The Best DIY Home Security
How We Found the Best DIY Home Security Systems
10 Systems Considered
8 Months of Testing
4 Top Picks
The Best DIY Home Security
DIY home security lets you take peace of mind into your own hands with live feeds, mobile alerts, and smart home integration — but the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming. We looked for affordable equipment, comprehensive mobile notifications, and flexible professional monitoring to find the best DIY security systems that give you the most control without breaking the bank.
How We Chose the Best DIY Home Security
Home security, your way
Every home is different, and so is every homeowner’s security needs. Like most technical services, you can pay for professionals to craft your home security system or you can take matters into your own hands. DIY home security means you customize your device kit, self-install, and then monitor alerts from your sensors and video feed. Self-monitoring is the common difference between DIY and traditional security, but there are plenty of companies that strike a happy medium between both. We looked at providers offering pure DIY as well as those offering professional monitoring, either de facto or as an upgrade.
We required all systems to have Z-Wave Support — the most universal mesh network for communicating appliance to appliance. One of the biggest draws of a DIY system is the opportunity to add in third-party equipment (like Philips Hue lights or a Nest thermostat) at any point. Z-Wave is available in over 2,400 home security and automation devices from more than 700 companies. Plus, you have flexibility in where you place various devices because Z-Wave can communicate farther distances than other protocols — like Wi-Fi, for example — since it functions by sharing an Internet connection between devices as opposed to a localized router.
Installation and function
Ultimately, we wanted systems that could integrate seamlessly into our homes and improve our quality of life. To find which fit the bill, we spent a day outfitting a 1,900 square-foot home with the equipment of our finalists. We appraised the installation process, the ease and clarity of registering and syncing, the app experience, and functionality. We were pleased to find we could get most systems up in less than half an hour, but the quality of both hardware and software differed. We docked points for flimsy or easy-to-knock-over physical elements and slow or dysfunctional cyber ones. Effective home security offers crisp and quick app interfaces (preferably with practical perks like customized sensor names and facial recognition) and instantaneous notifications.
The 4 Best DIY Home Security System
Why we chose it
Great hybrid option
Frontpoint captures the best of both DIY and professional systems, with self-installation and sophisticated equipment coupled with professional monitoring. It’s easy to choose your equipment online and purchase directly on Frontpoint’s website without having to call to place an order. We custom-built our package — a control panel, glass break sensor, and four access sensors — and then installed and arranged the system, and let professional monitoring services take care of the rest.
Easy DIY process
We found setup and installation extremely easy: The control panel comes pre-configured, so all you have to do is plug it in and hang devices on the wall with built-in adhesive pads. The mobile app guides every step of setup, and if at any point you’re stumped, you can call or check out the online video guides and detailed infographics.
Professionals on alert
With a professional sentry on your side, you’ve got someone looking out for your home 24/7. Frontpoint’s a good option if you like the idea of DIY installation and customization, but prefer the peace of mind of professional assistance. Its Interactive and Ultimate plans also come with “Crash and Smash” protection, which alerts security operators if your system goes offline. An essential feature if a thief tries to disable your alarm by unplugging or smashing your control panel.
Points to consider
Professional monitoring required
In addition to paying for equipment, Frontpoint requires a professional monitoring subscription plus a three-year contract. Monitoring plans range from $35 to $45 to $50 per month, each ascending tier unlocking additional features like home automation, mobile alerts, and camera storage. While not as flexible if you want to take a minimalist or independent approach to security, but appealing if you want the extra perks.
Frontpoint requires a big commitment after its 30-day trial: a three-year contract. If within three years, your housing situation or security priorities change, it could cost 80% of your remaining contract to cancel. It’s important to note that most professionally monitored security systems require years-long contracts. And Frontpoint also makes a big commitment to you — its equipment comes with a matching three-year warranty.
Abode Connected Home Security
Why we chose it
Abode was created by a former ADT employee, and it hits all the right notes: Completely free self-monitoring (with 3 days’ security history), a nuanced and powerful app, simple pairing procedures, compatibility with voice assistants and third-party devices, and a sleek, sturdy design to boot.
Robust free plan
Of all the DIY systems we looked at, Abode’s free self-monitoring plan packs the most punch. With no subscription whatsoever, you can use every feature available on the mobile app (which includes options like push notifications, a live surveillance feed, and system controls) and you get access to three days’ worth of system activity, like when a particular door was opened or a particular motion sensor was triggered. If you want to bump that history up to two weeks, the Connect plan costs $10 per month. And for $30 per month, you get 90 days of system activity plus professional monitoring.
Rather than restrict control to a physical hub hung on your wall, Abode puts control where you actually need it: in the palm of your hand. Abode’s security dashboard is accessible by any internet-connected device and gives you enough information to take action from wherever you are. When Abode’s motion sensors are triggered, it snaps a photo to show you what triggered it. The smart key fob and its three buttons — away, standby/disarm, and home — allow you to disarm as you walk towards the front door. We found that a lot more convenient than racing inside to beat the alarm’s 30-second window, particularly if you have an armful of groceries or a baby on your hip.
Abode sells a lot of its own devices (which are competitively priced), but it also supports a slew of third-party Z-Wave and ZigBee devices, including all the home automation basics: smart lights, deadbolts, outlets, wall switches. Whether you want to deck out your smart home with convenient automation or fortify it with access sensors and flood detectors, a third-party compatible security system gives you freedom to customize.
Points to consider
If DIY appeals to you as a way to keep costs down, then Abode’s luxury may feel like a step in the wrong direction. Its starter kit only comes with one door/window sensor, one motion sensor, and one fob — compared to Simplisafe’s entry-level kit with four door/window sensors and two motion sensors — and once you start adding additional equipment, Abode’s price starts to creep up. That said, our exceptional experiences with the system made us fall in love with it, high price tag and all.
Why we chose it
SimpliSafe offers equipment packages, as well as the option to build your own (each requires a hub and keypad, but beyond those you can add as many or as few sensors and cameras as you like). It’s also the easiest to get up and running. The app isn’t required for the installation, and you don’t have to use any software to pair devices — it’s plug-and-play.
Change your mind, change your plan
While it’s easy to install your SimpliSafe equipment on your own, you can also have a technician install it for $79. This service is great if you want a professional’s help in finding the best places to install sensors on your windows and doors. Perhaps one of the best perks is that SimpliSafe doesn’t require a long contract. You can cancel any time without paying a fee. SimpliSafe also offers flexibility with a generous 60-day free trial period — you get a refund if you aren’t satisfied during that time. After that, you’re covered by warranty for three years.
SimpliSafe offers two professional monitoring plans that work well with most budgets. Its Standard plan is $15 per month and includes 24/7 monitoring and environmental monitoring backed by a secure cellular connection. For $25 per month, you can get SimpliSafe’s Interactive plan which includes everything on the Standard plan plus smart home integration, video surveillance, and the ability to arm/disarm your home from the mobile app.
Points to consider
No alerts without professional monitoring
The SimpliSafe system requires a professional monitoring subscription to receive alerts. That’s because it relies on a cellular connection rather than internet, so someone needs to send you an SMS text. There’s no option to receive automatic in-app alerts. This also means your DIY security system is essentially a local alarm — meaning if a burglar breaks in, your alarm will activate, but the police won’t be alerted. You’ll have to pay for one of the professional monitoring plans to save yourself the task of keeping a constant eye on the video feed. That said, SimpliSafe’s plans are still some of the most cost-effective in the industry (its most expensive plan is still $10 cheaper than Frontpoint’s least expensive).
Why we chose it
Custom and pre-made DIY home security systems
With Scout you can choose to buy a pre-made set of curated devices or build your own (one scout hub plus however many or few supporting devices you choose). The Scout Small Pack, the more economical package deal, includes one hub, one door panel, one motion sensor, two access sensors, and two key fobs for $300.
Self-monitoring runs $10 a month and allows you to access the mobile app and receive alerts. If the task of self-monitoring proves too daunting, you can easily upgrade to professional. With either plan, paying for a full year rather than month-to-month saves 10%.
Supports a range of third-party devices
It’s not just what devices the system provides; it’s how many devices the system can accommodate. With Scout, you can beef up its straightforward security line-up with security and automation devices from a ton of third-party sources like Hue, Nest, and IFTTT. It vies with Abode for the most connectability security system.
Points to consider
No free monitoring
Whether you choose to monitor yourself or have professionals do it for you, you’ll still be charged. Scout charges $10 per month just for DIY monitoring — there is no free monitoring plan. DIY monitoring is only $10 less than the professional plan. This isn’t exceptional when it comes to DIY home security, however, since many have cellular connections. These connections work similarly to your cell phone plan and are more secure than traditional Wi-Fi or landline connections. But it’s important to note that even if you’re doing the monitoring yourself, you’ll still be charged to keep your system up and running.
Others to Consider
Canary is a great DIY home security system if you live in an apartment or only want basic protection. Canary keeps home security simple, anchoring it in one unassuming, feature-packed tower: the Canary View All-in-One. The tower hosts a 1080p streaming camera with high-quality night vision (the best IP camera we encountered), a motion sensor, an air quality sensor, and a crazy-loud, 90-decibel siren. It’s like starting a lawn-mower next to your face.
When the Canary detects motion, you get a notification on your phone that leads to a live stream of your home so that you can assess the situation. We had complete clarity at over 30 feet in pure blackness, which was the entire length of the room we used for testing. The video stream also appears a bit more stable than other DIY systems and seems to have less latency.
While we were impressed by Canary’s camera, the system isn’t great for homes with many access points (multiple doors and ground-floor windows). It also doesn’t have a backup cellular connection. Instead, it will give you a notification if it goes offline. Canary also doesn’t have Z-Wave compatibility, making it lag behind the competition when it comes to home automation.
One of the most well-known names in the home automation industry, Nest’s home security system — Nest Secure — is the logical addition to the company’s suite of smart home devices. Easy to integrate with other Nest gadgets, the Nest Secure is perfect for those who want a high-end, fully automated DIY security system. Unlike some systems that are DIY installation, but require you sign up for a professional monitoring plan, Nest Secure offers both professional and DIY monitoring — with DIY monitoring included for no additional charge.
If you do want professional monitoring, Nest partnered with Brinks to offer around-the-clock protection. Monitoring plans are flexible — you can choose from a month-to-month contract or a more traditional three-year option that saves you about $10 per month. We haven’t tested the Nest Secure yet — that’s why we don’t want to include it as a top pick — but if you’re looking for a sophisticated DIY home security system with robust automation features, the Nest Secure is worth looking into.
Guide to DIY Home Security
How to choose the security alarm system for your household
Pick your priorities
Video storage, home automation, and mobile access are three important considerations, and are offered at various levels from most providers.
Video storage: Depending on the company, video storage may be saved to the Cloud for anywhere between 12 hours and 30 days, and you have to pay for increased storage. Consider how long it’ll take you to review recorded activity, especially if you’re frequently away from the internet.
Home automation: If increasing the IQ of your smart home is a priority, you’ll want to look for providers that offer home automation equipment of their own and make it easy to integrate other brands.
Mobile access: All of our favorite home security companies offer mobile access in some capacity, so you can control and monitor your home when you’re away. If you choose to self-monitor, this will be especially important.
Choose the size of your system
Just need one camera to cover your front door? In it for the automation along with the smart home security? You can purchase pretty much any equipment piece independent of a full security system. For example, companies like Nest and Samsung offer indoor and outdoor cameras, thermostats, and doorbell cameras. You can purchase any of this à la carte, without the obligation of a starter kit. If you decide you want a fuller system down the line, you can always integrate those individual purchases.
Decide what kind of monitoring is right for you
Just like smart plugs and keyless deadbolts may not be for everyone, neither is self-monitoring. If you opt to DIY your system’s monitoring, it’s up to you to take action on reported activity. If you can handle fielding alerts (for both false alarms and real break-ins), just be sure that you keep your phone’s volume on and the battery charged. But if you suspect you may want the undivided attention of professional monitoring in the future, go with a company whose professional monitoring practices and prices align with your needs.
DIY Home Security FAQ
The Best DIY Home Security: Summed Up
Our Other Home Security Reviews
We have compared the plans and installed the gadgets, and have amassed favorite products and services to care for all aspects of your home. Check out our top picks in the reviews below.