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Once upon a time, installing a security system could be a very costly affair: A professional monitoring company would provide the gear, locking you into an expensive, multiyear contract. In today’s DIY smart home world, though, new competitors have entered the fray that make home security much more enticing. Essentially, they let you buy the components you need, set them up yourself and subscribe to a monitoring plan — or not — and control everything completely from your phone. But with multiple home security systems and various packages in each, choosing the right one can get overwhelming.
How to choose a home security system
There’s no one-size-fits-all security system. Instead, these systems are designed to be piecemeal, allowing you to pick and choose among:
- Door/window sensors, which alert you when a door or window has been opened
- Motion sensors, which can detect someone walking through your living room
- Glass-break sensors, which use either sound or vibration to detect if a window has been broken
- And other specialized modules
All that to say: You can build a system that works really well for your unique home. Some systems can even integrate with other smart home devices like smart locks, as well as 24/7 professional monitoring — which will automatically alert emergency services in the event of an alarm triggering — for a fee. Most DIY systems are more affordable than the professional systems of old and don’t come with contracts. It’s up to you whether this monitoring is worth the cost, but it may get you a discount on your home insurance that makes up for it.
“Discounts vary by state,” explained Stephanie Clemente, assistant vice president of sales and client services at Amica Mutual Insurance. “In many states, Amica offers discounts on homeowner policies if a customer’s home is protected by a security system. Discounts may be greater for alarm systems that are professionally monitored, as the response time in the case of an issue is generally faster.”
It’s not just about security from theft, either. Adam Kostecki, the senior assistant vice president of digital solutions and innovation at Amica, recommended sensors that focus on things you wouldn’t otherwise notice, like leak sensors or freeze sensors. Given benefits like that and the more direct capabilities of monitoring and protecting your home, it might be the right time to upgrade your security.
Home security systems to consider in 2021
Don’t feel like you have to rush out and buy everything at once.
“When putting together your system, think about your long-term plans for home monitoring and identify the main uses you have for a smart home system,” Kostecki said. “Start small with the most important uses, and build on to the system incrementally by adding different devices that accomplish different objectives.”
Before you start building your home security package, it might be wise to contact your insurance company and see what kind of discounts they might offer — that information could inform your choices. The following options cover different needs and are based on previous recommendations from tech expert Whitson Gordon. We revised pricing and availability around his recommendations and replaced them with newer models where relevant.
All-around security system: SimpliSafe
SimpliSafe strikes a delicate balance between price, number of sensor options and ease of use. It offers a number of different starter packs, but we recommend starting with the eight-piece kit, which comes with an attractive hub, four door and window sensors, a motion sensor, a keypad and a panic button. From there, you can add audio-based glass-break sensors, water and freeze sensors, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, cameras and more. SimpliSafe doesn't integrate with many third-party products from other brands — only Alexa and Google Home for voice control, and August smart locks — so you’re mostly locked into SimpliSafe's own products. Its self-monitoring is also extremely limited, so for SimpliSafe to be truly useful, you have to subscribe to their 24/7 monitoring plan, which is $25 per month and a far more affordable than many contract-based security systems. Your insurance may easily make up that cost in discounts.
Self-monitored security for smart homes: Abode
While Abode is a tad more expensive than its competitors, it offers more customizability than you can shake a stick at. Its standard starter kit comes with the hub, a motion sensor, a key fob and one door/window sensor, though the newer iota starter kit eschews the motion sensor for a camera built into the hub itself. The brand offers a ton of add-on sensors, from door sensors in multiple shapes and sizes to glass break sensors that use vibration instead of audio frequencies. Most importantly, Abode integrates with a ton of other Z-Wave smart home products, like smart locks, smart thermostats, smart light bulbs and more, so you can control them alongside your alarm system in one place. The free tier is a bit limited, preventing you from creating automations between your products, but monitoring plans are available at a Standard tier with a full-featured self-monitoring subscription for $6 per month, or you can get their Pro Plan with 24/7 professional monitoring for $20 per month. Abode also offers short-term one-off plans for when you go on vacation, which is useful.
Security system for Ring device users: Ring Alarm
Amazon’s Ring — yes, the famous video doorbell company — also offers an affordable DIY security system. The starter kit comes with the base station, a keypad, one door/window sensor, a motion sensor and a range extender. You can add more sensors as you need them, and Ring offers flood/freeze sensors, smoke and carbon monoxide “listeners” (these notify you in the app if your existing detectors go off) and integrates a few third-party products. Ring’s biggest benefit is integrating with existing Ring cameras, so if you already have those cameras and use Alexa (Ring doesn’t work with Apple HomeKit, and Google support is extremely limited), it may not be a bad bet. You can add a monthly monitoring plan at the Basic level for $3 a month or the Pro level for $10 a month, which includes extended warranties for your Ring devices and discounts on some Ring products.
High-end home security system with cameras: Frontpoint
Frontpoint is a bit more expensive than its competitors, but it offers one of the most full-featured options on the market. It offers a number of starter kits as well as a build-your-own package that allows for door sensors, motion sensors, cameras, smart doorbells, locks, smoke and carbon monoxide sensors and a whole lot more. On top of that, it can integrate with other smart home products based on the Z-Wave protocol, so you can control and automate your entire house from one location. Its monitoring plans range $35 to $50 a month, so it's significantly more expensive than the others on this list. The total price of your security system will depend on your specific build. But you still avoid the contract of many professional systems and get the customizability of DIY, so it's a nice balance between the two options if you have more to spend and the other solutions are missing products or features you need.
Affordable home security system: Wyze Home Monitoring
Wyze may not be a household name like the others on this list, but the company has made a name for itself in the smart home space for its affordable products, starting with the $36 Wyze Cam. The brand introduced its own home security kit with a hub, door/window sensors and motion sensors. Wyze’s products have their limitations — there aren’t many types of sensors, and you can’t adjust the sensitivity of the motion sensor, for example — but if all the other options are no-gos due to price, Wyze gets you some of the protection for a fraction of the cost.