Best DIY Home Security System
DIY security systems that offer top-notch protection without monthly fees.
If you purchase a home security system from a full service company, you may have to to sign a three-year contract. For example, Frontpoint is our top pick for the overall best home security system (it is sometimes classified as DIY because you set it up yourself), but the difference is that it’s professionally monitored. Our DIY home security review focuses specifically on self-monitoring products that you also set up on your own.
Research from the Department of Justice shows that U.S. households most prone to burglary are also the ones that are the least able to afford the financial commitment of a security system. Technology has leveled the playing field since then, and protecting your home no longer requires lengthy contracts or monthly fees.
Everyone deserves affordable, accessible home security. If you’re looking for simplicity, affordability, and some piece of mind, a DIY home security system is worth the investment. If you want full-blown coverage, we recommend checking out our review of the full-service home security systems.
How we spent our time reviewing DIY home security systems:
- Personally installed and tested DIY kits, sensors, and monitoring cameras
- Researched over 30 different devices
- Spent 600+ hours scrutinizing reviews and studies
Ranking The DIY Systems
We started with 30 products and ended with 4 recommended systems. Here’s how we found who’s who in DIY home security.
How we uncovered the truth about DIY home security systems...
- We excluded the obvious (read: devices that don’t qualify as complete security systems).
- We excluded products that require a subscription or contract for basic functionality.
- We excluded products that lack a programmable siren.
- We excluded products that don’t include at least one fundamental feature of intrusion protection.
- We excluded products that lack support for home automation devices.
Products that were cut because of upgrades, no availability, or a lack of basic intrusion protection
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.).
- Sky Bell 2.0
- BOT Home Automation Doorbot
- Ring Video Doorbell
- Archos Smart Home Starter Pack
- Icontrol Networks Piper
Products that were cut because of fees or contracts
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.
- Oplink Security TripleShield
Products that were cut because they lacked intrusion protection
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.
- ArcSoft Simplicam
- D-Link Pan & Tilt WiFi Cameras (DCS-5020L)
Products that were cut because of home automation
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.
- Netatmo Welcome
- Netgear Arlo
- Scout Alarm
- SmartCam HD Pro 1080p Full HD WiFi Camera
- NetCam HD Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision
- Withings Home
- FLIR FX
- Foscam C1 Indoor HD Camera
- iON The Home Wi-Fi Video Camera
Products that were cut because of an inadequate alarm
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.
- Nest Cam (Formerly DropCam)
Our Approved 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.
Our Top Pick
Iris Home Management System 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.
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).
Easy Setup (Tied)
iSmartAlarm 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.
Easy Setup (Tied)
GetSafe What's in the box: 1 Smart Hub, 1 entry sensor, 1 motion detector, 1 siren
Just like iSmartAlarm, setting up the GetSafe home security system was super simple. Everything connected instantly; the moment after we plugged in the Smart Hub and put batteries in the motion detector and window sensor, the GetSafe system sent push messages to our email, iPhone, and Apple Watch, notifying us the system had been activated. As for performance, the sensors and motion detector all worked from hundreds of feet away, but the GetSafe siren didn’t quite have the impact we were looking for; it sounded more like an alarm clock than an alarm. When we triggered the system, we got a phone call from a helpful woman in Utah, asking us by name if we were OK.
GetSafe is just now introducing home-automation integration (the lack of which kept it out of our top picks in the past). It’s “works with Nest” certified, which means the system can be configured to react to different situations using what GetSafe calls Smart Rules, similar to IFTTT. Right now, though, it can only adjust the Nest thermostat, and you’ll need to buy the device if you don’t already own one, a separate purchase of $249. A GetSafe representative assured us it’ll have a Z-Wave connector very soon, with lightbulbs and automated locks to follow. With those home-automation additions, we could see GetSafe becoming one of our overall favorites. For now, though, it’s not enough.
The ins and outs of DIY home security
What is a “DIY security system" anyway?
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).
Pro tip: DIY home security is all about the peace of mind that comes with monitoring aspects your home remotely. That said, you’ll need a smartphone (iOS- or Android-powered) to take full advantage of your DIY system.
Types of DIY security systems
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.
Standard home security kits
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).
Video surveillance doesn’t qualify as home security
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.
Why choose DIY?
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:
Home security cameras and video monitoring
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
Withings Home Security
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
SmartCam HD Pro 1080p Full HD WiFi Camera
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, and allows you to record video onto a microSD card.
Images courtesy of Softpedia.com
iON The Home Wi-Fi Video Camera
Video Storage: Free cloud storage with a 24-hour video history
The iON only has 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
Ring Doorbell Camera
Video Storage: Cloud video storage is $3 per month
This battery-powered doorbell camera doesn’t offer free video storage, but provides a great way to keep tabs on visitors, packages, and your front porch from afar.
Images courtesy of ring.com
Wondering why a certain DIY home security system didn’t make the list?
We went by a very rigid and specific review methodology that brought our list from 22 systems down to three. If your product is missing from our recommended list, it probably didn’t meet the requirements set forth within our methods. However, if you feel there’s been a mistake, please let us know by tweeting @reviews and we’ll update our review!