADT, but this is largely the result of efficient advertising on the part of such market leaders. The primary disadvantage with choosing a large-scale service provider and getting a professional installation is that you'll be forced to purchase a complete set. If you install your home security system yourself, you can choose the features you want now and then upgrade your system later.
If you're just building your house, this would be a great time to do a little pre-wiring. If you do decide to do this, make sure you have the switches put in as well, since the wire endings might get damaged or even lost in the building structures if the switches are not attached.
To install your system yourself, know your tools. You will need a drill bit and a soldering iron, which you can purchase from a home improvement store if you don't have one already. If you aren't handy with these tools, you might want to opt for a wireless system, which can generally be installed with minimal effort since it connects directly to your phone line. However if you're installing a wireless system, you might want to invest in an extra phone line.
So, when should you select a professional rather than do your installation yourself?
There are two scenarios in which its best to let a professional handle the task, even if you're familiar with do-it-yourself packages and have set up units such as your home entertainment system. Firstly, consult a professional if you have a lot of ground to cover, especially if you have a lot of VSS (video surveillance system) outputs to be set up. This is also applicable for homes with expansive perimeter grounds. Secondly, it's best to call in the experts if you've chosen a hard-wired system, especially if your home is not pre-wired, unless you're exceptionally adept with tools.
If you're a purist and want to do it yourself even if you have no knowledge of how to go about it, you can purchase a how-to manual which can guide you about what you'll need and how you'll need to go about the task. One of the better manuals is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Home Security by Tom Davidson and Lorna Gentry (Alpha Press, 2001). Both authors are former law-enforcers, and can give even the most seasoned do-it-yourselfers very useful tips on how to get the job done right. You can buy a new or used (for $2 only) copy at Amazon.com.
If you decide to go to a professional, first perform a basic risk assessment so that you know what you want and don't get talked into buying a system that you don't really need. Many service providers employ professional sales talkers whose task is to frighten you into buying unnecessarily expensive components with stories about heinous crimes that take place in private homes. Choose a company that gives you a free risk assessment and quotation, and which does not obligate-or try to coerce you-to buy their product. Also, make sure your service provider is recognized by the authorities, and that they have a license to sell and monitor home security systems.