The home security industry has come a long way from those ugly, clunky keypads of the late '80s, but one thing hasn't changed: It's expensive. An alternative is installing a home security system yourself with a digital kit. In the last couple of years, this market has exploded with digital doorbells that monitor porch pirates to camera feeds of your home accessible right from your phone or tablet, but there's a lot to consider when DIYing your own home security. We've rounded up the best kits and brands for every need, home size and budget. Take a look at our top picks below to see which system is right for your home.
HOME SECURITY: PRO VS. DIY
Professional home security systems, such as ADT, come with hidden fees. It's not just one upfront payment (which can be $500+) for the system. These systems require a professional installation (for a fee) and professional monitoring (for a fee). Most professional systems require contracts for monthly monitoring similar to a cell phone bill. Starting from scratch to outfit a mid-sized home can easily exceed $1,000 in the first year. You can save a lot of money by going the DIY home security route because you install these kits yourself and most brands don't require a contract for yearly monitoring. Some offer flexible as-needed monthly monitoring. And others don't have professional monitoring at all; it's just on you. These systems send alerts right to your phone and you can monitor cameras and settings yourself for free via an app.
WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN SHOPPING
There's another big reason professional systems can be expensive, and it's not the hidden fees; it's the safety of the network. Professional home security systems are often run through private networks, but a DIY home security kit is powered by open networks and your Wi-Fi, and that can make you vulnerable to digital hackers. The dark irony is that by installing a digital system to help safeguard your home from physical intruders, you may be making it easier for digital intruders to break into your home. Hacking is much easier on these systems, so, like with any other smart device in your home, you should change passwords regularly, make sure the password is unique and not used on another site and make sure your Wi-Fi network for your home is password-protected, too.
Accessories are another thing to consider when shopping for the best home security system. These days, it's not just cameras and floodlights. Most at-home security systems have add-ons for digital doorbells with audio and video feeds as well as tiny motion sensors that can be placed both indoors and outside. And some systems don't even need a code anymore. Instead, you can use a handy digital key fob to swipe for entry.
Easiest System to Install: SimpliSafe
If we were to rank one DIY unit as best overall, it would be SimpliSafe. We even used it in this year's HGTV Smart Home. It's so good because it's so intuitive. Even if you're not a tech person and you don't have smart accessories in your home, you'll be fine setting up this system. It's not the cheapest in our roundup, but it's also not the most expensive. For around $250, you get both entry and motion sensors and there's no contract required. You can save money with the entry-level five-piece set, but we like the eight-piece package because it has enough sensors for multiple doors and comes with a panic button that can call the police.
When you think of DIY home security systems, you probably think of Ring. The brand, which is now owned by Amazon, is definitely one of the most popular in the home security space, and that's because it's a good value. At less than $200, you get an entry-level five-piece system with a base station, keypad, contact sensor, motion detector, range extender and no contract. Plus, it's compatible with Amazon Alexa. Other brands might seem cheaper with offers on systems priced at $100 or less, but these deals typically require a long-term contract commitment for professional monitoring with a monthly payment. Ring's popularity, however, means it's a target for hacking. Again, no matter which brand you buy, it's important to make sure the password you use is unique and not used as a login for another site.
Best System With Professional Monitoring: Samsung SmartThings
If you have a classic professional home security system and you'd like to save money but are reluctant to make the switch, Samsung and ADT have come together to make a new product that's the best of both worlds. The Samsung SmartThings system is a DIY kit that you install yourself. It runs on Wi-Fi just like other at-home units, but instead of just monitoring your camera feed on your cell phone, SmartThings is backed by ADT's trusted monitoring. And, unlike other ADT services, there's no contract. Any professional monitoring is month to month. In addition to break-ins, SmartThings also monitors for fires and floods, and these alerts are all managed through one ADT security hub.
Easiest System for Guests: Google Nest
I once house sat for a friend and she had a digital home security system. I was given a specific code to use every time I opened and closed the front door. It was so annoying, and I definitely forgot the code. For a code to be good, it needs to be more than just 1234… But for house guests — or even renters — it's hard to remember yet another random password. The Google Nest cuts out the need for long passwords with handy fobs that you just tap for entry. It's so much easier if you're managing an income property or have a guest house or mother-in-law suite. Other brands have similar keychain fobs, but Google Nest includes them in their starter pack as opposed to an add-on purchase. And, as the name suggests, the system is compatible with Google Assistant.
Best System for Small Spaces: Kangaroo
Most DIY home security systems are designed for small homes, but if you need something smaller for a condo, an apartment or even a tiny home, Kangaroo has some mini bundles just for small spaces. This is also the best deal if the only reason you need a home security system is for monitoring deliveries and preventing package theft. Kangaroo has a professional front porch monitoring plan for less than $2 a month or about $24 a year.
Best System for Smart Homes: Abode
If you enjoy new tech and already have smart devices in every room, you'll love Abode. This company is all about nifty accessories and customization. Unlike other brands, you can build your own system specifically curated to your exact square footage and home type. You can also buy a starter system on Amazon, but you'll want the cool add-ons such as their slim sensor strip that can fit in a door or window gap or a vibration sensor just for breaking glass. Another great thing about Abode is that it plays well with others. It's compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple HomeKit.