While being home more often may seem to nullify the need for a security system, there are still several benefits to having one. Besides making you eligible for a break on insurance rates, there’s the peace of mind that comes with being able to easily monitor activity in your home, from the opening of windows and doors to water freezing or leaking.
Unlike days of yore, you’re no longer tied to professionally installed systems. Companies like Ring and ADT now offer a bevy of video doorbell and DIY home security system options, so you can both lower your costs and add customization to your security setup without sacrificing quality monitoring.
A DIY system is great for renters, those who want to get a full make-it-your-own experience or anyone looking to incorporate smart home gadgets into their overall system, as DIY systems generally play better with the popular smart home ecosystems. Professional systems on the other hand, provide a more traditional experience and take care of everything for you — including having technicians take care of any troubleshooting down the line — though that all comes with a heftier price attached.
Focusing on DIY options, CNN Underscored spent several months testing five of the most well-known and -reviewed options, comparing them against a professionally installed system from Vivint as a control in terms of monitoring and overall setup. Taking into account ease of installation, feature sets and, of course, value, we found one clear standout DIY security system.
Best home security system overall: Ring Alarm Pro (starting at $249.99; amazon.com)
Combining a painless, customizable installation with a wide-ranging feature set, the Ring Alarm Pro is unbeatable at a starting price of just $250, with the option to add 24/7 monitoring (which can alert authorities when needed).
Setup for the Ring Alarm Pro was the quickest of all the systems we tested, clocking in at under an hour to complete the install. After plugging in the brain of the system, the Base Station, and following a few guided steps from the app, you’re off to the races with installing sensors.
The Pro goes further than the standard Ring Alarm by becoming your router and the main mesh point if you’re using an Eero system. It has all the internet tech needed to provide strong speeds.
It can also keep the internet going if your power or wired connection goes out. As part of the $20-per-month Pro Protect Plan, you’ll get 3GB of data that can keep all your connected devices online. Ring also sells additional GBs for $3 each. And we’d implore that you customize which devices can tap into this cellular connection via the Eero app — where you’ll manage the router portion of the Ring Alarm Pro — so that you don’t run up a high bill.
If you use Ring cameras or doorbells as well, you can stop uploading footage to the cloud and save recordings locally onto an SD card. Ring also takes this a step further by processing the videos on-device, which is a nice privacy-centric feature and didn’t result in slower notifications in our testing.
We appreciated the customizability of the sensors, such as the ability to choose whether they’re factored in during an alarm mode or should be bypassed. When we had a window AC installed, for instance, we could easily choose to bypass that sensor for that window. While many systems support this level of customization, Ring Alarm’s options are easier to find and enact — it’s not only front and center when you open a sensor in the app, but there are also guides to walk you through setup. Ring’s contact sensors quickly updated us when a door was opened, shut or left open. We were on the hunt for false reads, such as a sensor believing the door was open when it wasn’t, but found none.
The motion detectors work well, though some of the system’s customizations aren’t so flawless. While Ring goes a step further than competitors by giving specific dog settings within the app — in which you can choose how high or wide the sensors will seek out motion — we did have some trouble perfecting these. With it set to small dogs, we had no issues with a miniature poodle wandering about. Larger dogs, though, set the sensors off from time to time. So you may have to play around with the settings to get it to work to your needs, or only set up the sensor in spots not frequented by your pooch.
Ring makes it easy to fit the system to your space — and needs. You can start with a prebuilt bundle — like an eight-piece kit for $299 — or get the Pro Base Station for $249.99 and pick the exact number of sensors you need. Ring sells contact sensors for $19.99 each, while additional motion detectors cost $29.99. Those with run-of-the-mill smoke detectors or carbon monoxide alarms can pair them to a listening device ($34.95) that can connect with your security system to get alerts through Ring Alarm. Those who just want to upgrade to a Pro Base Station for the internet backup or local footage can easily move their existing system over.
Ring Alarm can also connect to a host of other Ring and third-party devices, including door smart locks, garage door openers, household sensors and thermostats, all of which can in turn be controlled through the Ring app and pair quickly and seamlessly through the Base Station.
For $20 per month, Ring offers 24/7 monitoring, which includes instant check-in when alarms are activated and emergency dispatch should you require it. That’s at the cheaper end of the spectrum and includes the internet backup functionality. Other options often require the service to use other features. Simplisafe, for instance, charges $24.99 per month for professional monitoring in its “interactive” plan, which is required to use the app.
Ring’s monitoring is on point: In our testing, the average call response time was within 26 to 30 seconds of the Alarm being activated without entering the disarm code. We tested that by letting the alarm go off without entering the code and seeing how quickly Ring would call us. We never let it reach the point where the authorities were dispatched (and we do not recommend attempting this test). Ring’s response time was in line with the upper end of monitoring experiences of our test group.
Overall, Ring Alarm Pro shines as an excellent DIY system with lots of customization options that also doubles as a router. If you don’t need the router component or local storage for videos, the standard Ring Alarm is available starting at $199.99.
How we tested
We calculated points and recorded results throughout the installation process. Were the instructions clear and did they include all parts needed? How easy was it to get the main hub and all the sensors online?
Functionality and security capabilities were rated the highest. We paid close attention to the different monitoring modes and the adjustments a user could make around them. With monitoring, we put claims of response time to the test by triggering calls from the monitoring centers (but never dispatching local or state authorities). When it came to individual sensors, we attempted to trip contact and motion sensors to see how quickly status updates would register.
In terms of functionality, we looked at what could be connected within other smart home ecosystems and how easy it was to enable that functionality.
Throughout testing, we paid attention to the design of the hardware —- if it stuck out in a space or blended into the background, for instance —- and the usability and simplicity of any connected apps.
How we rated
Systems were scored using the categories and subcategories below:
Functionality and security had a maximum of 60 points: modes (20 points), monitoring (20 points), applications and smart home (20 points).Installation had a maximum of 25 points: overall (25 points).Design had a maximum of 15 points: build quality (10 points) and look or feel (5 points).Warranty had a maximum of 10 points: overall (10 points).
Others security systems we tested
Abode ($199.99, originally $231.99; amazon.com)
The Abode Smart Security Kit delivers a lot of capability in a pretty minimal package. For $229, you get the equivalent of a base station, a single motion sensor, a key fob and a contact sensor. It’s not a lot to get started with, but for a single apartment it could be a solid foundation. In our testing, this kit performed well but was a little more complicated to set up than the Ring Alarm, and it really puts a focus on the smart home rather than just security.
If that’s the core focus for you, know that Abode works with all the big ecosystems — Amazon, Google and Apple included — while also providing support for a number of accessories. Like Ring, Abode features ZWave, Zigbee, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth inside to make those connections.
And since you’ll likely need more than what the main kit offers, Abode sells a number of sensors directly, making it easy to build out the system for what you need. You get a lot of customization and can see the cost upfront for all of the sensors, versus a professional system that might have you lease the hardware.
Blue by ADT ($219.99; amazon.com)
One of the biggest appeals to Blue by ADT is the giant name brand associated with it. Blue by ADT is the brand’s no-contract DIY offering.
The most unique element of this system is more function in the main hub. It’s a gray rectangular box with a keypad built into the top. It also contains a siren and all the connectivity you could need. But with the $179.99 base plan, that’s all you get. ADT offers the standard sensors: contact sensors, motion detectors, flood sensor, cameras, doorbells, range extenders and the classic ADT shield for your windows. For $219.99, you’ll get the hub and two contact sensors.
ADT’s 24/7 Monitoring comes at the comparatively higher cost of $19.99 a month. The connected app leaves a bit to be desired, and there aren’t many options for smart home connections.
Simplisafe (starting at $172, originally starting at $229; simplisafe.com)
Simplisafe gives you a ton of choice —- with several pre-made kits and a ton of accessories to add to make your system. Our biggest qualm with Simplisafe was that you had to pay for the app within a plan. At a minimum, you’re looking at the cost of hardware and pairing it with the interactive plan, which is $24.99 a month.
If you look past the hefty price, Simplisafe is a great DIY product. Setup was simple and getting sensors online didn’t take all that long. We found the app to be a little clunky in comparison to Ring’s as you need to dig around for some settings. Simplisafe also plays nice with both the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
And if you’re willing to spend more, you can really get every sensor your home deserves. We also like that they make smoke and Co2 detectors that integrate directly with the system, so if you ever run into an issue and have 24/7 monitoring, those agents can act on it to keep you safe.