Good news: you don't have to hire a professional to install a home security system. Do-it-yourself security kits include everything you need to get started to monitor your home or small business — including motion and entry sensors, a loud siren and professional monitoring — for a reasonable monthly fee. Some security kits even provide smart home control, so you can tack on third-party accessories or set up automation schemes between the different connected devices operating in your home.
After spending nearly three months testing six different systems, our favorite DIY security system is the Abode Essentials Starter Kit. At a starting price of $280, it's one of the most cost-efficient smart security bundles available, and it offers integrated smart home abilities so that you can rig up devices like smart bulbs and smart door locks, along with everything else. The only caveat is that this kit doesn't include many accessories, though you can purchase other sensors for a reasonable price.
Our top value pick is the Ooma Home Security Kit ($180), which gets you all the basics, such as motion sensors and some integration with other smart home devices. However, there's no option for professional monitoring, nor does it have cellular or battery backup, which could be a deal breaker.
Latest News & Updates (October 2018)
- If you live in a house that has a pre-installed, but deactivated security system, the Safe by Hub6 ($249) can plug into that system, and let you monitor your home using your smartphone. If you want to add in professional monitoring, you can add that service for $10 per month. The Hub6 is currently compatible with a limited number of control panels, so check to see if yours works with the system before ordering.
- Ooma added two big upgrades to its Home Security Kit. The kit now works with Alexa, which lets you disarm the system using a voice command (and a PIN code) and check its status. Also, Ooma's Butterfleye camera ($199) is now fully integrated with Ooma's other sensors; for example, you can program the camera to start recording automatically if a motion or door sensor is tripped.
- Abode, the company that makes our favorite DIY smart home security kit, is releasing a new device this fall that combines security and a smart home hub in one. The iota, as it's called, is a rectangular device with a 1080p motion-sensing camera on one side. It will connect via Ethernet or Wi-Fi to your local network, and 4G LTE and battery backup is also built in. The iota will also come with a door sensor and a key fob. Additionally, the iota will support HomeKit, Zigbee, and Z-Wave devices, as well as Alexa and Google Assistant, and will support up to 160 smart home devices. The iota will cost $329, and should be available for pre-order in October, and ship in November.
Whether you're a first timer to smart security or a seasoned veteran in the world of automation, the Abode Essentials Starter Kit has something for everyone. In addition to being a versatile smart home controller with both Zigbee and Z-Wave integration — which means you can use it to control things like smart bulbs and smart locks — it's also straightforward to set up.
The beginner's bundle is a bit slim in its accessory offerings, but you can choose from a host of other packages and purchase additional sensors separately. The only downside is that much of Abode's smart home automation programming takes place in a browser window rather than through a mobile app (which you can use for most everything else, such as arming and disarming the system). Round-the-clock professional monitoring costs $30 per month, but you can also get three- and seven-day monitoring on an as-needed basis for $8 and $15, respectively.
Don't care too much for professional monitoring? The Ooma Home Security kit is very bare-bones — you get the hub, one motion sensor and two entry sensors — but you also get Ooma's robust VoIP service with low monthly fees. It's an additional $3.99 (or $4.99 without the VOiP service) to monitor all the sensors you like, and you can give access to anyone who needs to know what's going on at home. The one caveat is that Ooma doesn't offer professional monitoring, so you'll have to call emergency services yourself in the event of a fire or break-in. However, Ooma's app makes this process easy.
If you don't care too much about fancy home automation schemes like flashing bulbs when someone opens a door, the SimpliSafe Essentials kit is our runner-up pick for best DIY smart security system. In addition to having one of the louder sirens we tested (93 decibels), it's also stylish, and an included keypad makes setting it up accessible for anyone. And, the kit comes with more accessories than the typical bundle from competitors, including three entry sensors instead of the standard one or two. Additional accessories won't break the bank, either.
Simplisafe's professional monitoring starts at $14.99 per month, and a $24.99/month plan includes a lot of additional features, such as secret alerts. You can also cancel the plan at any time.
Other Security Systems Tested
Ring's Alarm system is affordable, very easy to set up, has a loud alarm, battery and cellular backup, and has a very affordable professional monitoring price of $10 per month. However, aside from Ring products, there's almost no third-party smart home integration, including Alexa and Google Assistant. Bummer.
Honeywell's Security System is centered around an Alexa-enabled hub with a built-in camera, which offers such niceties as facial recognition. However, we found this feature didn't work as well as it should have, the hub doesn't have all the capabilities of other Amazon Echo devices, and Honeywell doesn't offer professional monitoring nor cellular backup.
The Nest Secure is excellent for beginners, but this pricey security kit is only worth considering if you're staying within the Nest device ecosystem. The kit comes with the Nest Guard, which serves as the base station and includes an 85-decibel siren, along with two Nest Detects, which perform double duty as motion and entry sensors.
You also get a pair of Nest Tags, which are key fobs that can be doled out to temporary house guests. If you have other Nest products like the Nest Cam or a Nest Learning Thermostat, you can even set up a few automation schemes between them. However, if you're planning to bring along other third-party devices into the realm that aren't "Works with Nest" compatible, be prepared to hit some roadblocks. Professional monitoring through Brinks Home Security starts at $19 per month.
Samsung and ADT, two of the world's biggest names in their respective industries, have teamed up for this all-in-one security kit. The Samsung SmartThings ADT Home Security Starter Kit combines the professional monitoring services of ADT with Samsung's smart home prowess. The base station acts as both a gateway to the security system with its (dated) 7-inch touchpad, as well as a smart hub with Zigbee and Z-Wave integration. Annoyingly, you can't link third-party smart home accessories with the ADT monitoring service. But the robustness of Samsung's SmartThings ecosystem might be worth it to you regardless, as long as you don't mind the slightly siloed experience.
The Swann Smart Home Security System comes with several sensors, a very loud alarm and even a 720p camera to monitor your dwelling. However, the setup process is far less intuitive than other security packages, and confusion over which app to use led to a mistaken call to the authorities, who paid us a visit.
How we tested
We tested out the DIY security systems in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area in a two-story townhouse over the course of three months. Each kit comes with a base station and a variety of sensors. The security gateways were all configured on the first floor of the house near the main entrance, while the motion sensors were placed facing the front door and were no higher than six feet off the ground. (This was done to test whether each sensor would pick up cat movement.) Additionally, we used a sliding glass door to test each entry sensor.
Credit: AbodeMost manufacturers list the decibel power of their sirens, but we tested their relative loudness by setting off the alarms and leaving the house. We signed up for every professional monitoring service to check their responsiveness in case of a trigger. Each gateway was also unplugged and used in battery mode to determine its abilities in case of a power outage. If the gateway required an Ethernet connection, it was hooked up to a Google Wi-Fi node that was closest to the front door.
All mobile apps were tested using a Google Pixel 2 smartphone running Android 8.0 and up. All browser apps were tested using the Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge browsers.
Why you want a DIY system versus a professionally installed system
Installing a security system in your home or small business can be an incredibly empowering experience. In the past, if you wanted to protect your home and outfit it with sensors and a siren and the like, you would have had to call a company like ADT, sign up for an annual contract and then wait for someone to come over and configure it all for you. But these days, all you have to do is pick out a kit that suits your security needs.
Credit: SimpliSafeDo-it-yourself security systems sometimes include smart home integration, too, which adds a bit of a one-two punch to the whole bit. So, for example, you can arm or disarm your system automatically by using a compatible smart lock, or by speaking to Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Some manufacturers also make an extensive variety of accessories, so you don't have to worry about filling in the blanks to expand your security setup.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to setting up your home security system is the fact that you can choose when you want professional monitoring enabled. For instance, if you're the work-from-home type, you might not want a security service, since you're home all the time to see what's going on, anyway. But when you and the family are ready to take a trip away from the abode for several days, you can use an app to enable that additional, watchful eye.
If you would rather not do it yourself, check out TopTenReviews’ picks for the best professionally installed security systems.
What to look for when buying a DIY system
How many doors and entryways do you want to monitor?
Most security kits come with two or three motion and door sensors. However, if you live in a house with a lot of windows, you'll need to add more sensors. Check out how much additional sensors cost; the price can quickly climb.
Key fobs equal convenience
If you have people coming in an out of the house frequently — whether they be dog walkers, house cleaners or annoying family members who happen to live close by — you will want to look at a security system that accepts key fobs or remote access.
Credit: NestMany of the app-first solutions will let you set up individual PIN codes for the different members of your household, while others will include access tags in the box. If this is of particular concern, the Nest Secure is one of the better choices, since even the most technophobic will be okay with merely scanning a keychain every time they exit and enter the house.
Do you want professional monitoring?
How much do you want to spend per month to ensure that your home has that extra protection? In most cases, the bigger the kit and the more devices you're using to monitor your dwellings, the higher the monthly subscription price. (The only system that doesn't do this is the Ooma Home Security kit, though it doesn't offer professional monitoring.) Some companies start as low as $15 a month, like ADT, though they only cover specific triggers. Others can be as high as $30 a month for around-the-clock surveillance. Note that you may also need to register your home alarm with your city or county, which will also add to the overall professional-monitoring fee.
|Free||Starting Tier||Mid Tier||Premium Tier|
|Abode||Three days of timeline and storage; On-demand professional monitoring ($8/3 days, $15/7 days)||$10/month: 3G Cellular backup; Three days of timeline and storage; On-demand professional monitoring ($8/3 days, $15/7 days)||$30/month: 24/7 Professional monitoring; 3G Cellular backup; 90 days of timeline and storage||n/a|
|SimpliSafe||n/a||$14.99/month: 24/7 professional monitoring; Cellular backup; Environmental sensor monitoring||$24.99/month: 24/7 Professional monitoring; Cellular backup; Environmental sensor monitoring; Secret alerts; 30 day storage; Smart home integration; Smart home control||n/a|
|ADT/SmartThings||n/a||$14.99/month: 24/7 professional monitoring for smoke, fire, carbon monoxide, water||$24.99/month: 24/7 professional monitoring for intrusion detection and panic alerts||$34.99/month: 24/7 professional monitoring for intrusion detection and panic alerts, smoke, fire, carbon monoxide, water|
|Nest||n/a||$19/month (3-year contract): 24/7 monitoring; Cellular backup; Battery backup||$29/month (month-to-month)||n/a|
|Swann||n/a||$10/month: Unlimited notifications and sound alerts; On-demand professional monitoring ($7.95/two days, $14.95/7 days)||$12.49/month (1-year contract): 24/7 monitoring||$19.99/month (month-to-month)|
Do you want to make this part of your smart home?
While many security systems will work with such devices as smart locks — unlock your door, and the system will disarm itself — not all integrate as easily with other smart home devices like security cameras, lights and other sensors. Abode's system is the most compatible in this regard, while Nest's system also does a fair job.
Is the app easy to use?
Consider a security system that comes with an app you'd love to use. You can usually preview these things on the corresponding website. App reviews in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store are also a good indicator of the overall user experience. After all, if you don't have a working portal or gateway to your security system, it's not going to be very functional.
Credit: AbodeThere are some instances when the interface of the system won't rely too much on a mobile app, as is the case with the Samsung SmartThings ADT security kit, which comes with a touch-screen panel, or the SimpliSafe Essentials kit, which comes with a keypad. These are also worth considering if you're not the kind of person who always carries around your phone.