Once upon a time, one might not have been able to purchase a “Home Security System” unless an expert technician came to your house and ran wires through the walls. Thankfully, today the systems are wireless and much easier to install.
Traditional security companies have had to adapt as they face a wave of newer, tech-savvy competitors, such as Abode, Amazon-owned Ring, Cove, SimpliSafe and Wyze. For example, professional security stalwart ADT acquired DIY security company Life Shield in early 2019 and rebranded it as its own DIY offering called Blue by ADT. They then partnered with Google in 2020 and integrated their security offerings with Google’s Nest smart home products. Later that year Google discontinued its own Nest Secure DIY system.
What does this change in the industry mean for you? More affordable prices and a wider range of goods as companies will likely attempt to beat their competitors. According to a research report by Mintel, 29% of U.S consumers are interested in owning a security system soon. This is compared with 21% who are interested in owning smart speakers – one of the most popular categories of smart home goods today.
Many smart home security systems are now like having a penthouse suite in your apartment. One app controls the lights, thermostat, locks and more for your entire home.
Some of the most popular systems on the market today are DIY kits for novices. These allow you to install, set up and monitor your home yourself.
DIY security systems are sold as starter kits that come with the core components you need to secure a single door or small window. You can then add additional pieces, like motion sensors and cameras, à la carte to augment your system as needed. Consumer Reports’s team of experts is here to help by breaking down what to choose when considering DIY security units for your home.
How to Set Up and Test a DIY Home Security System
Because of the complex nature of both home security and testing, Consumer Reports test engineers spend a lot of time fine-tuning our test methodology. We rate products for: Security Essentials, Security Add-ons (Doors Sensors, Motion Sensor….), Smart Home Devices (Outdoor Cams that integrate with your alarm), Ease of Use and Setup, Flexibility of Professional Monitoring Options (dispatchers respond 24/7) as well as 2FA options on ALL user accounts to prevent unauthorized access.
Our security engineers evaluate each system for features and functionality that Consumer Reports believes consumers should expect from any modern security system. That includes features like motion sensors, contact sensors for doors and windows, key fobs, keypads, remote sirens, and smartphone apps.
Next, our product experts look at security add-ons. These are features that offer extra forms of protection, such as panic buttons or pendants, as well as security cameras that trigger the alarm with motion detection.
We examine the full feature set of top security systems, considering their smart-home-integration capabilities and their compatibility with smoke/CO detectors, water and temperature sensors, thermostats, and lighting.
Our ease-of-use test looks at how easily you can interact with the systems through your mobile applications and keypads. We evaluate whether or not there is an option to adjust the sensitivity of motion sensors, as well as a setting that allows you to use geofencing (a feature that tells your system when you leave and return home using your phone’s location data) in order to arm and disarm the system automatically. We also judge how difficult it is to set up each system.
Ultimately, our goal is to help improve every product and give it the recognition it deserves. We do this by splitting up motion detection into two separate categories—slow movement and rapid movement—and then calculating an overall score for each product based on how well they performed in both categories.
The DIY home security market has seen a host of new entrants, including Cove, Eufy, Kangaroo, Ring, and Wyze. There were even two systems that were offered by well-known brands such as Google Nest and Samsung SmartThings for a brief period of time before being discontinued.
The most successful companies are the ones that understand that customers aren’t loyal to price. Hardware startups like Eufy, Cove, Ring and Kangaroo all offer products under $200 while Wyze has made their kit available for a breathtakingly affordable $50.
Many of these companies offer competitively priced professional monitoring plans. For example, Eufy and KarKoo charge $100 per year for the most basic annual monitoring plan while Wyze charges $60 a year or $5 a month.
Traditional monitoring might be standard in the home security industry, but Ring is looking to shake things up. Their former Basic package charged $100 per year for monitoring, but they double their prices in exchange for more features offered in their new Ring Alarm Pro system. The system comes with a few unique extras like home internet backup and even doubles as a mesh WiFi router. However, it’s too early to tell if these novel features will make competitors follow suit or not!
Aside from more options and generally lower prices, another big trend in the smart home space is tighter integration with other smart home products. For example, Amazon now offers a feature for its connected speakers called Alexa Guard, which uses the speaker’s microphones to listen for signs of smoke alarms going off. In addition to that, it listens for other signs of possible break-ins: glass breaking sounds for instance as well as any other suspicious cues. Alexa Guard can be integrated with security systems, such as those from Abode (which are made by Zonoff who was bought out by GE), ADT, Ring and Scout Alarm so you can forward these alerts to professional monitoring dispatchers.
Although the smart home industry is still in its infancy, it’s expected to grow exponentially thanks to adoption of a new communications standard called Matter. Through this standard, different companies will be able to join together as one’s smart product brand grows more and more popular. That way, all you’ll have to do is invest in multiple products without having any issues when it comes down to the way they connect with each other.
The standard already has support from more than 170 companies like ADT, Amazon, Apple, Google and Resideo (maker of Honeywell Home) which is great because we know how valuable their expertise will be. The first certified products are expected to arrive by 2022.
Different Types of Home Security Systems:
You should compare a professionally installed home security system with a DIY home security system to see which best fits your needs.
DIY Wireless Home Security Systems
A number of home security systems are available in packages that let you install them yourself. We recommend you only need to self-monitor your system with a smartphone app, but some systems require you to pay for professional monitoring. A variety of systems offer optional professional monitoring that begins automatically when you set the system up and can be canceled whenever you like, such as when you go on a vacation.
Pros: Systems with professional monitoring give you more options. Usually they are less expensive than professionally installed systems with long term contracts. Many DIY systems are also easy to customize and expand over time with sensors and accessories that can be purchased separately.
Corns: If you don’t have an alarm installed by an expert, the equipment costs could be higher. A self-monitored system is not monitored 24/7 by trained professionals – if a system is present but has never been set up or configured correctly, or if one misses a smartphone alert at a critical moment, it could open your home up to potential intruders.
Professionally Installed Home Security Systems
Security alarms are installed by a technician and connected to an alarm-monitoring center that has dispatchers who can verify triggered alarms and alert law enforcement. Many alarm systems, like those offered by ADT, offer a smartphone app for remote control and monitoring but they require customers to pay more per month if they want to use the feature. There is usually an up-front cost for equipment and installation as well as a required multiyear contact with recurring monthly costs for monitoring. (Consumer Reports tests these systems every year.)
Thanks to multiyear contracts, equipment may be significantly discounted. A technician sets up the system for you. Your system is constantly monitored by a professional.
Monthly fees are in the range of $40 or more. You’re locked into a contract for multiple years.
Basic Security System Sensors and Components:
Home security systems are composed of many individual sensors (battery-powered devices ranging in size from a pack of gum to large box of matches) and other components, such as keypads and alarm sirens.
There are many elements to be considered when configuring a security system and they all each serve the purpose of ensuring everyone at home stays safe! These elements include motion sensors, motion detectors, contact sensors, door and window sensors and sirens.
The base station acts as the brain of the security system, wirelessly connecting to all of your security components and acting as a bridge between each device and your home’s internet connection. This device is also kitted out with a backup battery which will ensure that it stays powered in the event of power failures, as well as having connectivity to a communicative network so that if you have a home phone line for example, the security device will still be on the line when you call for help in an emergency.
These sensors attach to doors and windows so that you’re notified if they’ve been opened or closed.
Great for rooms with multiple doors or windows, these sensors detect the movement of people. Some are calibrated to not go off if it senses pets.
With some systems, you’ll use a 10-digit keypad to enter the access codes that arm and disarm the alarm system.
Your home security system can be easily operated using a touch screen similar to the ones used in tablets. The panel comes with options for arming and disarming the system, allowing you to enter codes, and control other smart home devices.
Key fobs and tags:
Similar to the keys you might use to drive your car, these fobs have arming and disarming buttons, some of which also contain RF (radio frequency) tags so be wary if you attempt to tap one on a system’s keypad or base station as this could trigger an alarm.
Most base stations have a range of a few hundred feet. Extenders can be used to increase the wireless range of a base station farther into your home. In other cases, individual wireless units (as well as extenders) act as repeaters that enhance the performance of other wireless devices further into your home building.
Add-On Sensors and Components
Most security systems also offer numerous accessory components and sensors at additional costs for functions other than your home’s basic information monitoring. As with the base system, here you’re likely to see some of the most common add-on components as you shop:
It is possible to purchase your own wireless security cameras, which are both cost effective and give you the peace of mind that comes from having a strong system when you first get started. Security cameras can provide real life footage from your office in the event there is an emergency.
Environmental sensors and alarms:
Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, water leak detectors and freeze sensors are a few of the standard types of sensors used with many systems. The most important thing to know when deciding which system to purchase is what your specific security needs are because even if you have an alarm that can converse with you through voice activation, if there’s a water leak in your basement then that’s more likely to pose as a serious safety risk than any kind of break-in!
These sirens can be placed away from the base station for optimal silencing power. They are also battery-operated, perfect for homes in which the most powerful signal cannot be received outside of a home.
Glass-breaking sensors: These sensors can detect the sound if, for example, an intruder smashes a window to get inside.
Front-facing garage door sensors:
These sensors are positioned on the external side of your garage door and installed on the support wall. They determine the state of your garage door – whether it is currently open or shut.
Panic buttons and pendants: It’s a good idea to have a physical panic button or necklace that can alert your monitoring service that you need help. They’re very simple to use and are designed to alert people around you in the event of a difficult situation. This makes them ideal for individuals who tend to make hazardous situations for themselves, like wandering or falling for example.
Contracts for Professionally Installed Systems
Professionally installed home security systems usually require that you sign a contract extension lasting two to five years. While contracts limit your freedom and commitment for the next couple of years, there are a few perks.
“A three-year contract is a good way to guarantee that monthly fees won’t increase,” says Kirk MacDowell, president of home security consulting firm MacGuard Security Advisors. He adds that having a contract will help ensure that your system will be maintained and updated with the latest software.
Considerations for Self-Installed Security Systems
Professional Monitoring vs. Self-Monitoring
A big factor in your purchase—and the long-term cost of your system—is whether you want professional monitoring. With pro monitoring, a team of trained dispatchers will monitor your system 24/7 and alert the authorities, if necessary.
We do not use any monthly fees and we let customers self-monitor their property. However, it also means that if you miss a notification on your smartphone, this could be the difference between being robbed and thwarting an attempted break-in.
Many self-monitored systems today offer optional professional monitoring for this kind of system. This can either be a permanent subscription or one that you sign up for temporarily, even for just one month.
A few DIY security systems require professional monitoring with a multiyear contract, but it’s still the minority. Other systems might offer a multiyear contract plan in exchange for lower monthly monitoring fees.
Additional Component Costs
Security systems companies like to advertise that their systems start at just $200, $300, or $400. But the reality is that you could easily spend over hundreds when you factor in the cost of additional components you might want.
Base prices may vary depending on your specific needs. A DIY home security system with an entry sensor might cost anywhere between $15 and $50. A security camera might start at around $35 and can go up to about $200 for a more advanced model.
Other Factors to Keep in Mind As You Shop
What Do You Want to Monitor?
When you’re shopping for home security systems, make sure the system can offer the protection you need. Consider whether a system should protect your home from carbon monoxide leaks, fires and flooding, or offer access to emergency responders in the event of extreme temperatures or personal injury. If you opt for professional monitoring, some providers might charge higher monthly fees than those without these extra features.
Smart Home Integrations
Many home security systems now double as smart home hubs, allowing you to automate and control connected locks, lights, thermostats, and more. Many of these systems can also integrate with other smart devices in your home such as a thermostat or alarms – that way you don’t have to use multiple apps on your phone or switch between them when wanting to access your security system!
For example, some systems will automatically arm and disarm your alarm system when you lock or unlock a smart lock. Others will automate your home’s lighting to make it look like you’re home before you arrive, making it easier for burglars to enter undetected.
Some municipalities require that anyone running their own security system with professional monitoring obtain a permit. A basic permit will list everyone who is authorized to use the monitoring service, but it won’t reveal what systems they are responsible for, or where those systems are located.
See whether the police department requires alarm permits and if there’s an associated fee. (Some fees are charged when you obtain the permit, and some are charged annually.) Yonkers where Consumer Reports is based: doesn’t require alarm permits or a fee involved. Dallas requires permits with an annual fee of $50 for residents.
Best Time to Buy a Security System
If you want a deal on security cameras, the best time of year to buy is during the holiday shopping season. That’s when we usually see the steepest discounts. After that, your next best bet to score a deal is around Amazon Prime Day, usually during summertime.