When it comes to DIY home monitoring and security, there are many services and devices on the market. Here we’ll take a look at several systems and help you to decide which is best for you.
Back in the day, to get a security system for your home, you’d have to pay some company hundreds of dollars to install it along with huge monthly fees. When you moved, you couldn’t take it with you, and you were too often locked in with that company. That was me up until a few years ago. Now you can cut the cord, set up your own system, and avoid salespeople and installation costs. Although there are dozens of systems out there, only a few support DIY installs and professional monitoring.
What is Professional Monitoring?
Many systems will warn you via an app if there’s unexpected activity in your home from motion sensors, door sensors, and even smoke and CO alarms. With scripts from IFTTT and Zapier, you can also use those systems to notify others.
However, these apps require your intervention when there’s a problem. These systems won’t call the police or fire department when an emergency happens. That’s your job when something goes wrong.
Professional Monitoring services get notified if something goes wrong in your home. Unless you tell them everything is okay and provide a passcode, they contact the authorities. Until I cut the cord, I was paying about $20 a month for this service. If I wanted any changes to the system, I had to contact them. If I wanted a mobile app, I had to pay extra. I was sick of getting nickel and dimed.
Perfect for Apartments and Rentals
The traditional systems often require wiring, phone lines, and most importantly, professional installation. If you’re only going to be in a place for a few months, it doesn’t make sense. If you’re renting or in a condo, you might not have access or permission to wire stuff.
All the systems here have battery-powered sensors. You don’t need to wire anything, and you can take the sensors with you when you move. They all support cellular connections from their respective “base stations” (also sometimes called “hubs”) included with pro monitoring, so you don’t need a phone line for them to contact the authorities. All of these systems allow month-to-month monitoring without contracts, but some do offer discounts for paying in advance for more extended periods. Most offer between 30 and 60-day money-back guarantees.
Ring: Best if You Already have a Doorbell
For us, we already had a Ring doorbell, so adding pro monitoring cost practically nothing. We were on the “Protect Basic Plan,” which is $30 per year. That gave us access to recordings for 60 days. For an extra $70 per year, we got an extended warranty on our devices, 10% off accessories, and the pro monitoring. You can pay month to month and aren’t locked into a contract
Since Amazon owns Ring, it’s one of the best places to get the kit, although they also sell it at places like Costco.
The Ring starter kit includes the base station and keypad, one contact sensor, one motion sensor, and one range extender. You can buy additional sensors separately or purchase a more extensive kit.
Ring also supports its own water/freeze sensors and a panic button. While they don’t have branded smoke or CO sensors, they do have “listeners.” The listeners work in conjunction with the devices you already have. If it hears a smoke or CO alarm go off, it lets you and the monitoring service know.
Ring supports many third-party devices that integrate into their ecosystem. For example, we were able to use an existing Z-Wave First Alert Smoke/CO alarm. Instead of listening for the alarm, when these alarms go off it will directly signal the pro monitoring station.
Overall, even if you don’t have a Ring doorbell, given the fact it’s the least expensive monitoring along with its support of third-party devices, Ring is the best option for most families.
SimpliSafe: You’ve Seen The Ads
The ads are everywhere, and honestly, the commercials for SimpliSafe got me started on cutting the cord from my old-school stand-alone system. Compared to Ring, SimpliSafe has more packages to get started with. At the time of this writing, it includes the base station, keypad, motion sensor, and contact sensor. Package prices go as high as $489 and for the extra money include a keyfob, four contact sensors, two motion sensors, siren, panic button, freeze sensor, water sensor, and smoke detector. Ring’s system has a comparable price. That package without the keyfob (Ring doesn’t have one) would be just a little over $400 however, it includes one extra contact sensor. If you don‘t feel like doing the install yourself, you can pay SimpliSafe $75 for the setup. Their equipment does not work with any third-party devices.
The monitoring costs are a bit confusing and remind me of “traditional” alarm company services. If all you want is the police and fire department called, it’s $15 a month, but if you’d like to be able to use the mobile app, then its $25 a month.
If style is what you’re going for, SimpliSafe has better-looking equipment. It’s stylish and minimal, while Ring’s stuff looks clunky and traditional. Sleek curves and color are what you get with SimpliSafe.
Nest Secure Alarm: Unique Hardware With Traditional Monitoring
Nest, owned by Google, has always been an innovator. Their security system is what you’d expect from Nest. The $299 starter pack has combo motion/contact sensors, two keyfobs, and a base station. Additional contact/motion sensors are $49.00. Since doors and windows are typically places where you’d want to monitor, these dual sensors work in most cases. I like the convenience of separating them out since large rooms might need one or more motion sensors, but otherwise not need a contact sensor.
The Nest Protect, $119, is the smoke and CO detector that works with the Nest system. These systems don’t work like your typical alarm. For one this one talks to you rather than screams, and you can turn it off through your phone when there’s a false alarm.
For monitoring, Nest works with Brinks security. The pricing and terms are more like old-style services. It’s $19 a month for a three-year agreement, but $29 a month if you’re going month to month.
SmartThings ADT Home Security: Best of Both Worlds?
ADT is a familiar name in home security. They’ve been around since 1874 and use the traditional channel of dealers and distributors. They teamed up with Samsung to create a system that gives you the advantages of SmartThings but adds on professional monitoring.
Although this system is branded as Samsung SmartThings if you already have SmartThings you can’t add on the ADT stuff. You need to use a special ADT version of the SmartThings hub. It supports both Z-Wave and Zigbee protocols, meaning you can add SmartThings contact and motion sensors (as well as any other ones that work with SmartThings) but only the ADT co-branded sensors will trigger an alert that professional monitoring will hear. It’s essentially an ADT system that works alongside a traditional Samsung SmartThings system.
The starter kit is $119 and includes the hub, two contact sensors, and one motion sensor. If you need extra, again you’ll have to make sure to buy the ADT, not the regular SmartThingssensors if you want to participate in your Professionally Monitored system.
Compared to other plans, pro monitoring here is expensive and a bit confusing. If all you care about is break-ins, monitoring is $25 a month. Or, if you just want to make sure the house doesn’t burn down, that monitoring is $15.00. The alerts for both security and fire/CO, it’s $35 a month.
Besides the ADT name, the primary benefit of The ADT/SmartThings combo is that you can have one hub and interface to control home automation and home security. Since we use SmartThings at home, I considered this option. What killed the deal for me is the price on the monitoring.
Abode: Home Automation and Home Security All-in-One
Abode may not be a famous name, but the system is rock-solid. It combines everything you’d expect from a home automation system like SmartThings but also lets you add pro monitoring. Unlike the ADT/SmartThings, this is one panel with one set of sensors. They also support Z-Wave and Zigbee devices.
The starter kit here is under $200 and has a hub, contact sensor, motion sensor, and keyfob. Pro monitoring is $20 a month with additional savings if you bundle with a starter kit or pay in advance. You can buy other sensors directly from them or go with third-party stuff.
If you’re looking for the best price and flexibility and are starting from scratch, Abode seems to be the best choice. You can build your system piece by piece and use the best part for the job. It’s the most open and the least proprietary of the options. Since our home already had a SmartThings system, we didn’t go with this option.
Scout: DIY Home Security With Tons of Options
The Scout system is similar to the Abode system as they support packages starting at $229 that include a base station, motion sensor, two contact sensors, and two keyfobs. That’s similar to most of the other systems. However, they also let you buy it ala-carte, which is difficult with all other companies except Abode.
One feature of Scout that they advertise is the ability to finance your purchase directly from their site. For those building an extensive (and expensive) system, that might be a game-changer.
Frontpoint: Contracts Get You The Best Deal
FrontPoint is borrowing from the mobile phone companies by giving you a good deal if you agree to a long-term contract. FrontPoint’s base system has a hub, two contact sensors, and one motion sensor. The listed price is $430.95, but only $69 if you get a three-year contract.
The professional monitoring starts at $34.99, but you have to have a three-year contract for that. On a practical level, I doubt if many people pay the listed price for the equipment. More likely, they go for the three-year deal.
On first glance, FrontPoint is the least attractive of all the options. It locks you in for three years, and it is on the high end of monitoring fees. Even with the initial savings, that professional monitoring costs you more in the long-term. The only significant advantage I can see here is that they offer a limited lifetime warranty on the products. Sensors can wear out over time, especially when exposed to the elements so that I can see an advantage there.
Why I Went With Ring and Choosing Your System
After analyzing all our options, we went with Ring for a few reasons. We already had a Ring Doorbell at my home and office, so we were already paying for the pro monitoring. Once you add more than one Ring doorbell to an account the pro monitoring is included. We also had a Samsung SmartThings system installed in the home. Ideally, ADT would have been great for us, but then we’d have to replace the hub and reconfigure everything to talk with ADT. That seemed too much effort along with the very high cost of pro monitoring.
Since we have both Ring and Samsung, some critical doors and rooms have both Ring sensors and Samsung sensors. We also didn’t pull out the old systems since they were wired into the house. Yes, three sensors on one door and wall. That has to deter some thieves, right? Since the CO and smoke detectors can only report to one service at a time, we have some reporting to SmartThings and some to Ring for pro monitoring. It’s doubling up, but the detectors are also not expensive.
If I didn’t have an existing system, I would have gone with Abode. We’d only need one set of sensors on the doors and windows, and we’d have the highest level of options and cheapest monitoring. My only concern is with all these big players, would they fade away like, pardon the pun, Wink and Iris?
For people who already have some Nest items like Nest Protect, adding on to the Nest system makes sense. The contact/motion combo sensors reduce cost and hassle. I didn’t like them, but I think for most people they’re unlikely to need just motion or contact sensors in an area.
If you’re looking for the lowest cost professional monitoring, SimpliSafe has the least expensive options. It also has the largest number of bundled packages to save money, many of them including free cameras. The $75.00 setup cost is a great deal too because for novices this could take a few hours. Pay SimpliSafe, and it’s all done for you.
Although ADT has the highest monitoring costs, some people prefer a brand name. The combination of SmartThings and ADT monitoring means you’ve got one place to go for everything, but remember you’ll essentially have parallel systems running.
Scout, when compared to all the other options wasn’t attractive, but it might be nice to finance the purchase. Similarly, FrontPoint gives you the lowest initial cost but locks you in.
Save Money and Stay Secure
Since I have a dog that stays at home, I absolutely couldn’t live without a professionally monitored home. Should anything happen while I’m away, I want the dog to be protected. My house could burn down, and she’s my most valuable possession. That being said, I’d miss my stuff too, so I don’t worry when I’m on vacation.
All of these systems are easy to try out, and you’re not locked into any contract except for FrontPoint. If you’re concerned about safety and security in your home, apartment, or condo, check them out.