Best DIY home security systems
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The best DIY home security systems bring user-friendliness, easy installation and practical features into a single package.
During our testing, we found that Scout Alarm meets most of these expectations and exceeds others, and we recommend it as the best overall DIY home security system.
It doesn't clutter your home with tons of equipment but sticks to the basics such as entry sensors and optional professional monitoring.
While Scout Alarm requires a monthly fee to help pay for server maintenance and customer support, there's no contract commitment so you only pay for service when you need it.
For a professional security system from providers such as Brinks Home Security, ADT and Vivint, check out our comparison of the best home security systems.
Scout Alarm's mobile app is intuitive and simple, which makes it easy to secure and monitor your home. You can customize alerts and arm the system with a single tap on your smartphone.
Scout Alarm uses your home's internet connection to keep you up to date on your home's security. If the power goes out, the battery backup means the system can still set off alarms if someone tries to break in. Scout's large and small starter kits on Amazon are a good way to get the starter devices you need for your system such as door panels, entry sensors and key fobs. One downside to Scout Alarm is that you must pay a monthly fee ($9.99) to use the system, but this fee pays for built-in cellular backup, which is often more expensive with other DIY home security systems. There's no contract so you can cancel service if you don't need it. You can also upgrade a Scout Alarm system to include professional monitoring ($19.99/month), so you can get extra protection when you're unable to monitor your home yourself. This system is the easiest to install as it walks you through every step of the setup process in the mobile app, taking about 10 minutes to install. Scout Alarm works with the smart home platforms from Amazon, Nest and IFTTT. When we tested Scout's siren, it wasn't as loud as other security alarms we tested, but it is loud enough that other sounds in your home shouldn’t drown it out. Scout's one-year warranty isn't very long compared to the three-year warranties from competitors, and the company doesn't sell any security cameras for the system.
SimpliSafe is one of the best DIY home security systems for professional monitoring, which costs around $15 a month. This is a lower price than Scout and abode, though it lacks smartphone app controls.
Unlike the competition, SimpliSafe uses a cellular connection for its primary connection, something that other systems only use as a backup. The company also offers a great selection of security and safety sensors. The system is easy to set up and comes with a detailed instruction booklet. SimpliSafe's three-year warranty is the best among DIY security systems, with most competitors only offering one year of coverage. If you want to control your SimpliSafe system with a smartphone, you can expect to pay about $25 a month, which is higher than average. This is disappointing considering SimpliSafe's smartphone app only offers limited functionality due to the fact you can't use the system with many smart home devices.
Best User Experience
The thing we liked most about abode is that it's more user-friendly than other DIY home security systems we tested. You can set up different modes such as home, vacation and away and specify which devices are active in each mode.
There's no monthly fee for self-monitoring, but you pay extra if you want cellular backup and security camera backup ($10) for your system. You can also get monthly professional home monitoring ($30), which includes the backup features mentioned above. One of the best things about abode is you can buy the amount of professional monitoring you need on a monthly, weekly or even a three-day basis. This is particularly convenient when you can't monitor the system on your own during vacations. To install abode, you need to connect the base station to your router using an Ethernet cable and set up the sensors with the mobile app. It takes about 10 minutes to set up. When we tested the built-in siren, it was one of the loudest, making it hard for intruders to ignore. There's a 10-hour backup battery that keeps your system functional when the power goes out. Another thing that makes abode so easy to use is its ability to talk to devices from Nest and Amazon, as well as Z-Wave and ZigBee devices. You can also link your abode system to other smart home devices via the IFTTT online task automation service. abode's one-year warranty isn't robust, but it’s typical of DIY smart home systems.
Best Premium System
Nest Secure is the best premium DIY security system due to its unique Nest Detect entry sensors, excellent monitoring options and seamless integration with other Nest smart home devices, particularly the Nest x Yale smart lock.
While it’s not as easy to install and use as Scout Alarm, Nest Secure has an intuitive setup process and is one of the best DIY security systems if you already have more than a few of Nest’s smart home devices in your home. Likewise, we found that using the system wasn’t as simple as abode, but is still better than the majority of systems we tested. Nest’s two-year warranty is one of the best in our comparison. The main drawback behind Nest Secure is that it’s more expensive than other systems we tested at $400. If you want professional monitoring, Nest Secure has a partnership with Brinks Home Security that offers no-contract ($29/month) and three-year contract ($19/month) options. You can also use the system without monitoring, which doesn’t require a monthly fee.
Latest News & Updates (January 2019)
Here are some new and noteworthy DIY security systems that we haven’t tested yet but plan to evaluate later this year:
- Samsung SmartThings ADT Home Security Starter Kit: This system combines ADT home security monitoring with Samsung’s excellent smart home platform. (Released in October 2017 for $499)
- Ring Alarm: This system offers professional monitoring for $10 a month, making it the least-expensive security system on the market, DIY or otherwise. This Amazon-owned company also makes a line of popular video doorbells. (Released in July 2018 for $199)
- Honeywell Smart Home Security: This system has an all-in-one base station that also acts as a security camera, an Amazon Alexa smart speaker, a motion detector and a siren. Honeywell makes a variety of sensors for this system, and the unit is compatible with Google Assistant, IFTTT and Z-Wave smart home platforms. (Released in August 2018 for $349)
- Arlo Security System: This system uses the Arlo SmartHub and works with Arlo Multi-Sensors, the Arlo Siren and the Arlo Remote. The most interesting devices in the system are the Arlo Multi-Sensors, which are similar to the Nest Detect sensors in that they can act as both motion detectors and entry sensors on doors and windows. They can also detect water leaks and the temperature, and they alert you when smoke and carbon monoxide detectors go off. (Announced in January 2019, with expected release in the second half of 2019; pricing isn’t available yet)
Why trust us on home automation systems?
We've reviewed DIY home security systems for over four years. During this time, we've honed our testing process to look at over 100 distinct factors to determine how well a system works. Each time we update our reviews, we also update our scores based on how customers currently perceive the products. We do this by extensively researching user reviews at retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe's.
When we test, we borrow some of the DIY security systems from their manufacturers and buy others. Although we may reach out for technical support or for clarification on a particular feature, the companies have no input on our testing practices and we don’t share our results or rankings with them before publishing our reviews.
As we researched this topic and security systems in general, we reached out to Jamie Vos, vice president of the Electronic Security Association (ESA) for his thoughts on DIY systems. He emphasized professional monitoring for security systems: “If you receive a text alert, you may not be in a condition to respond and you may not hear an alarm. At that point, you have lost valuable response time, whereas a professional monitoring station can automatically alert first responders.”
We also contacted Kirk MacDowell, a board member with the Security Industry Association (SIA) and president of MacGuard Security Advisors Inc. He said a security system can act as a central heartbeat in the home. “Devices such as locks that can be opened remotely, home light control and thermostats that can raise or lower temperature are all tied into one convenient app and then tied into the alarm, making the operation seamless.”
How we tested DIY home automated systems
For each new DIY security system, we test in two areas: user experience and ease of installation. These help build a picture of a system's effectiveness and how it affects you.
For user experience tests, we see what each system and its companion smartphone app can do. In our experience, the best DIY home security systems have many ways to arm and disarm so you don't always need your smartphone. They also let you use a keypad or key fob to accomplish the same goal. We look at activity feeds and the organization of the mobile app to see what information an app gives you when an alarm goes off and if the alert gives you instant info. The top performers in this test were abode and Scout Alarm, with Nest Secure and SimpliSafe tying for third place.
During installation tests, we make sure the manual or mobile app can get you through the setup process without contacting the company. We also look at whether the equipment in each system's starter kit requires additional tools such as screwdrivers and batteries. Finally, we time how long it takes to set up each component. We found Scout Alarm, SimpliSafe and abode easier to set up than most other DIY security systems.
How much do DIY security systems cost?
There are three costs you can expect with most DIY security systems: equipment, access fees and professional security monitoring. You can expect to spend an average of $250 on equipment, though this goes up as you buy more sensors. Access fees are sometimes required to unlock all or part of a system's self-monitoring features for about $10 a month.
With regards to professional monitoring, you can expect to pay between $15 and $30 a month for the service, which generally covers any access fees as well. This is lower than the $37 average on traditional security systems and doesn't require a contract; not all DIY security systems have professional monitoring.
What equipment should you get?
Begin with a starter kit that covers your basic DIY home security needs such as the number of motion detectors and entry sensors for your home's size. From there, you can choose other devices to enhance the surveillance around your home. Most of the systems we tested sell add-ons to boost your security beyond the basics.
The most useful add-ons are third-party smart home devices. Scout Alarm, abode, SimpliSafe, SwannOne, Wink and Iris by Lowe's can all integrate with Nest, which means you can set up your home security system to work with other Nest products such as a security camera.
Half of the systems we tested can also use If This Then That (IFTTT), a free internet-based automation service that helps DIY security systems and third-party smart home devices work together. Of course IFTTT goes beyond smart home tasks, but we're unsure if linking your security system to financial services and restaurants has any material benefits at this time.
Very few systems offer smoke detectors as an add-on, and in the case of home8alarm, it uses a fireman device to send alerts when your smoke detectors go off. Most DIY security systems in our tests sell security cameras that record video if it detects motion, which can be used to help with police reports or insurance claims.
Although most home security systems include alarms or sirens in their hubs, you can buy separate sirens to place closer to entry points for maximum effect, which can deter intruders and alert your family of a break-in.
More Home Security Guides:
Iris by Lowe's is the best value among DIY home security systems because it combines a capable system with the lowest prices we've seen. It's not as easy to set up and use as Scout Alarm and abode, but it works well enough for self-monitoring your home as well as for professional monitoring.
For basic home security options, you can get the Iris Security Pack and the Iris Smart Hub. This isn't a combined kit like other systems we tested, but Lowe's sometimes includes the Smart Hub as a bonus item at no cost. Even at full price, the Security Pack and Smart Hub are less expensive than the competition. Iris has three no-contract service plans: basic, premium and professional monitoring. The basic plan is free, gives you control over your system and sends alerts to your smartphone when the alarm goes off. The premium plan ($9.99/month) expands the basic plan controls and adds video storage. The professional monitoring plan ($14.95/month) adds cellular backup and links your home to a certified monitoring station that can send emergency responders to your home. This professional monitoring plan is the cheapest among the systems we tested, tied with SimpliSafe. For cellular backup, you need to buy a modem that plugs into the Smart Hub. The keypad in the Security Pack has a built-in siren, but it's one of the quietest we tested. This system is compatible with more smart home devices than the others we tested. You can connect Z-Wave, ZigBee, Alexa, Nest and Google Home and over 70 other devices.
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Scout Alarm is easy to install and, while not as user-friendly as abode, has an excellent mobile app. It also works with smart home devices from Amazon and Nest.
Iris by Lowe's
Iris by Lowe's sells its Security Pack and hub separately, but still costs less than other systems we tested. It's also a great starting point for your smart home.
abode is the most user-friendly system we tested thanks to helpful notifications and an option-packed mobile app, but it still offers the choice to pay for on-demand monitoring while vacationing.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Price||Security & Monitoring||Setup & Equipment||Add-on Equipment||Basic Self-Monitoring||Premium Self-Monitoring||Monthly Professional Monitoring||User Experience||Primary Connection||Backup Connection||Battery Backup||Installation Process||Entry Sensors||Motion Detector||Key Fob||Signs & Decals||Other Devices Included||Warranty||Smart Home Platforms||Security Camera|
|Scout Alarm SC-ARC-SKT-02||View Deal||4.5/5||3.4||4.8||4.6||4.5||$9.99||Not Available||$19.99||95||Ethernet||Cellular||✓||98||2||1||2||✓||Door Panel; RFID Tags||1 Year||Alexa, Google Home, Nest, IFTTT, Z-Wave||✓|
|SimpliSafe - The Protect||View Deal||4.5/5||3.8||4.7||4.3||4.5||$0||$24.99||$14.99||92||Cellular||Internet||✓||95||4||1||0||✓||Keypad||3 Years||Alexa, August, Google Home, Nest||✓|
|abode Essentials Starter Kit||View Deal||4.5/5||3.8||5||4||4.5||$0||$10.00||$30.00*||99||Ethernet||Cellular||✓||92||1||1||1||✓||1 Year||Alexa, Nest, Google Home, IFTTT, ZigBee, Z-Wave||✓|
|Nest Secure Alarm System Starter Pack||View Deal||4.5/5||3.8||4.7||4.2||4.5||$0||$0||$29.00||92||Wi-Fi||Cellular||✓||91||2||3||2||✖||2 Years||Nest, LIFX, Lutron, Hue, Kasa||✓|
|Iris by Lowe's Smart Hub + Security Pack||4/5||4.7||4.3||3.5||4.5||$0||$9.99||$14.95||85||Ethernet||Cellular*||✓||81||2||1||0||✖||Keypad||✖||Alexa, Nest, Google Home, ZigBee, Z-Wave||✓|
|SwannOne||View Deal||4/5||4.4||3.8||3.8||4.5||$0||$0||$19.99||85||Wi-Fi; Ethernet||✓||89||2||1||2||✓||1 Year||Nest, ZigBee||✓|
|SkyLinkNet SK-200||View Deal||4/5||3.8||4||3.8||4.5||$0||$0||89||Ethernet||✓||85||2||1||1||✖||1 Year||Alexa, IFTTT||✓|
|iSmartAlarm Preferred Package||View Deal||4/5||3.8||3.2||4.3||4.5||$0||$0||87||Ethernet||✖||90||2||1||2||✓||1 Year||Alexa, IFTTT||✓|
|home8alarm Video-Verified Security Alarm||View Deal||3.5/5||2.8||3.7||4.1||5||$0||$9.99||86||Ethernet||Cellular*||✖||88||2||1||1||✖||HD Camera||1 Year||Alexa, Hue, IFTTT||✓|
|Wink Lookout||View Deal||3.5/5||3.8||2.8||3.4||4.5||$0||$0||75||Wi-Fi; Ethernet||✖||75||2||1||0||✖||Siren||1 Year||Alexa, Nest, Google Home, ZigBee, Z-Wave, August, Ring||✓|