The big difference between “do it yourself” rigs and standard security systems is how they’re monitored. Security providers like Frontpoint and SimpliSafe use professional call centers to keep a 24/7 watch on your home (that’s where the monthly fees comes in), whereas DIY systems leave that responsibility to you.
Another important distinction is that professionally-monitored systems communicate with call centers through a cellular connection. Most DIY systems rely on your home WiFi and broadband to transmit notifications, which means that if your ISP, router, or power go down, so does your home’s digital porthole (keep reading for more on the pros and cons of DIY security).
Think of these systems as a control towers for your home. For instance, the Piper NV is a standalone device about the size of a large jar. Not only is it jam-packed with sensors (air quality, humidity, et cetera), it features streaming video surveillance, a 105 dB siren, and supports several types of home automation accessories.
In terms of functionality, these are your standard home security kits; there’s a central hub that connects to accessories via BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy).
Home security systems have two fundamental duties: protecting your stuff when you’re away and protecting you when you’re home. Monitoring cameras like the Nest Cam and Canary are perfect for general surveillance and childcare, but without a siren, they offer little to no protection against actual home invasions. Think about it: Getting a call or push notification that your front door opened at 2am might give you enough to time to react appropriately, but it does nothing to deter the burglar. An alarm not only alerts you instantly, it frightens the would-be attacker.
In a word, freedom. DIY home security systems are versatile, affordable, and leave the user in complete control. Remember: No one cares more about your safety than you do.
Below you’ll find the top arguments for and against DIY home security:
If you don’t need a full-blown security system and simply want to keep a remote eye on your pet, baby, or household, here are six of the best DIY monitoring cameras on the market:
Video Storage: Free cloud video storage with a 90-day history
Canary serves as an incredibly high-quality video monitor that includes several extra sensors. In addition, it’s loaded with motion detection, free cloud storage, and a manual alarm.
Images courtesy of Canary.is
Video Storage: Free two-day history of animated sequences and timelapses
The Withings Home is a beautifully designed camera that delivers high-quality streaming video. It also features two-way talk, a top-notch app, and an air quality sensor.
Images courtesy of withings.com
Video Storage: Free cloud video storage history of 1 week
Looking for outdoor surveillance? Netgear’s wireless, battery-powered Arlo cameras offer quality video streaming, rain or shine. They also feature motion detection and 7 days’ worth of free video history.
Images courtesy of Amazon.com
Video Storage: Supports a microSD card of up to 64GB
The SmartCam HD Pro is an excellent choice for keeping an eye on your home. It features 1080p streaming, two-way talk,
Images courtesy of Softpedia.com
Video Storage: Free cloud storage with a 24-hour video history
The iON has only a 720p resolution, but its $129 price tag and free 24-hour cloud storage plan make it a great choice for the home or business.
Images courtesy of Amazon.com
We started with 29 products and ended with 3 recommended systems. Here’s how we found who’s who in DIY home security.
To begin, we cut products that have been replaced with newer models or that don’t qualify as complete home security systems (products without basic intrusion protection, products that are currently in development, doorbell cams, etc.).
Second, we cut any system that requires a subscription or contract for baseline functionality. The concept behind DIY security is that once a system’s yours, it’s yours; no contracts, no fees. Basic services like email notifications, SMS alerts, and video monitoring shouldn’t cost you extra.
Third, we dropped systems that didn’t offer fundamental intrusion protection. Without motion sensors, contact sensors, or a combination of both, you aren’t truly protected against home invasions.
Next, systems without support for home automation add-ons were axed from our list. During our 600-odd hours of research into the industry, it became obvious that home security isn’t just about protection; it’s about your peace of mind.
Fifth, we cut DIY systems that didn’t have an audible, programmable alarm. Home security is first and foremost about keeping your family safe from home invasions. That’s why our recommended systems either ship standard with an alarm or offer a siren accessory that can be programmed to sound off when contact sensors are triggered.
Afterward, we arrived at three recommended systems:
Specs look great on paper, but they don’t mean a thing unless the hardware and software deliver. That’s why we went even further and crafted a usability and dependability test by which to rank our three recommended brands. Together with our hands-on experience and research, we scored each system based upon its ease of setup, overall software performance, line of accessories, customer service, and finally, its CNET Editors’ Rating.
What's in the box: 1 Iris hub, 2 door/window sensors, 1 motion detector, 1 wireless keypad
The Iris Home Management System is a kit manufactured by Lowes, so it should come as no surprise that this system supports a ton of accessories from Utilitech, GE, Kwikset, Schlage, and more. In fact, it’s the only DIY system that offers add-ons for all four types of protection (intrusion, environmental, surveillance, and life safety) – there’s even a home automation device to control the flow of water from an outdoor spigot.
Iris’ hardware isn’t sleek, but it works well; we had no trouble pairing any of the sensors with the hub, and after quickly troubleshooting a few issues with registration, the system was up and running. Much of the same can also be said for the software; the iOS and Android apps aren’t pretty, but performed without a hitch during our week of testing.
Lowes’ Iris Home Management System excelled in every criteria of our review process and hands-on testing, not to mention the hub has a built-in battery for emergencies and can be equipped with a primary or fail-safe cellular connection (starting at $4 per month). There isn’t a feature or device offered by ADT, Vivint, or SimpliSafe that you won’t be able to find an Iris-supported alternative for, and that’s a huge part of why this system is our number-one recommendation.
What's in the box: 1 Piper NV, 1 window/door sensor
Icontrol Networks’ Piper NV is the only all-in-one home security system that survived our stringent review methodology, which is primarily due to the fact that it’s the only one on the market that supports Z-Wave-powered sensors. And speaking of sensors, it’s worth mentioning that we experienced a bit of trouble with the door/window sensor after installation: Regardless of how well the sensor was fastened, Piper notified one of our researchers several times that his front door was open, while in reality, it was closed.
The Piper’s video quality isn’t terrible, but it is shaky. (Side note: If surveillance is important to you, you’ll come out cheaper buying the Piper than by purchasing any of our other recommended systems and a monitoring camera add-on.) Outside of streaming, though, the system was easy to use, the app was intuitive and helpful, and we found the tools and controls totally useful for day-to-day life – especially the app’s ability to set different rules for certain modes (like “away” or “home” modes).
What's in the box: 1 CubeOne hub, 2 contact sensors, 1 motion sensor, 2 key fobs
We installed the iSmartAlarm Preferred Package in 11 minutes, and that included pairing each device. Really, the setup couldn’t be simpler. What about performance? From the door sensors to motion detector – all spread out over several hundred feet – we had no issues keeping tabs on motion throughout one of our researcher’s homes. And to our surprise, the key fob (which doesn’t work unless you’re within 30ft of your system) actually came in handy throughout the week.
All in all, the iSmartAlarm is a top-notch DIY system, but it has a very limited accessory bank.