188978_432588126822509_1380234160_n 428314_584324531582558_1945616131_n 971834_491574407591462_1466758924_n

Building a DIY self-monitored security system

by Thomas Miller

There are many commercial options available for security systems and recent tech innovations have brought us DIY security systems that you can purchase and install yourself. While this option is great for providing many people with peace of mind and a sense of security, there are two common factors among these systems; they all require a hard-wired power source and they all require some sort of monitoring service. These two areas typically result in the need to be dependent upon others for your security.

Minimal fuss DIY security components

Luckily, along with the above-mentioned options, there are other security components that can be easily installed with minimal mechanical or technical knowledge required. The specific options that I will outline below are all designed to be run off of batteries (no power grid required) and typically are light, compact and highly portable.

Motion Detector with Auto Dialer

A motion detector with an auto dialer is an alarm that will dial a pre-selected phone number(s) when motion is detected in the immediate area of the device. In many cases this detector is a low-tech device that has a recorded message that is played when the pre-selected phone(s) is answered. It can be a message of your choosing and might say something like, “This is John Doe and there is an intruder that has been detected in my house at 123 Main Street.” You can often choose for the call to go to more than one number so it can go to you, the police and your neighbor, as an example.

The obvious advantage to this product is that you can be half way around the world and, as long as your cell phone is working, receive notification that there may be a problem with your home or business.

There are several different versions of this product available on the market. The type of motion detector that I am specifically meaning here is one designed to be connected to an analog phone system (your typical plug into the wall phone), not a digital phone system (i.e., VOIP). Because this device is run off of batteries, the only placement restriction is that it can be placed anywhere you would like, but it must be within reach of a working phone line that it can be connected to.

*NOTE: You should have an analog phone that sources power from the phone line and not an electrical outlet as part of your preparedness efforts. Yes, you may have to go look at the local thrift store but having this type of phone will allow you to even make calls if the power is out.

Passive Infra-Red (PIR) Motion Detector

If you would like something that does not require a phone line, there are motion detectors like those with an auto dialer that can operate independently of a phone line and only sound an alarm for those who may be in the house. More importantly, they sound an alarm for those who are trying to get into the house.

A PIR motion detector senses motion in an area and, when set, will emit a high volume alarm if motion is detected. Some of these detectors even include a strobe light that will flash when the alarm is activated. A typical feature for these motion detectors is an entry and exit delay like a traditional alarm system that allows you the chance to enter and leave an area over a short period of time to activate or deactivate the alarm before it goes off.

Driveway Alert Alarm

A driveway alert alarm comes in a couple of different formats, based on your needs/preferences. They can essentially be broken down into two varieties, those that use an electro-magnetic sensor to detect large metal objects and those that detect anything that moves by the sensor. An electro-magnetic sensor is often buried in the ground next to your driveway and then connected to a notification device (either wired or wirelessly) where as a motion detection type system can almost be placed anywhere. The latter is only limited to transmission distance and field of detection.

While the driveway alert that will only detect vehicles is nice because there will likely be minimal, if any, false alarms, there is the other side of the coin where a group of armed men could be running up your driveway and go completely undetected.

My preference is to deal with any potential false alarms, while having the knowledge that anyone or anything that makes it up the first part of my driveway will be detected. This second option falls into the category of motion detectors but those that are designed for use on a driveway are typically capable of transmitting wirelessly over longer distances.

Magnetic Door/Window Alarm

A magnet/sensor alarm for a door or window relies on a magnetic field to remain intact to avoid setting it off. If the magnetic field is disrupted, the alarm will go off. These alarms are typically small and mount in two locations, the sensor on the door or window frame and the magnet on the door or window. If this connection is separated, an embedded alarm will sound. These sensors are typically installed using two sided tape and can be easily moved to a different location if needed.

Door Stop Alarm

A door stop alarm is pretty much what it says it is, an alarm embedded in a door stop. The wedge is placed in the space under the door and any attempt to force the door open will set off the alarm. The trigger mechanism on cheaper alarms is a switch that completes a circuit and sounds the alarm where the more expensive versions use accelerometers to detect force.

Door Handle Alarm

These alarms hang on the inside of a door and are activated when someone outside tries to use the door handle. Vibration is what sets the alarm off. There are additional benefits with certain door handle alarms that do not require a specific type of door knob (like metal) to detect a potential intruder and will even detect touch through gloves. Alarms that hang from the door are simple to use and typically just require that they be hung on the door handle and turned on.

Window Alarm

This is similar to the door handle alarm but is stuck on a window. If a potential intruder, or your child’s significant other, tries to get in through a window the alarm will sound. Heavy vibration of the window/frame will activate most alarms where some actually rely on the glass to be broken. Either way, these alarms will alert you of someone trying to get into your property.


You didn’t think I could write this entire article about security without mentioning guns, did you? Firearms and other weapons are awesome options for security because they don’t require any power or monitoring other than the squeeze of your finger. They have a great intimidation factor to them, but don’t forget that if you do not get properly trained, and continue to train, then you may be the one intimidated when your own gun gets taken from you. Also, don’t always assume that you are they only one that brought a gun to the fight. In fact, you should always assume that any intruder or attacker is armed and make your decisions to act based on that fact. Sometimes it is best not to fight if you can get out of harms way without any type of violent encounter. As the saying goes, he who runs away, lives to run another day!

The thing that I really like about the battery-operated security devices that I mentioned is the fact that they are so versatile and can be taken with you if you have to bug out. A driveway alert alarm or motion detector can easily be set up to detect someone that gets too close to your camp or enters into the building you are sleeping in. The precious moments gained from this immediate notification of potential danger could mean the difference between living or dying in an extreme scenario.

With the exception of weaponry, all of these security solutions can be purchased for less than $50, with some of them even being as cheap as $10. That is hard to beat for a little security.

More involved security components

For those of you who may be interested in expanding your options, there are self-monitored security systems that include all of the capabilities of the options I already listed and more. The major difference between these systems is that they require a dedicated power source (usually tied to the grid). They also come with the additional drawback that they are not as compact and portable as some of the other options listed above.

With that said, all of these options are great for helping to ensure the safety of you and your loved ones.

Traditional Alarm System

There are newer alarm systems on the market now that mimic the exact features of the traditional home alarm system but do not require any sort of monitoring by a third-party. I like these for several reasons: no monthly fees, no requirement to buy any equipment other than exactly what I want and no reliance on/hoping that the person that is supposed to respond to my alarm will actually do their job.

The nice thing about these new, unmonitored security systems is that they are more affordable and offer more flexibility than previous alarm systems. Many of them operate wirelessly so you are not restricted in where you can place the sensors. Also, they are widely available. Traditional security systems rely on a company to come and install these systems and you almost always have to purchase whatever it is that they will sell you. Some companies are better than others and offer more options but you almost always had to start with some sort of package deal, even if it was not exactly what you wanted.

To be honest, when we have had traditional security systems in the past, I was not always comfortable with the person who came out to install the system. Who feels safe when the person who knows everything about their alarm system (because they installed it) looks like a criminal!

Security Cameras

There are some pretty impressive camera systems that have become available for homeowners, and renters alike, to secure our homes and property with. (Don’t forget to use them to avoid liability when your sue happy neighbor wanders into your yard!)

When looking at security camera systems, consider what you need the cameras for and where you want to place them. There are a variety available but almost all of them require a recording device of some type. Don’t leave the recording device out in the open where it can be taken by intruders. Keep it locked up and preferably in a secret location. If choosing cameras for different purposes, look at whether they are rated for indoor, outdoor or use in both environments. If you want the cameras to see at night, make sure that they have a night function. Always make sure that you look at the quality of the picture and how far you can expect to get a clear picture out of the camera (some of them are very limited).

Video Door Bell

If you watch TV there is a good chance that you may have seen a commercial for a certain video doorbell at some point. These are great for monitoring who is at your door and many of them offer the chance to communicate between your smartphone and the person at the door with a voice chat option. These doorbells will also take a picture or video of anyone who comes to your door. We saw some package thieves in our neighborhood get caught over the holidays with video door bells, so I know they work.

As with many things, the more you spend on your security system, the higher the quality and more features you will get but it is important to keep in mind that you make not need more features and something lower in cost that you can leave in your wake may be extremely beneficial in some situations. Always remember that there is a difference between something that is cheap, and something that is low cost. Quality does not always come with a bigger price tag.

If writing this article achieves nothing else, hopefully you realize that there are some affordable, effective and easy to use security devices that can be combined to make a DIY self-monitored security system for your safety now, and if things go terribly wrong some day.


Comments are closed