The Best Inexpensive DIY Home Security Systems
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Whether you own or rent your home, a security system offers peace of mind against theft, fire and other hazards. However, monthly fees for professionally monitored security systems may be too much for your budget.
If you've shopped around and concluded that monitored systems won't work for you, you still have options. Connected home technology offers great DIY home security choices with the advantages of a traditional security system at a fraction of the cost.
Pros and cons of DIY security systems
A DIY home security system has its pros and cons. Before you commit, here's what you need to know.
- As the name implies, by going DIY, you don't get professional installation. On the flip side, these systems are usually easy to set up. They're wireless and require no special mounting hardware. Typical units need only a power outlet (or batteries) and a place to sit.
- Because you don't have to drill holes in the wall to install these systems, they're a great choice for renters. You can set them up anywhere without damage and take them with you when you go.
- There are no contracts or required monthly fees, which makes DIY systems an attractive option for keeping monthly costs down.
- You can buy as much or as little security system as you want. Most DIY systems are modular, with components like cameras, smoke detectors and door sensors. Customize your system to include only what you want. You don’t have to pay for a one-size-fits-all package with these systems.
- You may be losing out on professional monitoring if you choose a DIY system. The trade-off for no monthly fee is that no one's keeping an eye on your system except you. While some companies offer monitoring to go with DIY security systems, a monthly fee will be involved.
- Your system is only as good as your monitoring because, again, without professional monitoring, you're the one doing the monitoring. A DIY security system is designed to work with your mobile device, letting you check your system from wherever you are and sending notifications if anything's amiss. This requires a bit more attention on your part, so bear that in mind if you choose a DIY system.
Picking the perfect security system
If a DIY system is the right option for you, the next step is deciding what kind of system to buy. If you've already been shopping around, you know there's a dizzying array of options. We narrowed down the field to the best systems for the average user, so we only considered systems that included these features.
- A hub with internet access connects all the individual parts of your security setup and lets them work together. Internet access ensures you can access your system from anywhere.
- A smartphone app for remote monitoring lets you keep an eye on your home.
- Door sensors detect when doors are opened.
- Window sensors detect when windows are opened.
- Movement sensors detect when something moves within a room.
- An internet-connected camera lets you see what's happening live in your home.
- A high-decibel alarm scares off thieves and alerts neighbors of a problem.
While the above features are essential for a good system, a few additional features can make a good system even better.
- Professional monitoring adds a monthly fee, but it can give you solid system without the contract required by traditional services.
- Compatibility with other smart home gear can be a great benefit if you have a smart home set up already. If you've invested in smart home tech, look for a security system that works with it.
- Battery backup allows your system (or at least parts of it) to work without power.
Considering these features, we narrowed down the best available DIY home security systems to just four: Samsung’s SmartThings, the iSmartAlarm, the Piper NV and the Insteon. All include our must-have features, and each works with certain types of smart home systems. Which one is right for you?
Piper's systems are as streamlined as you can get. The core of the Piper NV system is a single device that contains a camera with night vision and a 180-degree field of view, a motion detector and sensors that detect light, sound, temperature and humidity, and a 105-decibel alarm. All you have to do is set the unit on a shelf, plug it into a power source (and add batteries, in case the power goes out) and connect it to your Wi-Fi network. You're good to go.
Set up your Piper through the smartphone app for iPhone or Android, then configure simple rules for what it should do when it detects anything. You can check on the house at any time and get alerts by push messages from the app, text messages, email or phone calls.
There are two ways to add additional functionality to the Piper. The system is compatible with Z-Wave compatible home automation devices; paving the way to add a world of smart sensors and gadgets to your Piper. Expand it into a full-fledged security system with door and window sensors, or turn it into a home automation system with connected thermostats, lights and more. The Piper also supports IFTTT, giving you even more ways to connect it with other smart gadgets.
Though the Piper is more of a one-size-fits-all solution, it’s a great choice if you’re looking for simple setup, and you can still expand it with add-ons if you decide you want to.
Price: $235 from Amazon
If you don't already have a smart home setup but want one, Samsung's SmartThings gives you everything you need for both a smart home and smart home security. Like other products in this category, SmartThings includes a hub that connects to other SmartThings devices including motion sensors, multipurpose sensors that can sense open doors, windows and more, smart outlets that let you to control light fixtures or electronics, arrival sensors that tell when someone in the family arrives home and water leak sensors to alert you about leaks.
The SmartThings Home Monitoring Kit ($241) is the place to start. It includes a hub, two multipurpose sensors, one motion sensor and one outlet. While you may want to add to it — both the camera ($139+) and audible alarm ($49) are extra — the kit includes all the basics.
SmartThings' strength is the number of products that work with it. It works with cameras from Samsung and D-Link, lights from Philips and Cree, locks from Yale and Quickset, thermostats from Honeywell and many more. Everything can be controlled through the SmartThings app for iPhone, Android or Windows Phone. Automate routines or configure certain things to happen when someone comes home, like turning the lights on. See what's happening at home, and control any connected device from your smartphone.
If you want professional monitoring, SmartThings is the only item on this list to offer it. A bundle that includes the Home Monitoring Kit and seven months of monitoring from Scout costs $279. After the first seven months, you pay $10 a month — a good price compared to most professionally monitored systems.
The downside to SmartThings is cost and complexity. While the number of products available gives you a great range of options, it can make it harder to figure out what you need, and everything you add adds to the price tag. However, the system’s expandability makes it an excellent choice for anyone looking to build a smart home system.
While the iSmartAlarm doesn't work with as many third-party gadgets as Samsung's SmartThings, deciding what you need with your iSmartAlarm system is a lot less daunting. It covers all of our must-have basics including an internet-enabled hub (the CubeOne), three camera options (including cameras that can tilt and pan and see in the dark), a 110-decibel alarm, motion sensors, door and window sensors, smart switches and remote tags that offer easy push-button control of the system and make it easy to track who's home and who isn't.
A variety of bundles make it easy to one-click shop without having to think too hard about which individual components you need to pick up. You can still customize by adding extra components. The companion app, available for iPhone and Android devices, lets you monitor the system live. See who's home, watch live video and see what doors are open or closed. Unfortunately, Windows Phone users will want to look elsewhere.
The Preferred Package ($178) gives you a basic setup with a CubeOne, motion sensor, two contact sensors and two remote tags. As with the SmartThings system, you'll have to add a camera ($99+) and audible alarm ($39) if you want them. If you need a package that comes with a camera, get the Preferred Video Bundle ($329), which includes a CubeOne, motion sensor, two contact sensors, two remote tags and an iCamera that offers pan and tilt as well as night vision capabilities. If neither bundle sounds like the right fit, iSmartAlarm offers several others, one of which is sure to suit your needs.
To connect to other smart home devices, iSmartAlarm uses IFTTT (if this then that), which lets you create a variety of "recipes" that tell your iSmartAlarm or other smart devices to do specific things when certain conditions are met. For example, you might turn on your Philips Hue lights when iSmartAlarm registers the door opening or arm your alarm system when your phone is detected leaving the house. Setup is simple. Connect your smart devices to IFTTT, and then select preconfigured recipes or build your own custom recipes to make things work just the way you want.
Another modular system, Insteon, lets you pick a hub (either the basic Insteon Hub or the HomeKit-enabled Insteon Hub Pro) and then add the devices you want. Choose from cameras, sensors, door locks, smart outlets, thermostats (including the popular Nest), lights and plenty more. Your system can be as simple or as complex as you'd like. As with the rest of the systems on this list, you can monitor and control everything through your iPhone or Android smartphone.
Insteon's stand-out feature is compatibility with Apple's HomeKit and Amazon's Alexa, which lets you control your system by voice control through Siri or Alexa, respectively. The basic hub is an affordable $69, although to get Siri support and compatibility with other HomeKit devices, you'll need the pricier HomeKit Hub for $149. While the price is great, remember that you'll have to add extra pieces to get a complete system. Depending on what you need, you could end up spending more or less on the Insteon than other systems.
If HomeKit and Siri compatibility are top of your must-have list, Insteon is the way to go. Amazon fans will get good use out of Insteon, too, if they own any Alexa devices like the Echo.
Updated on 8/17/2016 with new product picks.
[Image credits: iStockPhoto, Piper, Samsung, iSmartAlarm, Insteon]