Should You Build Your Own DIY Security System?

There are plenty of security systems out on the market that come with professional installation and support, but what about DIY setups that offer many of the same features and are often much cheaper? Here are the pros and cons of doing it yourself.

Many companies are getting in on the home security system market, especially smarthome brands like Nest, SmartThings, and Wink. For example, Nest has a DIY security system bundle that lets you install everything yourself and do your own self-monitoring from the Nest app, but you can also hook up professional monitoring if you want for a monthly fee.

The big question, however, is what the pros and cons are when deciding to go the DIY route, and how it compares to professional systems from the likes of ADT. Here are some things you should know about that.

You’ll Pay More Up Front for DIY, but It’s Cheaper In the Long Run

It may be tempting to go with ADT, since you only have to pay a $99 installation fee to have everything installed in your house—sensors, alarms, and keypads. With a DIY setup, though, you have to pay for all the equipment yourself, and that can cost hundreds of dollars.

However, when you get someone like ADT to hook everything up, you’re still paying for the equipment. You’re just doing it over time while they’ve got you locked into a three-year contract paying for the monitoring service, as well.

Let’s gather up some examples that we can compare. For this we’ll compare SimpliSafe, Abode, and ADT, the first two of which are security systems that you purchase up front and install yourself. Let’s start with ADT

ADT

ADT’s base package comes with a keypad, the siren, three door/window sensors, a motion detector, and a keychain remote. All you have to pay is the $99 installation fee up front, and then you’ll pay $36.99 per month for the 24/7 professional monitoring.

There’s a big caveat, though. This plan requires that you connect the system to a landline as its only means of communication, which you may not even have. If you want or need a cellular connection, you’ll have to get CellGuard ($48.99/month) or ADT Pulse ($52.99/month). The latter option allows you to arm/disarm your system remotely and receive alerts on your phone.

Keep in mind that ADT often runs specials where they’ll waive the $99 installation fee or give you a $100 gift card as a sign-up bonus of sorts (essentially waiving the installation fee), but for comparison’s sake, we’ll leave the installation fee in there.

When all is said and done, the total cost over three years for ADT (with Pulse) would be $2,006.64.

SimpliSafe

The SimpliSafe package that most closely matches ADT’s base package costs $259. The only difference is that it doesn’t come with a keychain remote, but we can add that in separately for $25, making the total cost you’ll need to pay up front $284.

For professional monitoring, SimpliSafe offers two tiers. The cheapest plan is $14.99 per month, but doesn’t offer the ability for you to receive alerts and self-monitor your system while you’re away from home. You’ll need to pony up for the $24.99/month plan in order to get that feature.

So, with the $284 up front cost and the $24.99 monthly fee, the total cost over three years for SimpliSafe would be $1,183.64, which is $823 cheaper than ADT. Even if we waive ADT’s installation fee and go with the cheapest plan (rather than get Pulse), you’d still come out on top by going with a DIY setup. Plus, SimpliSafe doesn’t require a contract at all, so you can cancel your service anytime.

Abode

We’ve tried out Abode before and it’s also a great DIY security system. It’s also cheaper than ADT.

A package similar to what you’ll get with ADT and SimpliSafe cost $408 up front, and comes with three door/window sensors, a motion sensor, a keypad, and a keychain remote. As for the monthly fee, the $30/month plan comes with 24/7 professional monitoring, but if you pay up front for a whole year, you can get it for $20 per month.

With that said, the total cost of Abode over three years would total $1,228—$778 cheaper than ADT and just a bit more than SimpliSafe.

You Can Use a DIY System Without Professional Monitoring

A huge plus with SimpliSafe, Abode, and other DIY systems is that you can use them without paying for the monthly professional monitoring fee. Of course, with SimpliSafe, it’ll be nothing more than a loud noise machine to scare off burglars, but it’s better than nothing. Abode, on the other hand, allows for self-monitoring in the app.

With ADT, you can’t use the system without paying the monthly fee. Or at least that’s what they tell you and try to enforce—it’s possible to use an ADT system without paying the monthly charge, but there’s a bit of a workaround in order to make that happen, and you lose a bit of functionality.

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If you have a smarthome system like Wink or SmartThings, you can use it as a security system and even receive alerts on your phone when there’s a possible intruder. This won’t cost you anything extra per month, and it’s a bit of a step up from just being a loud noise machine. You also have a lot more flexibility when using smarthome platforms, as you can also take advantage of automation and use your sensors to do all kinds of cool stuff.

The Technology Is Mostly the Same

So a DIY security system like SimpliSafe is a lot cheaper and more flexible than something you could get from ADT, but surely the technology that comes with those professional systems is way better than the DIY stuff, right? Eh, kinda, but not really.

Most security systems utilize a low-power frequency for sensors and other wireless devices in the system to communicate with each other. Usually, companies come up with their own proprietary wireless protocols, but if you use something like SmartThings and Wink to build your security system around, then it can use a combination of Z-Wave and ZigBee devices.

RELATED: What Are “ZigBee” and “Z-Wave” Smarthome Products?

You might argue that some of these wireless protocols are better than others, and while that may be slightly true, there’s no real huge difference—they’re all pretty reliable and have excellent range.

On top of that, the sensors and devices that come with a DIY system like SimpliSafe are no more difficult to install than an ADT system (and it’s really not that difficult in the first place). All you have to do is peel off the adhesive strips and stick the sensors on your doors, windows, etc. And the process for setting them up on the keypad interface is incredibly painless—you definitely don’t need a professional to do it.

Craig Lloyd writes about smarthome for How-To Geek, and is an aspiring handyman who loves tinkering with anything and everything around the house. He's also a mediocre gamer, aviation geek, baseball fan, motorcyclist, and proud introvert.