March 22, 2021

Why do-it-yourself security systems are not for everyone

Stephen Bitterman

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Why do-it-yourself security systems are not for everyone

Smart home devices have moved beyond robotic conversationalists that will describe the weather, turn on the bedroom light and open the garage door. Impressively, they can now monitor your home for fire, intrusion and water damage. Brands like SimpliSafe, Amazon’s Ring, and Google’s Nest offer wireless, battery-operated security systems that are inexpensive, easy to install, and often creative. Amazon, for example, is coming out with a camera mounted on a tiny drone you can fly around to inspect your house, using your smartphone, from anywhere in the world.

These devices are a  fine solution for many homeowners, but they may not be appropriate for people who own second or third residences—or have significant art or other collectibles. The security and home monitoring demands for such premium real estate and possessions are far more nuanced. And yet I recently heard from a client with $10M+ homes that they plan on installing a do-it-yourself security system. At the risk of sounding overly conservative, our advice to Vault clients is more old school than cutting edge in this instance: hire a professional alarm company to evaluate your property, install a top-of-the-line security system, and monitor it 24/7. Here are five key reasons:

  1. Planning and installing an adequate security system can be far more complicated than it might seem. When you hire a professional security company to appraise and manage your security needs, you are leaving all that complexity to people who do this stuff for a living. They will tell you how many components you need and design a placement strategy that is customized for your home. For example, they will tell you where it makes sense to put heat detectors rather than smoke detectors (like kitchens and garages).
  2. Battery-operated devices can and do fail. That’s no knock on the technology, it’s a fact that applies to all such devices no matter who installs them. But you are much more likely to miss noticing a dead battery with a do-it-yourself security system, since it is entirely up to the homeowner to monitor and maintain those devices. Professional alarm companies, by contrast, monitor the function of each of your security detectors, and they can either alert you to change a battery or send someone to handle any needed repairs.
  3. It is not enough to receive alerts on your phone. The new systems provide the option to use your smartphone to monitor your security set-up. That’s good. But invariably there will be times when you miss an urgent alert—say, when you’re asleep, or do not have WiFi access, or your phone dies. You do not want to wait until you are in another state or country before learning that a pipe burst in your ski house. And while the  do-it-yourself systems offer alarm monitoring services that will call police or fire departments when a sensor is triggered, our experience suggests that such arrangements are not as effective as monitoring by professional companies that also installed the system. Only they can reliably direct the fire department to, say, the third bay in the garage where fire was detected. 
  4. Collectibles and other valuables need special care. If you have a significant collection of any kind—e.g., fine art, wine, antiques, comic books, stamps, cigars, watches, etc.—a professional security specialist will be able to determine if you need extra smoke detectors near your silver shelf, or a motion detector placed specifically to protect a valuable painting.
  5. Do it yourself security systems may not qualify for insurance credits. For a fire-and-burglar-alarm combination with signal continuity designed and installed by a UL-listed company, many insurance carriers will offer a significant premium discount, often 10% or more. Most offer smaller discounts or none at all for systems that you install yourself.

As much as anything, that last market “signal” suggests that  smart-home devices meant to protect any home from fire, intrusion, and water damage are not a solution for every homeowner.

Stephen Bitterman is Vault’s Chief Risk Services Officer. He has more than 30 years of insurance experience and oversees risk management, loss prevention, and inspection services.

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