The 10 Best DIY Alarm Systems
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in May of 2016. If you are looking for a quick, effective, and economical way to secure your home or office from intruders, try one of these DIY alarm systems. Using today's advanced technology, they can detect motion, monitor doors and windows, and integrate with high-definition cameras, with some offering Wi-Fi connectivity so you can keep an eye on things from anywhere, often with no monthly fees. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 07, 2021:
It wound up being an extremely busy round of updates, in a fast moving category that saw most of our previous picks become either outdated or obsolete over the last year. In the end, the only options we retained were the Kangaroo Complete, Arlo Pro 3, Canary Flex Three Pack and SimpliSafe 8 Piece.
We replaced the Thustar Wireless GSM with the Thustar 8 Piece – which still doesn’t include any cameras, but at least shed the unseemly external antennas that the old sensors had – and swapped out the Ring Alarm 1st Gen for the Ring Alarm 2nd Gen — which features redesigned hardware housings and emergency speed-dial buttons on its hub, but not much else that's new. Notably, the two generations are cross compatible, so building onto your existing system or saving some money by investing in the old system are both viable options, at this point.
Some of our other notable new additions include the OSI Wireless — which stands out with its eye-catching 4.3-inch color touchscreen; the Skylink SK-250 — which only comes with one camera, but at least it’s one with pan and tilt functionality, which maximizes the area that you can observe with it; and the Tolviviov 2nd Gen — which doesn’t include any cameras, but does present a budget-friendly way to protect your premises with door sensors, and the option to affordably add motion sensors.
Systems like the options listed on this page are often the easiest way to get started on implementing a full home security system, but if it seems overwhelming and you think that you’d be satisfied with a simpler surveillance solution, then you might be more interested in our list of security cameras.
March 13, 2020:
A majority of the systems on our last ranking were particularly outdated, with a handful predating the revolution in smart home technology that has become so integral to home security. That's why we got rid of the Sabre Wireless Burglar and the Doberman Security SE-0157. Some companies have evolved along with this trend, and the Home8 UltraShield Wireless is a great example of that. They have a pretty good app, and the system feels nice and modern, but it lacks the audio communication that even basic IP cameras can muster nowadays.
We also added a few models that were undeniably born out of the age of smart things, like the comprehensive Ring Alarm 14 Piece Kit and the more piecemeal Arlo Pro 3. Both of these systems integrate seamlessly into home automation networks, with the Ring model even coming with an Echo Dot, so you can set one up if you don't already have one.
Frontpoint Security Offering competitive prices and a three-year warranty, this company makes it easy to apply for tailored quotes through their website, based on the type and size of property you're looking to secure, as well as how many doors it has. frontpointsecurity.com
Blue By ADT Choose one of this company's standard starter systems, or build you own, selecting just the right combination of indoor, outdoor and doorbell cameras for your premises. They also offer Wi-Fi range extenders, for users with large properties. adt.com
A Brief History Of Alarm Systems
It might sound like an elaborate, Looney Tunes-ish setup, but it was actually quite similar in many ways to modern alarms.
The first alarm systems were likely domesticated dogs (or even geese!) that would raise an alarm as soon as they noticed something was amiss.
Meanwhile, the first mechanical alarm was invented in the 1700s C.E. by an Englishman named Tildesley, who was obviously upset over the fact that someone apparently stole his first name. Tildesley fastened a set of chimes to a doorknob, so that any turning of the knob would cause a racket. It was effective at waking people up in the event of a break-in — provided the intruder used the door, of course.
About a century and a half later, a Bostonian named Augustus Russell Pope got a little more creative with his design, using electricity, magnets, and a bell attached to doors and windows. The idea was that an electrical current would pass through a circuit, and if that circuit were interrupted by someone opening the door or window, the resulting flow of electricity would hit the magnets, causing them to vibrate. This would then set off a hammer that would hit a brass bell.
It might sound like an elaborate, Looney Tunes-ish setup, but it was actually quite similar in many ways to modern alarms. Unfortunately for Pope, he didn't get much traction with his idea — but when he sold it to a shrewd marketer named Edwin Holmes, the system took off.
In 1867, a New Yorker named Edward Calahan conceived of a central monitoring station, which would alert all the houses in the area when one was being burgled. He used technology he'd already created when he invented the stock ticker to make his dream a reality, and Calahan would later go on to help form ADT, which is still one of the big names in home security today.
The 20th century saw new innovations, including motion detectors, video surveillance, and wireless systems. Staying one step ahead of criminals isn't easy, and trying to outsmart larcenous citizens is big business even today.
Of course, there's not a criminal in the world who would mess with a house that had a trained attack goose.
Pros And Cons Of A DIY Alarm System
The biggest advantage to a DIY alarm system is obvious: you won't be tied down to any pricey monthly contracts.
Most DIY systems are programmed to alert you when there's activity you should be aware of, which then allows you to decide how to proceed. You can have the alert forwarded to a neighbor who can check on your property, it can go to the cops, or you can just ignore it.
Professional alarm systems, on the other hand, have a central command center that performs that function for you. They'll investigate the activity, and if needed, contact the proper authorities.
Most DIY systems are programmed to alert you when there's activity you should be aware of, which then allows you to decide how to proceed.
This may seem like an unnecessary redundancy, but it could come in handy if you've been attacked and are incapacitated or otherwise unable to call the police. However, that's also a relatively unlikely scenario, and you may not be willing to pay exorbitant fees to protect against a long-shot occurrence.
Plus, one of the biggest advantages that any home security system offers is the ability to deter intruders, so just posting some cameras and a sign or two may be all you need to stay safe, even if the cameras aren't hooked up. It's a large part of what the pros would offer you, so it might make sense to just cut out the middleman.
The only other reason to consider a professional system is that they'll do all the work for you, including installation and maintenance. These systems don't usually require a lot of upkeep, so the maintenance shouldn't be overbearing, but it's up to you how much a hassle-free experience is worth.
At the end of the day, all that matters is that your family is safe, regardless of how you make that happen. And if that means you end up on a first-name basis with the cops that are always showing up after you forget your password, well, that's a small price to pay.
Other Ways to Keep Your Home Safe
By far the biggest thing you can do to help keep your home safe is get a dog. Studies have shown that over 95 percent of convicted criminals — the very people you really don't want in your home — would be scared away by the presence of a dog. Naturally, larger dogs are more intimidating, but even a small dog can be an effective deterrent if it's loud enough.
Just make smart choices, and above all, if you do decide to get a dog, send us some pics.
Even better, dogs can help improve your mood and your health, giving you lots of bang for your security buck. And, if you don't want to have to care for another member of the family, just getting a few "Beware of Dog" signs can be extremely effective.
You may also consider buying a gun. This isn't generally considered an advisable course of action, because you're more likely to use it on a loved one than a criminal and it's something that's only effective when the bad guys are already in your house, rather than keeping them out entirely.
Still, there are certainly situations where having a gun could save your life. It's just a matter of weighing risks — and it should go without saying that, if you have a gun, keep it somewhere safe.
Beyond that, a lot of the most effective strategies are just basic housekeeping. Don't let newspapers or fliers pile up by your door, and leave a light on when you're not home. You don't want to advertise when the house is a sitting target (and that means not announcing to the entire world when you're on vacation, so keep that info off Facebook and Instagram).
Staying safe doesn't have to be difficult. Just make smart choices, and above all, if you do decide to get a dog, send us some pics.