DIY Home Security Systems – Buyer’s Guide


When it comes to intruders, no home security system is fail proof. Professional burglars know all there is to know about security: they’re wise to the vulnerabilities of properties, they know how to get in and out without being seen or caught, and most worryingly of all, they know how to subvert security systems. So, if that doomsday scenario is really the case, why bother spending good money needlessly on home security that will by definition fail to do the job it’s meant for?

Well, firstly there’s the issue of peace of mind. Even if you know deep down that whatever action you take will probably fail to stop an intruder, you still get peace of mind knowing that you’ve made their ‘job’ harder and more difficult. Secondly, it’s worth the effort and expense because you’ll know that whatever remedial action you take will make your house less appealing to burglars. If they can clearly see you’ve taken precautions and upped security in your home, then they’ll probably turn their attention to easier targets.

So, what can you do to make a burglar’s life more difficult? Well, the simplest solution is to pay for a professionally installed and monitored home security system. That’s fine if you got the wherewithal, but what if you haven’t? What can you do in that case? Well, you might want to consider installing a wireless DIY home security system. It’s a simple procedure: there’s no complicated wiring involved, there’s no drilling needed, and most people should be able to install a basic system without too much technical know-how.

However, whilst you can buy off-the-shelf DIY wireless home security kits from a number of manufacturers, it’s worth noting that putting all your eggs in one basket and relying on a single system for your entire security needs might not be the wisest and most effective solution to home security. More on that later

Wireless home security systems: how easy are they to install and power and are they value for money?

Power can be provided either by battery, or solar panels. The installation could be carried out by a reasonably competent DIYer, but if you’re not too good with your hands, then it’s probably best left to the professionals. Installation will also depend on the company you purchase your home security system through; special equipment may be needed to connect you directly to the security company or emergency personnel.

Wireless home security systems use individual sensors throughout the home which communicate wirelessly using radio frequency technology, rather than through wires or cables, between the control panel, sensors and cameras. Wireless home security systems are battery-powered, so there’s no need for expensive wiring.

Battery-powered sensors transmit a radio signal to the control unit to trigger the alarm. Many modern wireless home security systems can be armed and operated using a remote key fob, which also doubles as a mobile panic alarm. Some wireless systems even offer a repeater unit which increases the transmission rate so that outbuildings can also be protected using the system.

Are wireless home security cameras value for money? Well, not necessarily. Wireless cameras run on batteries and are power-hungry; most batteries will only provide roughly 24 hours of power to the camera. Another potential drawback to wireless home security systems is that most don’t have the ability to be connected to a telephone land line.

DIY Home Security: why layering might be your best option

As mentioned earlier, it is possible to buy a complete home security solution package from a number of manufacturers; systems like the ones manufactured by Simplisafe (see below) are fine and very easy to install and operate. However, given that all systems can ultimately fail or be overridden, maybe putting all of your trust in a single system isn’t the wisest course of action. What’s more, many all-in-one DIY home security systems are not future proof. The failings of older models can be addressed through new models with new improved features, but invariably these new models will not be compatible with older ones. So, if you wanted to upgrade your security, you’d have to buy a new unit and new sensors as well, and that won’t be cheap. Having said that a Simplisafe system is monitored, so you could save yourself some money off your home insurance premiums.

The fact is if you want to build a reliable home security system, then the best way to achieve that is through layering, and by that we mean separate standalone security layers that work together to create a far more effective deterrent to intruders. The security layers to concentrate on are the exterior of the home, two security systems to protect the interior of the home and security cameras. These layers are, in essence, separate security systems which work collectively to protect both the outside and inside of your home.

Exterior Security

Motion detecting flood lights are easy to install and you can now buy smart bulbs that screw into the fixtures you may already have, so all you’re doing effectively is swapping like with a much smarter like. It’s also worth remembering that physical deterrents also have a vital role to play in home security solutions; keep your fences repaired and the gates locked, and make sure you have at least one exterior light that comes on at night at both the front and rear of the property. Security lights and high-quality locks are there for a purpose. They deter and discourage would-be intruders. Motion sensor-triggered lights illuminate vulnerable areas and discourage burglars, and padlocks ensure that there is no easy entry into the gardens and grounds. If burglars truly want to get into your property, then they’ll have to work for the privilege.

Internal security systems

Internal security systems will notify you of any motion inside your home. Motion detectors are crucial in this respect: window and door contacts less so, at least at the start of the process. Start with a simple setup, like Simplisafe, and install a siren and enough motion detectors to cover all the entrances and rooms where you tend to store valuable items that burglars target. This simple system won’t deter ‘smash and grab’ burglars: no system will really. However, it adds another layer of security that helps to make a burglar’s life more taxing. If you can take action which slows down an intruder, then there’s more chance that the police will be able to catch the culprit red-handed.

Camera systems

Some burglars are so adept at breaking and entering, that the chances of the police catching them in the act are remote. That’s where cameras come into the equation. If you can’t stop or catch them, then at least you can film them committing the crime. You don’t have to spend a fortune on 4k high fidelity cameras that can read a license plate at 100 meters: all you need are a number of inexpensive easily-installed recording devices which cover both the interior and exterior of the property. The main front and back cameras should be equipped with a wide-angle lens, to cover the entire plot, and, if you can afford the extra outlay, a pan and tilt facility is also useful.

To view the playback, you’ll need to use something like blue Iris on PC, or IP Cam Viewer on your phone. These take the incoming video streams from any IP camera, regardless of vendor or model, and arrange it in a grid so you can see all cameras at once, anytime, regardless of whether you’re at home or away from the property. Ideally, you’ll also want your cameras sending FTP motion detect images to a home NAS and an Rsync, and from that to off-site storage sites like Google Drive. What about false alarms and pets then? Well, if your cat or dog sets off a motion detector by accident, the cameras will let you verify whether to let the security system call the police or not.

DIY Smart Security Systems

There’s probably never been a better time to invest in a smart home security system. The market is now filled with DIY kits from various manufacturers which consist of simple hubs and a combination of wireless sensors and cameras that you can easily install with little fuss of mess. The advantages of DIY kits is that they are generally, though not always, cheaper than a professional installation, and will provide you with most of what you’ll need for better internal home security. The other advantage is that there are generally no additional expenses involved and no long-term maintenance and monitoring contracts to fret about.

If you’re interested in upping your home security and are seriously considering investing in a DIY smart home security system, which one should you choose? Well, a lot will depend on your budget, and your choice will also be determined by the level of specification and features you require. The bad news is you generally only get what you pay for: the good news is there’s plenty of choice available to suit most budgets. Here are 6 of the best DIY home security for you to mull over.

Nest Secure

Nest Secure is probably the best example of what a DIY home security starter kit should be: simple to use and easy to understand, unobtrusive whilst it’s working, and it’s also future proof with plenty of options for expansion or additional features later. However, the bad news is, all that technological ability and flexibility comes with a fairly hefty price tag. The Nest System typically retails for around about the $400 mark, so it’s one of the most expensive DIY home security systems on the market currently.

So, what do you get for such a sizeable outlay? Well, the Nest starter pack which retails around $499 and is designed to offer comprehensive security protection for your home. It comes with the Nest Guard hub – a compact round device which integrates an 85dB siren and a number pad that tracks all the other sensors, but also incorporates a siren and motion sensor of its own. You also get two Detect motion sensors to set up in your preferred places around the house, and two Tag key fobs for toggling activation so that you can pass through them. You can disarm the detectors with a code, or simply choose a silent mode to avoid triggering the alarm when necessary.

The Nest Detect sensors probably look different from other off-the-shelf components you may have encountered. But it’s fair to say that these are not ordinary sensors. Nest Detect sensors combine in-room motion sensing with proximity sensing and traditional, magnetic open/close switching. You can install the sensor on a wall for motion detection, or on a door or window to take advantage of the full range of features.

Can Nest integrate with other smart devices? Well, yes, to a certain extent at least. It is capable of doing a decent job of organising your smart home kit by room, and that will probably get even better as the company continues to build its product portfolio. However, it isn’t quite up to the level of Hive, yet at least. Never the less, there is some level of device management integration available. If you own a Nest Cam, detected motion will trigger video streaming. Camera notifications and image snapshots will also be sent to your phone. Nest Aware subscribers will also have video footage saved to the cloud. At this point, however, there’s no news of integration with Google Assistant or even IFTTT, which seems like a gap on a premium smart home security system.

All in all, it’s an expensive piece of kit: after all, all you’re getting for the price are three motion detectors and no camera: having said that, Nest’s devices are state-of-the-art. They’re responsive, they’re aesthetically pleasing and minimalistic: so, you could rightly argue you’re probably getting what you’re paying for. In terms of future proofing, you can add indoor or outdoor cams, video doorbells, and additional motion detectors whenever you want to expand the system. You can also arrange for mobile notification and enable professional monitoring via Brinks Home if you so prefer.

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Benefits
  • Beautifully designed, quality hardware
  • Simple, step by step installation guide
  • Intelligent sensors packed with smart features
  • Smart motion detection with rapid alerts
  • Strong range of power and network backup features

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Drawbacks
  • Limited integration with third party and other devices
  • No smart assistant support
  • Premium price

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Abode Essentials Starter Kit

In a similar fashion to the Nest Secure system, Abode’s Essentials starter kit also includes a Gateway that acts as a hub, a door/window sensor, a general motion sensor, and a key fob for access. Where Abode differs is both in price point and in compatibility. Abode’ system typically retails around the $240 to $260 price band, whilst a Nest Secure system will cost you around an extra $150+: Adobe Essentials also features an excellent app that allows for full control unlike Nest.

The hardware itself is relatively well built but doesn’t quite match the high standard of the products manufactured by Nest and August. For some the stark, monochrome, modern rectangular lines of the Gateway hub hit all the right aesthetic notes. However, others have been critical of its router-like looks and sharp corners. They claim it looks and feels cheap and picks up finger prints and smudges far too easily. If aesthetics don’t worry you, then the Abode Gateway hub will be just fine.

So, is it worth paying this extra premium for a Nest system? Do you get more bang for your buck, or will an Abode system serve you just as well for a much smaller outlay? While Nest Secure is designed to only work with a few Nest devices, Abode offers compatibility with Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Wi-Fi technologies, allowing for integration with many different third-party devices, including many that you may already own.

Because of this enhanced integration the Abode Gateway is able to connect to an expansive array of sensors, smart power outlets and controllers. Up to 155 devices can be connected, and with Google Assistant now integrated, you can control some of your devices with your voice.

Several third-party devices also work with Abode, including Nest Cam, Nest Protect and the Nest Learning Thermostat, Philips Hue, Amazon Echo and IFTTT. Alongside the company’s own devices, the gateway works happily with hardware from Aeon, Enerwave, Fibaro, GE, Kwikset, Leviton, Schlage and others.

Alongside that powerful 93-decible siren, the Abode Gateway features a 10-hour battery backup that maintains protection in case of a power outage and an optional cellular network connection available for a $10 monthly fee.

If you factor in the cost and add in the many different sensor options you can buy separately from Abode, then this DIY system is one of the best around for future expansion or integrating with older devices. It’s also compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant for voice commands.

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Benefits
  • Beautifully designed web and app dashboard controls
  • Z-Wave, Zigbee, Wi-Fi and Abode RF connectivity
  • Support for more than 200 device integrations
  • Voice control via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant

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Drawbacks
  • Cheap, relatively flimsy hardware
  • Low resolution camera with blurry, smeared images
  • Patchy sensor connectivity

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Ring Alarm Home Security System

Ring’s security kit combines a few more traditional elements of home security systems with a newer DIY approach that works well if you are comfortable with a classic setup. The kit typically retails in the $200 to $220 price band so is one of the cheaper options on the market, and comes with a base station, a separate keypad to install on the wall, a contact sensor, a motion detector, and range extender (plus compatibility with all other Ring products, specifically their video doorbells and security cameras).

Unlike Nest, Ring created the hub and keypad as separate devices to give homeowners more control over where to place them. The products are both lightweight and durable, although the keypad digits do feel a bit antiquated when you press them. All the tools you need to mount the keypad on the wall are included, as are complete instructions on how to set up and use the system. The battery-operated keypad can either attach to a wall or be left freestanding. The keypad allows you to switch between Away, Home, and Disarmed modes, like traditional systems, but with useful features like programmable delays for arming, and push notifications for your phone app.

Ring also offers 24/7 professional monitoring and video recording for a fee, with no cancellation fees if you decide to go back to a simpler setup.

Download the Ring app (available for both iOS and Android) and connect the Alarm with your existing Ring devices, or, if this is your first Ring product, follow the instructions and advice on how to get started. Both the app and written materials in the box provides helpful suggestions on how and where to set up your motion sensors and contact sensors.

A couple of important things to note during setup. First, for the contact sensor, be sure to have the magnets aligned, otherwise it won’t work. Secondly, depending on where you live, you may need to get a permit for the system from a local government agency, though most authorities will be helpful and will provide that information on request.

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Benefits
  • Affordable
  • App and devices work well
  • Easy setup
  • Quality hardware

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Drawbacks
  • Limited smart home integration – currently
  • Professional monitoring costs extra

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Samsung SmartThings/ ADT Home Security Starter Kit

To understand this product better, it helps to look a little further into its origins. ADT partnered with Samsung to create a home security platform that was compatible with Samsung SmartThing devices, but primarily focused on ADT’s fledgling DIY-friendly smart security devices. So, the kit is a good choice for those who appreciate the previous sterling work ADT has done in home security sector and want ADT’s professional management services to supplement their DIY approach. However, this ‘security pedigree’ does come with a hefty price tag. The kit typically retails for somewhere in the region of $390 to $410, so isn’t cheap. At the end of the day it comes down to whether you’re prepared the extra premium for a proven and reliable pedigree.

The kit itself comes with a large touchscreen hub, a motion detector, and two sensors for your windows and doors. The four-piece kit isn’t the most robust security starter kit around. The sensors are the standard white plastic and are not particularly attractive, and the hub is mostly screen with just a few buttons. You can control it via the 7-inch touchscreen or from the SmartThings app. The hub’s top button takes you to an emergency screen, with three large icons: Emergency, fire, and panic. If you have ADT monitoring, you can press the corresponding icon for two seconds to alert the company that something’s wrong. The bottom button returns you to the home screen. The home screen displays arm and disarm buttons and shows the local weather. You can also see a history of events, add users, and mess with a few other settings, like screen brightness and sounds.

Setting up the kit is relatively straightforward. First, you connect the hub to your Wi-Fi via the touchscreen. Once it’s connected, it will check and install updates. The hub will display a code that you need to input into SmartThings app. The app will want to know your location, so it can do things like turn off lights automatically when you leave home. To add the sensors, use your phone to scan the sensors’ QR codes, and they should easily pair. The motion sensor comes with a mounting bracket, or you can use the included adhesive tape for a less-permanent set up. An included booklet gives tips for proper placement of the sensors.

A word of warning should be added here; when installing the hub, you won’t be prompted to change the hub’s default passcode on set-up. Change the password as soon as possible using the instructions included in the set-up manual.

The ADT system was always intended to be paired with its professional monitoring services, so there is no other monitoring option you can choose. That means you’ll have to pay extra for the service. However, that disadvantage can easily be offset when you see how easily the system can become a whole house smart platform. ADT has sensors to monitor everything from carbon monoxide to water leaks, and SmartThings has devices to manage lighting, thermostats, door locks, and more. The kit gives you a hub to control everything from, as long as you’re willing to stick with these brands.

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Benefits
  • Works with Samsung SmartThings devices
  • Sensors work well and don’t give false alarms too often
  • Touchscreen gives another way to call for help
  • Starting/cancelling monitoring is easily done through the app

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Drawbacks
  • Expensive
  • To avoid false alarms, some automation functions are missing
  • ou need ADT-specific devices for monitoring and there aren’t many of them yet

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Simplisafe Home Security System ‘Knox’ Package

SimpliSafe redesigned its home security kit in 2018 with a brand-new design and a better look. It now has better functionality, including dual cellular and Wi-Fi connections, so the system won’t be disrupted by a power outage. The Knox kit typically retails in the $350 to $390 price range and is an excellent choice for larger homes where you already know you’ll need more than one or two sensors for full protection.

It comes with a base station and separate keypad, a key fob, six door sensors, two motion sensors, a siren, and a smoke detector, all in one package. Professional, no-contract monitoring is available for $15 per month, and you can add extra devices like outdoor cameras, smart locks, and more. It’s an excellent system if you’ve got a lot of home to monitor and protect.

Ooma Home Security Starter Kit

Unlike many of this kit’s higher-priced alternatives, Ooma’s home security starter kit is priced in a much more affordable range, and retails somewhere in the $110 to $130 price range. The kit comes complete with the Telo hub and a single motion sensor. On the face of it that might not sound like much for the money, but it does come with an added bonus, and that’s that you get free home monitoring for the sensor. With this feature you get the added ability to route an emergency call through your home phone for assistance if something seems wrong. The sensor will also push notifications to your phone if the alarm is set to off. The Ooma starter kit does let you add door, motion, and leak sensors to the system as and when needed, but it’s fair to say the kit itself is better suited for an apartment or smaller home.

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