DIY Home Security vs. Professionally Installed Systems: Which Is Best for You?

Professional systems like Vivint or ADT offer all-in-one security packages for homes, while DIY systems from companies like Ring, or SimpliSafe let you choose and install home security devices with greater flexibility. Here's what you should know about price differences -- and much more.

Michelle Honeyager Contributor
Michelle is a contributor for CNET.
Michelle Honeyager
7 min read
mounted vivint outdoor camera pro

Which option you choose will depend on a number of factors, including your budget, desire for convenience, familiarity with smart home tech and time.


If you're looking into buying home security, you'll notice that plenty of companies throw around the terms "DIY" (do it yourself) and "professional installation." Some home security companies allow you to choose from established kits and send professionals to install them while others let you customize your starting setup and install the devices yourself. Often systems offer a combination of both. So how do you make sense of all the services on the market?

Generally speaking, professional systems offer larger, predetermined kits to start, and require professional installation. Some also involve contracts or longer-term payment plans. DIY services, on the other hand, generally allow for more customization, both in hardware and monitoring subscription options. You can often customize and install your own system. A true DIY system does not have monthly monitoring or offers monthly monitoring optionally. DIY home security systems also tend to have no contract or long-term commitments.

Which option you choose will depend on a number of factors, including your budget, desire for convenience, familiarity with smart home tech and time. Let's look at these differences in more depth and help you decide which is right for you.

Read also: Best Home Security Systems for Renters


Even DIY systems are increasingly offering monitoring of various types.

Chris Monroe/CNET

DIY vs. professional installation 

While most home security companies generally fall into the two categories I've outlined above, it's not always so neat. Many DIY systems offer optional professional monitoring add-ons and even professional installation, making them something of a hybrid. On the other hand, more and more professionally installed systems do not require lengthy contracts, and increasingly give customers more control over the devices they get in their setup.

Messiness aside, though, the general categories are still helpful -- especially when it comes to price differences. DIY security systems are generally much more easily down-scalable. If you have a small home or apartment, systems like Ring Alarm, SimpliSafe and Abode will make much more sense than a professional system, just from a cost perspective.

DIY services

A true DIY system allows you to build your kit before purchase. You might add certain devices to a cart right on the website, or select them with a salesperson over the phone. While you can sometimes pay for extra help, you're pretty much on your own for installation -- but the devices are usually fairly pain-free to set up since average customers are the target audience. Such systems include Ring Alarm, SimpliSafe, Abode and others. If you only want to set up a couple of devices, like a security cam and hub, then your options expand to Nest, Arlo, and far more brands, but for this guide we're focusing on full home security kits.

Finally, note that there's some overlap between DIY and professional these days. Other companies that have traditionally required professional installation are offering DIY options, too, these days. Xfinity and Brinks are two examples here. Conversely, even distinctly DIY systems like Ring offer professional help if you don't want to follow the setup guides online.  

simplisafe 8 piece home security system

SimpliSafe is one of the most popular DIY systems on the market.

Chris Monroe/CNET

An interesting feature of DIY systems is that you can often get professional monitoring as an optional add-on -- or you can self-monitor, a more affordable middle way between professional monitoring and nothing. Different companies offer different prices: Ring Alarm lets you self-monitor for $30 a year, for instance, but also offers 24/7 professional monitoring for $100 a year. There are also different levels of monitoring, from 24/7 emergency assistance (you still get alerts yourself, but you can immediately contact emergency services to take action) to monitoring from a security center, and even dedicated professional live viewing like Deep Sentinel offers, which can run up to $100 per month or more.

Most subscriptions are optional, with no long-term contracts or cancellation fees. DIY systems also tend to be very affordable for home monitoring. You can get important basics like cloud storage and downloads for your video for around $3 per month with plans like TP-Link's Tapo Care -- compared to our streaming app fees, that's not bad for a security subscription, but it's not always necessary, either.

DIY options often give additional ways to save, too. For instance, SimpliSafe allows you to save 25% by purchasing refurbished devices directly from the company. If you don't need the latest and greatest, and are on a budget, a refurbished device can give you decent home monitoring. Additional add-ons can also help you both customize your system and keep on budget.

Professional installation and monitoring 

If finding deals and fiddling with your own monitoring system isn't your cup of tea, professional systems offer something a little more painless. These often come as pre-established kits, often offered in tiers. The three-tier approach is common, starting at base systems that give you devices like alarms, door/window sensors and control panels. Higher-tier kits add bells and whistles like smart cameras and connected deadbolts.

An obvious benefit is that these systems take away the headache of setup. One system we recently reviewed positively, Vivint, occasionally runs promo codes for free professional installation (listed at a $199 value) and a $0 activation fee. The pros set up the system, activate it and show you how to use it. If you want a system that's highly regimented and easy to understand, an option like this could be a good choice.

vivint 2021 home security system

We recently reviewed Vivint Home Security and were impressed with its integrations, even with third-party devices from Kwikset and Chamberlain.

David Priest/CNET

The other big benefit of professionally installed systems is that they generally integrate nicely. Rather than pulling in devices from various brands that may or may not work with your other smart home gadgets or voice assistants of choice, big security systems are made to work consistently and easily across the board. In our experience, that integration has been impressive -- especially from companies such as Vivint and Comcast.

Furthermore, different tiered systems can also have a wide array of benefits. For instance, Cove has free equipment upgrades on its Plus program. If you like being able to choose between tiers that offer different services, and those higher-tiered plans fit into your budget, it pays to look around at different organized plans and packages for the most features that you can afford. 

Feature comparisons 

Below we'll look at features that are common in DIY and professional security. These should give you an idea of which approach might be best for you.

Plans and contracts 

Monitoring plans often include a monthly fee on top of the equipment purchased, again regardless of which system you opt for. Depending on what is included, you could pay anything from around $5 per month to $100 or more. Xfinity stands out as a unique choice, as it allows you to bundle home security monitoring with TV and internet.

Car keys laying on a table

Many DIY systems allow you to choose from a wide variety of devices that fit with your routines -- such as this key fob from Abode, which lets you arm or disarm the security system as you get into the car.

David Priest/CNET

24/7 monitoring 

This is a feature you'll see across all of the main professional services -- and increasingly at DIY ones, too. Different services can have certain features, like smart cameras being set up to detect pets, packages and people. You can often get custom alerts for what is going on in your house, from smoke detection to certain types of objects spotted, like packages. Professionally installed systems typically charge high monthly fees for this kind of monitoring, with brands like ADT and Frontpoint starting at $45 to $50 per month. Some professional systems will require a contract and subscription upon installation, so always watch for the fine print. 

While DIY systems allow for self-monitoring, where you get alerts and local sirens, most professionally installed systems only offer professional monitoring subscriptions. With those pricier subscriptions come more support -- often including always-staffed support centers to help monitor and relay information to authorities in case of emergency. Plans that include professional monitoring generally start at $20 per month for DIY brands like Ring, significantly lower than the monitoring fees that professionally installed systems usually ask for. 


This refers to how well the service lets you set up your own home system. If you want a highly structured pro system, this feature might not be of importance to you. If you have a specific budget and goals, it can help to find a DIY option that allows you to build your own kit right in the checkout section of the website, based on which devices you need. Ring, Abode and SimpliSafe stand out in this category, since you can buy individual devices as needed to build and later expand your kit.  


Price can be affected by what is monitored around your home and how many devices you have on your package. DIY packages will generally cost less both for their hardware and monitoring subscriptions. That said, professionally installed systems often have their installation costs built into the pricing -- so it's not simply wasted money.   

Customer support and warranties 

It's also important to consider warranties and other support features for customers. Brinks Home stands out for its two-year warranty, where the company replaces anything that breaks within the first two years. If you don't like the Brinks system, you can also return it in the first 30 days for a refund. Many professional and DIY systems offer similar support, though you'll need to check for the specifics of your choices, as they vary.

Home security systems compared

Our PicksComcast XfinityRing Alarm ProSimpliSafe (6-piece set)Vivint Smart Home
System Price $360$300$275$500
Monitoring Price $30/month$20/month$15/month$30-$45/month
Starter Equipment 1x touchscreen controller, 3x door/window sensors, 1x pet-friendly motion sensor, battery and cellular system backup, Xfinity Home Security yard sign Eero Wi-Fi 6 mesh router, door/window sensors, motion detectors, a keypad, a siren and optional professional monitoring subscriptions1 base station, 1 keypad, 1 motion sensor, 3 entry sensors1 Hub, 2 door window sensors, a motion detector, a flood sensor
Contract Required? NoNoNoNo
Setup Professional installation Professional installation DIY installation Professional installation
Extra Features Integration with a large and growing list of third-party devices, flexible pricingCellular-powered backup Wi-Fi, network security monitoring, local processing, storage for all of your Ring devices and integration with Alexa's Guard Plus serviceCustomizable system, built-in Wi-Fi and cellular, integration with Amazon Alexa and Google AssistantCustomizable system, integration with many third-party devices, integration with Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Z-Wave devices
Review Score 898.57.7

How CNET tests home security systems

Hands-on testing is core to our evaluations of any home security products. When it comes to home security systems -- both DIY and professionally installed -- we pay special attention to the user experience, the promised features, reliability and overall value along with a few other elements. We do the testing in a real home environment over the course of at least a full week. If you want to read more about our review process, check out our in-depth article on how we test home security systems and services.


Home security systems vary greatly depending on what you're looking for. DIY systems are generally more affordable, customizable and scalable over time. Monitoring is also optional and affordable. 

Professionally installed systems are more expensive, but bring more pain-free installation, better support and strong device integration.

Whichever option you choose, be sure to carefully select the plan that is right for your home and budget.

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