DIY smart alarms: The best home security system

Buying guide: Improve your home security with these top connected systems

The best smart home security alarm systems
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Home security systems used to involve getting a specialist company in, wiring up smart sensors on all your windows and doors and having a ugly-as-heck flashing box stuck on the outside of your house.

A box that also annoyed your neighbors when it went off, accidentally, in the middle of the night.

While there is still a need for some people to choose a professionally-installed setup, the smart home revolution has brought with it a plethora of DIY home security systems that are great for home security.

Not only do these systems look better (in most cases, at least) and come easier to install, they also do the "smart" part: smartphone notifications when smart sensors get triggered, voice integrations with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, and so on.

Whether you want to build a system piece by piece or buy a comprehensive package to turn your humble abode into your personal Fort Knox, there's something out there for you.


Smart home security systems: Reviewed

Testing smart home alarm systems obviously takes a fair bit of time and effort.

However, we've lived with these top security systems detailed below, so we're confident that we can deliver a comprehensive verdict and make our recommendations.


simplisafe system parts

Best smart security system: SimpliSafe Security System

Buy now: Amazon, simplisafe.com | From $183

SimpliSafe prides itself on being, well, absurdly simple – and absolutely delivers. Not only in use, but installation: each piece of the system, including the base station, keypad, motion sensors and door and window sensors, has a pull tab. Simply pull it out to activate the device.

You do have to activate everything systematically, but there's no companion app to worry about. And once everything's alive, you just head to SimpliSafe's website to activate your service.

All of the individual parts run off batteries (with five years worth of power) and come with adhesive pads on them, so you're going to be sticking a lot of things to your wall.

SimpliSafe's products are very nicely designed. Everything is nice and compact, with smooth lines and slimline profiles, making it easy to seamlessly slot into your home. All that is except for that giant base station and clunky keypad.

For $24.99 a month you'll get 24/7 live monitoring, a cellular connection for your Simplify devices to keep them connected, environmental monitoring, the ability to arm the system from anywhere, smartphone alerts, secret alerts, video alarm verification, unlimited camera recording and smart home integrations. There's also a $14.99-per-month plan that just has 24/7 live monitoring, cellular connection, and environmental monitoring.

Like other monitoring services they keep an eye out and if an alarm does go off your local first responders will be dispatched immediately. Actually using the system is pretty straightforward. There's a keypad, which you can take off the mount that you stick to the wall, to use the system in three modes: Off, Home and Away.

The most basic SimpliSafe system comes with a single motion detector and an entry sensor on top of the base station and keypad. However, there are several other packages, which get more comprehensive with price – or just build a custom package from scratch. You can add on things like water leak sensors, glass breaking sensors, CO2 detectors, and fire alarms.

There's also a downside, though. The app isn't the best; there seems to be a definite lag between actions in the app and how your security system works. But the app has beneficial features too, like specifying the time limit for how long you have to leave your home when the system is activated, or how long you have to enter the pin when you get home.

There are a lot of options when it comes to buying SimpliSafe. The bundles start at less than $200, but quickly rise as you add sensors and cameras.

In the past year or so, SimpliSafe has added a pair of security cameras, a smart lock and a video doorbell to the system.

A great reason to invest in one (or both) of the camera options is that they can be opted into SimpliSafe's video verification feature, which allows the monitoring team to tap into your video feeds if an alarm is triggered.

The doorbell wires into your existing doorbell wiring and works with any existing chime. It boasts a wide 162-degree field of view and uses motion and heat sensing.

What we love

  • Simple to set up
  • Extensive features
  • Versatile
  • Lots of different devices

What we don't love

  • Slow app
  • Integrations easy to miss
  • Can get pricey

Read our full SimpliSafe security system review.


Abode home security system - also a smart home hub

Best connected smarts: Abode

Buy now: Amazon, goabode.com | From $199

Abode has two versions: the Essentials Gateway (2nd-gen) and the Iota, which is an all-in-one system that includes a built in camera.

If it’s the “smart” part of a smart home security system that’s important to you, then the Abode Smart Security system should be top of your list.

That's because Abode also doubles as a decent smart home hub. It not only integrates with Alexa, Google Assistant, Nest, Philips Hue, Ecobee and Lifx, but you can connect up to 160 Zigbee and Z-Wave devices to it – including locks, lights and sensors. Abode's home automation engine lets you sync up your security system to other smart home devices and easily create smart home routines.

Whichever hub you choose – Essentials or Iota – you'll use the same app, and setup and installation is also the same. Plug the hub into power, connect the Ethernet cable to your router, and download the Abode app.

Once you’ve signed up, enter the activation key that comes with the device and pair the included sensors to the system. Both the Gateway and Iota come with a key fob and one door/window contact sensor.

The Gateway also includes a standalone motion sensor (Iota has one built in). There’s no camera with the Gateway, but you can purchase one separately.

Mounting the devices was easy in our testing. The door/window sensor is pre-fitted with double-sided tape velcro mounts, making it easy to remove the device without taking the paint off (great for renters), while the motion sensor has double-sided tape that makes it easy to put it in a corner without hardware.

Unfortunately, Abode’s plans aren’t quite as good value as they once were. While you can still operate the system for free - including arm and disarm it from the app, receive notifications, view live video, and integrate it with Alexa, HomeKit and the like, you don’t get access to the “smart home features.”

These include accessing the activity timeline, running and automations, and using geofencing to arm and disarm when you leave or come home.

To get these capabilities you have to pay for the Standard Plan ($6 a month or $60 a year) or Pro ($20 a month/$200 a year, or $100 for your first year).

With Pro you get the addition of cellular connectivity and professional monitoring, plus 30 days of video storage and event history.

On the Standard plan you can add on-demand monitoring for three days or seven days and you get 7 days of video storage and event history. Abode guarantees this pricing for the life of your system.

While it’s more expensive than free, it’s still one of the cheapest options in this space and there are no long-term contracts or commitments, you just pay month-to-month.

Abode’s smart integrations are the most robust on offer and, with the recent addition of HomeKit support, as well as Alexa Guard Plus integration, it’s a top choice among the DIY security systems.

What we love

  • No required monthly payments
  • Easy installation
  • Three- and seven-day monitoring
  • Voice control with Alexa, Google, HomeKit

What we don't love

  • Starter kit is bare bones
  • Components are expensive
  • App is too simple
  • Have to pay for "smart" features

Read our full Abode system review.


ring alarm 2nd gen

Best for Amazon Alexa homes: Ring Alarm (2nd-gen)

Buy now: Amazon | From $199

When we first reviewed Ring's DIY home smart security system Ring Alarm last summer, we noted that it was good but had some room for improvement. (And we had a strong aversion to the clunky keypad).

And, as we noted in our initial review, there's a lot to love about Ring Alarm beyond the pricing – especially its tight integration with Alexa, nice hardware, great expansion capabilities, and very good app.

Fast forward 18 months, and Ring has refined the system, making improvements in almost every area we critiqued, including redesigning that keypad. With a sleeker look, the same low price, and a number of substantial software updates, we've been very impressed with the second generation of Ring Alarm. R

Ring is one of the most recognizable fixtures in the smart security system market – its doorbells were some of the first to become widely visible on doorsteps and in offices. With tight Alexa integration and a good app experience, its Alarm security system is also a great option if you're looking to step up your home security.

The new Ring Alarm boasts a much more modern look, the sensors are smaller and slimmer, with matt white plastic casings and subtle rounded corners. Each accessory also features a small LED button that can light up when activated as a handy visual indicator

An unchanged base station means all of Ring's second-gen smart sensors are backward compatible with the first-gen model, so you don't need to upgrade to take advantage of the sleeker accessories.

Ring’s monitoring plan is very straightforward. There is one option – $10 a month (or $100 a year) for 24/7 professional monitoring, which includes cellular backup, should your internet connection go down. You also get 60 days of cloud video storage for any and all Ring cameras.

This is one of the cheapest monitoring plan available today – most other DIY systems charge between $25 and $30 a month and that often doesn’t include cameras. And this isn’t a cut-rate price because you’ve signed up for eternity, either. There is no contract at all, it’s month-to-month, cancel anytime.

Plus, you can add smoke and CO monitoring just by purchasing the compatible First Alert Z-Wave smoke and CO alarms. Also, if you choose not to do the monthly monitoring service you only lose that service – your app isn’t hobbled and you still get all the same alerts and notifications.

At present the Ring Alarm system integrates with Alexa, but not with any other smart home systems, which is a limitation. However, that integration is solid, including the option to arm or disarm the system using a spoken pin. It can also work with Alexa Guard to prime your Echo devices to listen out for alarms.

What we love

  • Super easy install
  • Cheap monitoring
  • Works with Alexa Guard / Routines
  • Z-Wave allows for expansion

What we don't love

  • No geofencing or scheduling
  • No key fob
  • Only works with Alexa

Read our full Ring Alarm security system review.


DIY smart alarms: The best home security system

Best big name security brand system: Blue by ADT

Buy now: Amazon, bluebyadt.com | From $179

ADT has been around for almost a century and a half and is the largest security company in America. Its DIY security offering, Blue By ADT, comes with the exact same professional monitoring its customers who opt for professional installation and long contracts get, only at half the price and with no commitment.

Blue by ADT is a fully customizable DIY smart home security setup made up of the usual array of devices you'd get with its more contemporary rivals and it also works with a suite of integrated Blue by ADT's smart security cameras.

The system's base station is also smart home hub with Z-Wave baked in so you can control Z-Wave lights, locks, thermostats and garage doors through it.

This hub uses Wi-Fi and it's the only device that needs to be plugged in. All of the other sensors and parts communicate over Z-Wave (aside from the optional security cameras)

Installation and setup is super simple; all the devices come pre-paired to the hub so you just pull the battery tabs and they pop up in the app where you can name them, designate them to a room and then install them.

Everything has double-sided sticky tape - there's no hardware mounting options, so you just pop them on your walls, doors, and windows.

If you want camera coverage you can add in Blue By ADT's new suite of smart security cameras. There's an indoor camera, an outdoor battery-powered camera and a wired video doorbell. They integrate fully with the system and each one costs $199.

in terms of monitoring there's just one plan: $19.99 a month. This covers 24/7 professional monitoring, along with 4G cellular back up for your system. Cameras cost $2.99 a month for 60 days of video storage or $12.99 a month for unlimited cameras.

If you want to go fully DIY you can self-monitor for free, there's no charge for using the app and there's no limited functionality as with some systems - you get all the same notifications and alerts, just no professional monitoring.

The cameras come with 24 hours of free video storage, something no other smart security system offers.

The biggest issue here in terms of fully securing your home is that there is not a lot of security kit. There's no key fob, external siren, glass break sensor or integrated smoke/fire alarm detectors (although the indoor camera can listen for the sound of existing detectors).

What we love

  • A name you can trust
  • Nice Rules engine
  • Works with IFTTT, Alexa and Google
  • Integrated cameras (with free storage)

What we don't love

  • Slow app
  • Spotty Alexa integration
  • Limited sensors on offer

Read our full Blue by ADT review.


The best smart home security alarm system: Vivint touchscreen

Best pro-install system: Vivint Smart Home

Buy now: vivint.com | From $39.99 a month (plus installation and package)

Unlike the other security systems on offer here, Vivint is not one you can set up yourself. It's not a matter of complexity, but rather because Vivint wants to be a full-service smart home company; it'll walk you through the best options for your home, help you customize your smart home package, and then a professional will install everything and take you through the ropes.

For the most part, Vivint makes most of its own products. It's got window and door sensors, glass breaking sensors, CO2 sensors, motion sensors, garage door sensors and more.

And as the professional is installing things around the home, they'll work through hypothetical situations with you. Could a burglar make their way into your home through your balcony? If they could, Vivint will recommend sensors to protect that area. There are also indoor and outdoor security cameras, plus a video doorbell and a smart door lock.

While Vivint does have cloud storage – it's $9.99 a month for 30 days of storage – it also offers a local solution and will hook you up with hard drive that will store your footage.

There's Alexa and Google Assistant support should you want to use voice control; the companion app and website should you be away from home and want to check in; and a central hub that your entire family can use.

Like most other smart security systems, Vivint offers different modes. There's one for when you're home, one for when you're away and one when you're home and want protection (like when you're sleeping). Vivint's system also taps into your local police and fire dispatchers system. So if your alarm trips, Vivint will call the police or fire department for you. Plus, Vivint itself is monitoring your home.

The best feature of the Vivint smart security system is the silent alarm. Much like a bank, there's a secret way to sound the alarms if something goes wrong. Say you're being held up in your home and the burglar demands you disarm the system: you can feign disarming the system and instead alert Vivint that you need help.

The big drawback? All of this can get pretty pricey.

What we love

  • Excellent customer service
  • Installation is all done for you
  • Silent alarm

What we don't love

  • Long process to get set up
  • Expensive
  • Must use Vivint service

Read our full Vivint review.


best smart home security alarm system considerations and devices

Smart home security systems: Considerations before buying

For our picks of the best home security alarm systems above, we’ve mainly focused on setups that don’t require a professional installation and we’ve shied away from systems that require expensive monitoring plans - although most system do offer an extra premium layer of security, should you wish.

We've also highlighted some systems that work with other smart home devices in your home, so your home security system can double as your smart home hub.

Also consider: The best smart security cameras

The beauty of the smart alarm systems we’ve highlighted is that – while there are sometimes those subscription extras available – they are all just good to go out of the box with no compulsory additional costs.

Professional installation vs DIY

Vivint is the only system on our list that absolutely requires a professional installation. Others, like Abode or Simplisafe, give you the option of a pro-install but don't insist.

In these cases, it comes down to whatever you're most comfortable with. A professional installer will provide some peace of mind, and of course means you have to do less work yourself. They'll also be able to explain how everything works once they're done installing.

Of course, in cases where professional installation is not part of the package, you'll need to factor it in as an additional cost.

What devices do I need?

At their core, all security systems have the same goal: to protect your home from intruders. All security systems will start with a hub or base station that all of the various devices chat to. That part is obviously vital, as is the actual alarm, obviously.

But beyond that, these DIY systems allow you to choose the devices that are right for your home. Do you want door sensors? How about some for the windows? Then think about cameras. You may already have some smart cameras in your home – the good news is that some systems will allow you to integrate those cameras, so long as they're compatible.

You might also want to think about sensors for glass breaks, or a smarter smoke detector.

Our advice is to map out your home and identify all of the places that pose a security risk, rather than starting with the devices and working backwards.

Security package or a la carte?

Starter kits are usually a great way to lay the foundations of a smart security system – and tend to be better value than buying piece by piece.

But different homes have different needs, and some companies, like SimpliSafe, give you the option to build custom security packages, which will be a preferable for many.

Talk to me about professional monitoring

Professional monitoring means you get access to a service of security pros available 24/7, who will be able to alert the police if your systems detects a break-in, or notify emergency services if there's a fire.

These professionals will usually try to contact you first, and in some cases any emergency contacts you've given. But professional monitoring will almost always cost extra, and in a recurring fee.

However, an added benefit to professional monitoring is the increasing availability of Alexa Guard on smart security systems.

Guard can have Echo smart speakers listen out for sounds of breaking glass or smoke/CO2 alarms, and will notify you if it detects anything.

It can also - with Ring, ADT and Abode - integrate with professional monitoring services, forwarding Smart Alerts for detected sounds to your security company.

smart lights flashing red for alarm

Can you build your own Alexa / Google Assistant / HomeKit / SmartThings security system?

The short answer is yes. You could easily use Alexa Routines, or their Google, SmartThings or Apple equivalents to pair together a bunch of smart home devices to act as a de facto smart security system.

You could, for example, pair a load of motion sensors to your smart home ecosystem, and have motion and certain times of day trigger an action such as an alert from a smart speaker, or some smart lights flashing.

However, while these sorts of routines and home automations are all pretty reliable, they aren't as rock solid or reliable as a dedicated security setup, like those listed above.

The good news is that, if you do want to incorporate your existing lights, speakers and the like, you can often sync the smart security systems we've highlighted to your current smart home setup, and have them trigger additional actions.

For example, you could have all your smart lights flash red if an alert is triggered from your armed system, or have a warning fired from a connected smart speaker.

TAGGED    security systems

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