To sustain this free service, we receive affiliate commissions via some of our links. This doesn’t affect rankings. Our review process.
Got a smartphone and looking to add a higher level of security to your home? Today’s world of home security has evolved from simple entry and motion sensors to a smart collection of gadgets that can transform your home into a safe haven you can monitor and control from just about anywhere.
You’ll be notified not only of intruders, but of fires, floods, carbon monoxide, and more, right as they happen. But Do It Yourself projects can be intimidating and you’re probably asking yourself questions like “how easy is the installation?” and “do I need to drill holes in my walls?” and “will I get the same quality equipment and setup as I would with a professional installation?”
These are all valid concerns, and our experts do their best to answer them, along with a host of other questions frequently asked by our readers.
What Is DIY Home Security?
DIY (Do It Yourself) home alarm systems typically consist of a set of sensors (such as door/window contacts, motion sensors, glass break sensors, etc.) that can be easily installed to your walls via adhesive mounts (no drilling required). There is no professional needed, and often, there is no monthly fee (this varies by system).
We receive many questions regarding DIY home security and how difficult it is vs letting a professional do the work. One of the main things we feel is important to relay to our readers is that the DIY home security market doesn’t just differ in terms of who installs the equipment, newer smart home companies are DIY-only, so by learning how to set these systems up you’re opening yourself up to a whole new world of possibilities.
We try and answer the most common questions below, but if you don’t see yours, please ask in the comments!
- What is self-monitoring?
- What is pro monitoring?
- Will I end up with holes in my wall?
- Is DIY security reliable?
- How long does installation take?
- What are my equipment options?
- Where should I place my equipment?
- What is the best DIY home security system?
Self monitoring refers to home security systems that you monitor yourself. In other words, when an event such as an intrusion or smoke alert is triggered, you and your designated network of family, neighbors, and friends are automatically notified via a communication method of your choosing (phone call, smartphone app, text message, etc.). It’s then up to you to call the authorities to come check out the problem.
Self monitoring differs from professional monitoring, where your security system is monitored by a call center at a central monitoring station. The primary advantage of self-monitoring is that you don’t have to pay a monthly fee to have a professional monitor your system and dispatch authorities. That being said, we feel that one of the primary benefits of having a home security system is peace of mind. That’s difficult to get if you have to monitor your own system when you’re away from home, asleep, or on an airplane with no cell signal.
For this reason our experts recommend a system with pro monitoring, and they conduct annual reviews of the top providers. Here are this year’s winners
Ranking 1st 2nd 3rd Low Cost, No Contract Professional Install Smart Home
Total Score 4.70 4.18 4.15 4.00 3.30 2.75
Customer Service & Reputation 4.8 4.3 4.5 4.0 2.0 1.0
Equipment 4.8 3.8 3.8 3.3 4.3 4.0
Technology 4.8 4.0 3.5 4.3 3.5 3.0
Value 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.0 3.0 2.0
Ease Of Use 4.8 4.3 4.5 4.5 3.8 3.8
How do we arrive at the rankings above? Our researchers take into account the following review criteria: customer service, equipment, technology, ease of use and value. A weighted average score is then calculated to arrive at a total score our experts use to rank the companies relative to one another. For a full explanation of our review criteria and how we calculate the final score, we invite you to visit our home security systems guide.
DIY alarm systems are set up so you don’t have to drill any holes into your walls. For the most part, the equipment uses self-adhesive, or peel-and-stick backing (for those wondering how reliable this is, typically the peel and sticks are poster board adhesives that can support a weight several times that of the sensor you are hanging; we have had our sensors up for nearly a decade with no issues).
In some cases mounts with drywall hooks will be provided if you decide you’d like to mount heavier equipment like control panels and video cameras. And in most cases you’ll be able to opt for a professional installation of just these items if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself. Alternatively, you could hire a local contractor or handyman.
How reliable DIY home security is will depend largely on how good a job you did installing your equipment. For the most part, the guidance for where and how to install equipment is fairly straightforward and doesn’t vary much from manufacturer to manufacturer. Nevertheless, our experts have put together a home security systems installation guide with step-by-step instructions and illustrated examples for the most common pieces of equipment.
As mentioned above, if you opt for a self-monitored system, the onus for contacting the authorities is on you or your network of contacts, so that will determine dispatch reliability. Since alerts are typically sent via your smartphone, you’ll want to think about how often and what times of day you’re able to act on an alert from your phone. If you don’t feel comfortable with self-monitoring, consider a pro monitored system as described above.
How fast do authorities come to your door after you call them? In the case of fire, that depends on how close a fire station is to your home. In the case of police, we’ve published an article on the average police response times by city.
Since installation across providers is fairly similar in terms of the process involved, your total install time will largely depend on how much equipment you ordered and how much time you take to consider where you’ll place your sensors. Lastly, you’ll want some time to test your system and get familiar with its functionality. In our experience a typical system for the averaged size home takes 30 minutes to an hour to install from start to finish.
The company you choose and the package or pieces of equipment you purchase will determine your options. Some providers have a streamlined offering with only traditional home security equipment such as door/window contacts and motion sensors.
Other more sophisticated providers (which also tend to be more expensive) have a whole range of smart home offerings ranging from automated door locks to garage door openers and more. Our experts’ home security systems guide has a detailed listing of common pieces of equipment as well as providers associated with each.
We suggest having a door contact for every exterior door you have to your house. So, if you have a front door and a back patio door, you should have a door contact on each. Typically front doors and those with ground-level access will be more commonly broken into.
We also suggest monitoring each window on the main and lower levels of your home. You can do so by having a glass break sensor and a motion sensor or window contact. We recommend a glass break sensor because a window contact won’t trigger unless the contact is separated, which typically doesn’t occur when a window breaks. If you have many windows in a primary area on the main floor (think great room), it may make more sense financially to do a motion sensor to cover them all. Don’t forget to add sensors for your basement entry ways as well.
If a security camera is important to you, we recommend having one outside pointing toward your driveway or front door area and another towards your backyard. Try to angle these to get entrance points monitored and the largest coverage area possible.
If you have a second level, we recommend using a motion sensor to monitor the largest area possible.
If you have a room where you keep most of your valuables, it’s a good idea to monitor it with a camera. However, if you don’t want to use a camera (for privacy reasons, for example), a door or window contact can be used (so you’ll know if someone enters the room). You can also place sensors in a cabinet or drawer to find out when they are opened.
For more in equipment placement and installation tips, visit our expert’s home security systems installation guide.
We already mentioned our top picks above. Our experts have reviewed more than a dozen providers in our comprehensive home security systems reviews, including new players offering the latest cutting edge technology at competitive price points. Our in-depth coverage includes features, pricing, pros, cons, app reviews, installation videos, user feedback, and more.
Who’s your favorite DIY home security system provider?
Disclaimer: This website contains reviews, opinions and information regarding products and services manufactured or provided by third parties. We are not responsible in any way for such products and services, and nothing contained here should be construed as a guarantee of the functionality, utility, safety or reliability of any product or services reviewed or discussed. Please follow the directions provided by the manufacturer or service provider when using any product or service reviewed or discussed on this website.