Home Security Systems: Your Options for 2021

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Getting to Know Home Security Systems

It’s no secret that practically everyone wants to keep their home and their family safe and secure. But choosing a home security system can be a daunting task. That is, IF you’re not prepared.

Understanding more about the different systems, their features and technology, and other factors will help you to make a wise choice when it comes time to purchase a security system. Not to mention, learning the ropes will likely save you a lot of money, hassle, and headaches.

So we’ve created this guide to bring you up to speed on what’s available on the market today, and what factors to consider when deciding which home security system is right for you.

We cover everything from features and accessories, to payment options, reviews, and loads of other factors that you may not have thought about (but are highly critical). And of course, we break it down into simple-to-understand language and easy-reference sections. Enjoy!

What are Home Security Systems?

The answer to this question might seem obvious. But many people are confused about what exactly a home security system is, what type of equipment it includes, and how they work. And seeing how diverse the options are, it’s natural that this question would arise.

A home security system, at the most basic level, is equipment (sensors) that sound an alarm when an entry-point is breached. Of course, the sensors must communicate with a control panel to secure the home. Along with sensors, many other devices can integrate with the control panel, or central hub of the system. These other devices include some of the following

Entryway Sensors

  • Core Function – Also called door & window sensors, they are the backbone of a home security system. They sound the alarm when a door or window is open (and the alarm is set). This deters criminals and alerts the homeowner of a security breach.
  • How it Works – Entry sensors use magnetic field technology. When a door or window opens, the magnetic field is disturbed, and the device signals the base station to sound the siren.
  • Key Features & Tech – DIY systems offer easy-mount (Velcro adhesive) entryway sensors that can be setup in minutes. The best security systems send mobile alerts when the entryway sensor is triggered. This allows the homeowner to spring into action.
  • Add-ons and Integrations – Some systems allow users to create custom zones using a combination of sensors and cameras. Also, users can purchase a greater quantity of sensors to protect every door and window in their home.

Motion Sensors

  • Core Function – Motion sensors sound the alarm and/or trigger mobile alerts when motion is detected inside of the home. They are meant to be used as an added layer of protection.
  • How it Works – These devices emit an invisible light/laser, which when disturbed sounds the alarm. Some motion detectors use infrared technology that can sense body heat.
  • Key Features & Tech – The best motion detectors can distinguish between people and pets, to limit false alarms. Some even have facial recognition technology. Others can shine a floodlight whenever movement is detected.
  • Add-ons and Integrations – Certain motion sensors can be integrated into smart home ecosystems and be configured to perform a number of commands.

Security Cameras

  • Core Function – Security cameras are mounted inside and outside of the home to keep a constant watch for safety. Many cameras record continuously and notify the homeowner when activity occurs. Just the presence of a camera is sometimes enough to deter a criminal.
  • How it Works – Today’s cameras offer continuous recording or motion-activated recording. Either way, they record video and often send real-time alerts. You’re the first to know when the pizza guy or a porch pirate is on your property.
  • Key Features & Tech – The best cameras deliver HD image quality, mobile access with live-streaming, two-way voice, pan and tilt, and more.
  • Add-ons and Integrations – Some cameras work with home automation platforms. This allows users to configure various rules, like pre-set to record at 3pm to ensure the kids arrive home safe from school.

Video Doorbells

  • Core Function- A first line of defense, video doorbells help to protect your home from package thieves and burglars. Many doorbell cams let you see and talk with front-stoop friends and visitors from virtually anywhere.
  • How it Works – The easy DIY video doorbells replace your existing doorbell. The devices sport a little camera that records activity and takes still shots to be seen and shared. And of course, it works like a doorbell, too.
  • Key Features & Tech – Mobile access, monitoring, and control via mobile app is perhaps the best feature to look for in a doorbell camera. Other features include HD image quality, cloud storage, night vision, two-way talk, and more.
  • Add-ons and Integrations – Similar to home security cameras, some doorbell video cameras can be integrated into home automation ecosystems for more convenient (and smart!) controls.

Home Automation Controls

  • Core Function- Home automation streamlines everyday tasks to make our lives easier and more efficient. Smart controls allow users to remotely control and automate everything from lights and thermostats, to garage doors, cameras, and even coffee makers.
  • How it Works- Depending on the platform, smart home automation controls work via mobile commands (smartphone or tablet), voice commands, or both. You set the rules, and the house reacts accordingly. Turn down the lights!
  • Key Features & Tech – The features and tech range from simple commands (like turning on a reading light) to powerful AI-driven surveillance technology. It’s up to the user to decide how futuristic they want their home. The sky’s the limit with smart home automation controls.
  • Add-ons and Integrations –Many platforms can support literally hundreds of smart devices. This means users can customize their systems to their heart’s content. Most hubs work with devices that use Z-Wave, Zigbee, IFTTT, and more.


  • Core Function- Floodlights serve one purpose, to shine light on suspicious activity. After all, the perimeters of most homes are extremely vulnerable, and a floodlight shores up the defense to ward off intruders.
  • How it Works – These motion-activated devices “flood” a yard or driveway with a bright light. Criminals prefer the cover of darkness, and floodlights completely eliminate the dark and expose the bad guys.
  • Key Features & Tech – Many floodlights can be mounted in just minutes. Most boast ultra-bright LEDs, and some have a built-in siren that sounds when motion is triggered. Today’s best floodlights double as security cameras.
  • Add-ons and Integrations – Depending on your platform, you can set customizable motion zones, custom scheduling, fully-integrate into a smart home ecosystem with mobile controls, and the list goes on.

Panic Buttons

  • Core Function- These wall-mounted devices have a built-in help button. The life-saving button is pressed in the event of a medical emergency or home invasion. They summon help immediately.
  • How it Works – Many control panels have a built-in panic button that works via landline, Wi-Fi, or cellular to send a signal to the monitoring center (if the user has professional monitoring). In a time of crisis, simply press the panic button and rest assured that help is on its way.
  • Key Features & Tech – These devices are fairly simple. And simple is exactly what you want when precious seconds could save a life. Some control panels with panic buttons have two-way voice so you can talk directly with responders.
  • Add-ons and Integrations – N/A

Glass-Break Sensors

  • Core Function- As the name suggests, glass-break sensors detect glass breaking. The moment a security breach is detected, the alarm sounds and alerts are sent. These sensors are often sold separately, but they’re highly effective and work well alongside of magnetic window sensors.
  • How it Works – Mount them near a window, as the sensors have tiny microphones that detect the high-frequency sound of glass breaking. When glass breaks, the sensor triggers the alarm and alerts, hopefully making the burglar tuck tail and run.
  • Key Features & Tech – N/A
  • Add-ons and Integrations – N/A

Keychain Fobs

  • Core Function- Keychain fobs allow users to remotely arm and disarm their system. Many keychain touchpads also include a panic button, which offers peace of mind when coming and going in the dark.
  • How it Works – Hook the small device to your keychain, or keep it in your pocket or purse. If you forget to arm your system when you leave your home, just take out your keychain fob and you’re back in business. These devices are powered by batteries, and are helpful if your system doesn’t offer mobile access.
  • Key Features & Tech – The best keychain fobs have a long battery life and are small enough to not be a bother. While most have remote arm/disarm buttons, not all include a panic button.
  • Add-ons and Integrations – N/A

Smart Smoke Detectors

  • Core Function- Fires often happen when the homeowner is away, rendering the traditional smoke detector useless. But a smart smoke detector not only sounds the alarm, it also sends real-time alerts to your smartphone.
  • How it Works – The app-based device installs in just minutes with plug-and-play ease. Anytime you need to access, monitor, or control the smoke detector, just open the app and everything is right there for you.
  • Key Features & Tech – Smart smoke detectors often send low-battery notifications straight to your smartphone, integrate with IFTTT and other smart platforms, offer helpful voice instructions when smoke is detected, and more.
  • Add-ons and Integrations – Most smoke detectors offer seamless integration with third-party platforms. Also consider CO detectors and water leak sensors (mentioned below).

Smart Carbon Monoxide Detectors

  • Core Function- These life-saving devices send real-time alerts and notifications to your mobile device. That way, you’ll never walk into a home with a CO leak and risk a potentially fatal outcome.
  • How it Works – Similar to the smart smoke detectors, these devices come pre-configured and ready to go. Just plug it in and follow the easy setup instructions in the companion app. Anytime it senses CO, the alarm will sound and you will get an instant alert(s).
  • Key Features & Tech – Users should look for long battery life and a sleek companion app with convenient mobile access and controls.
  • Add-ons and Integrations – Connect a smart CO detector into a home automation system to access everything on one user-friendly dashboard.

Water Leak Detectors

  • Core Function – This device is worth its weight in gold, as water damage can be devastating. If your home springs a leak while you’re away, don’t worry, a water leak detector will notify you, allowing you to call the plumber asap.
  • How it Works – Put the sensor near faucets and other appliances/fixtures that have the potential to leak. If (or when!) a leak occurs, the sensor will sound an alarm and send you a mobile alert.
  • Key Features & Tech – Some water leak detectors communicate with smart water valves to shut off your water at the source (if needed), thereby limiting or even eliminating water damage. Smart! Some water leak sensors also have built-in freeze, flood, and humidity sensors, too.
  • Add-ons and Integrations – Same as smoke and CO detectors listed above.

In other words, a home security system is a network of electronic devices that protect and secure your home or apartment from criminal activity such as burglars, thieves, and home intruders

How Do Home Security Systems Work?

First, you will have each of your entry-points (doors and windows) secured with a security sensor. When the alarm system is set and activated, and a door or window is opened, the sensors instantly signal or notify the control panel of the breach, and the control panel sounds the siren or alarm. Indoor motion detectors send the same “zone breach” signal to the control panel if it detects activity while the alarm is set.

Now, if the security system is set up with professional monitoring, the control panel will immediately notify the monitoring station. Once the monitoring station personnel are notified of the security breach, they will take necessary action, which usually begins with a call to the homeowner. However, in some cases, they can communicate with the homeowner directly through the system’s control panel (if the system has a neat feature called 2-way talk, which we discuss later).

Most often these are false alarms (someone forgetting their alarm was set and opening a window; the family dog setting off a motion detector; etc). But break-ins, burglaries, and home invasions do happen. And so the monitoring staff will reach out to you — in less than one minute from the breach — and even call the police or first responders on your behalf if needed.

Keep in mind that we’re always testing home security systems to see how they perform. To check out our results on the most responsive security companies, read our guide to the best home security company response times.

If the security system is not set up with professional monitoring, it is considered a non-monitored, or self-monitored system. There are loads of great do-it-yourself (DIY) security systems that secure the home in this way. However, it is up to the homeowner to contact police or emergency personnel in the event of a security breach. Most systems today come with the option for text and/or email alerts that send immediately after a breach, which helps the homeowner to take immediate action.

Home security systems also work in a less-direct way. That is, if the homeowner displays the security company’s sign in their front yard, or the company’s sticker on the front window, they are less likely to experience a break-in. Many would-be burglars are deterred by even the idea of a security system — because they work! So always remember to display the security company’s signage or sticker loud and proud.

Benefits of Owning a Security System for Your Home

The benefits of owning a home security system cannot be overstated. Did you know that homes secured with an alarm system see much fewer break-ins than homes without a system in place? In fact, studies show that upwards of 60% of would-be home intruders choose another target the moment they realize a home is outfitted with a security system. This makes sense, as the vast majority of criminals are opportunistic and are after the easiest target — the path of least resistance.

While there are countless benefits, here are the top 5 that you should consider:

  • Benefit #1 – Protect your family. You and your family can remain safe and secure. The peace of mind families get from home protection is profound.
  • Benefit #2 – Protect your home and valuables. Remember, most criminals won’t even bother if they see you have an alarm system in place. Others might try, but they are often scared off at the sound of the alarm. This means your home and valuables are protected from damage and theft.
  • Benefit #3 – Detect potentially fatal dangers. This goes beyond burglary — security systems can detect in-home hazards such as smoke, fires, carbon monoxide, etc. Many security systems will automatically detect these dangers and immediately notify the monitoring station. Early detection keeps everyone (and everything!) much safer.
  • Benefit #4 – Control your home remotely. Many of the advanced systems allow the homeowner to remotely control everything from door locks to security cameras, lights, heating, air, entertainment, and of course, the alarm itself. This allows the owner of the system to enjoy a more convenient and novel lifestyle, and at the push of a button.
  • Benefit #5 – Get home insurance discounts. This is a great benefit that helps where it matters… right in the pocketbook. Insurance companies view homes equipped with home security systems as less of a risk or liability. Therefore, they will often discount your home insurance premium (sometimes up to 20%) if you can prove you have a system in place.

Is a Home Security System Right for Me?

The truth is, home security systems should be thought of as any other appliance in the home. You wouldn’t go without a refrigerator or stove, and you shouldn’t go without a security system. Especially since they have become incredibly affordable and much easier to install and use.

But how do you really know if a security system is right for you, and not just another thing to purchase in hopes of easing paranoid delusions? Well, if you find yourself nodding “yes” to any of the following, then a home security system is absolutely right for you.

  • You live in a high-crime area, with reported home break-ins
  • You live in a low-crime area (any home can become a target)
  • Your home has been broken into in the past
  • You travel frequently or are out-of-town often
  • You are a senior who lives alone (or have older parents who live alone)
  • You have small children at home and want to feel protected
  • You enjoy easy-to-use technology that makes life a little easier
  • You have valuable possessions or keepsakes in your home
  • You’ve noticed ‘unsavory’ characters roaming your neighborhood
  • You live in a region that experiences natural disasters (i.e. fires, flooding)

Most households will find at least some benefits to owning a home security system. Also, it’s worth noting that many systems do not require a long-term contract. So if you’re truly on-the-fence about getting home security, then perhaps try an easy-to-install DIY kit with no monthly fees or contracts. That way, if you find it isn’t right for you, you can rest easy knowing you haven’t invested too much.

What are the Best Home Security Companies?

From Abode to Xfinity — and loads of others in-between — the list of home security companies is growing all the time. We linked to dozens of companies below, but this is just scratching the surface. We showcase the companies that we believe are worth looking into. But the truth is, there are literally hundreds, maybe even thousands, of security companies on the market. Many of them are small and only service select areas, while others are larger but not worth mentioning for reasons of reliability and/or quality.

Here are many of the top companies currently offering security solutions for the home.

List of Home Security Companies

Home Security Companies by Subscribers

Source: https://www.sdmmag.com/2019-SDM-100-Rankings

Note that some of the largest companies, such as ADT and Brinks Home Security, are not ranked because such detailed information was not publicly available or they did not report it to SDM. Companies that reported fewer than 1,000 residential subscribers are not included in this ranking.

Perhaps most interesting about our list above is the diversity of home security companies represented. Each company takes a different approach to home protection. Each company has a particular target demographic, a specific philosophy, value proposition, company culture, etc.

And while no company is a great fit for everyone, every company is a great fit for someone. So it just takes a little homework to find the company and system that’s right for you and your home.

Of course, we make the ‘homework’ fun. On second thought, we do the homework for you! All you have to do is keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the systems and the different providers. It’s all here, in plain English, so that everyone is better prepared for their security system purchase.

How Much Do Home Security Systems Cost?

We’ll share a cost-comparison chart in just a bit. But first, it’s important to understand the different pricing structures typical of home security systems. The last thing you want is to be taken for a ride and find yourself upside-down in your security system. So here’s what to look out for…

While finding the right home security system to fit your needs should be your main focus, the cost will likely be a major consideration. When assessing costs, it’s important to determine how much you’ll really be paying. Don’t just take the pricing the company advertises at face value. Here’s why: Many security companies like to offer monitoring services “starting at” a particular price. They may also advertise “as low as.” But more often than not, the “as low as” price is lower than what you’ll end up forking out for your monitoring system. So remember, there’s more to the total cost than the initial, advertised price.

Pro Tip: Home security systems are great, but to get true peace of mind at home, don’t forget to keep a list of resources handy in case you need immediate help or are concerned about your family’s safety. Check out our in-depth safety and security resource guide for more.

When searching for a security system, typically the only price you’ll see upfront is the monthly fee. However, most security systems also have installation fees, activation fees, and sometimes even equipment fees, as well as taxes and surcharges to add on. Don’t let this scare you away, but do keep it in mind.

5 Common Home Security Fees to Consider

Activation FeeInstallation FeeEquipment FeesMonitoring FeesMiscellaneous (ie taxes, surcharges, etc.)

You’ll want to compare the upfront costs to the long-term costs of each security system. You might find your $20 a month advertised bargain monitoring contract ending up costing you, say, $45 a month after you add on all the fees and other charges.

Look at the overall costs of the different systems and options, add it up, and compare the costs between the various security companies you’re considering. You might be surprised at what you find. For instance, a company advertising “free installation and activation” may have a high monthly fee, making it more expensive than a system that does charge an installation fee but waives the monthly fee.

There’s one last thing to consider in the pricing department. Home security companies rent out equipment, too. And the cost of the rented equipment is often built into a higher monthly fee. Alternatively, you may be required to buy the equipment upfront, which often results in a lower monthly fee. So the option that seemed too expensive based on upfront fees may actually be a better deal when you consider how much you’ll be paying every month.

On the other hand, it could end up costing you more than if you had rented the equipment and paid a higher monthly fee, but with a much lower upfront price. Here’s the point: Look at the overall costs, do the simple math, average out the numbers, and find the best deal. You’ll be glad you did.

Here’s a side-by-side cost comparison of some of our top rated security systems:

Home Security Costs Frontpoint Vivint ADT SimpliSafe
Installation Cost $0 Starts at $49.99 Starts at $0 $0
Activation Cost $0 $0 Starts at $25 $0
Equipment Cost Starts at $199.95 Starts at $549.99 Starts at $125 Starts at $229.96
Monthly Monitoring Price $34.99 – $49.99 $39.99 – $49.99 $28.95 – $52.99 $0 – $24.99

Did you notice the pricing comparison chart (above) lists the four different cost breakdowns? Now notice how none of these companies charges only a monthly monitoring fee. They each have other costs to factor in – from installation and activation costs, to equipment costs. This is typical of most home security companies. So keep it in mind while shopping around to find the best value on home protection.

Do You Own or Rent Your Home? This Helps to Determine Which Security System is Right for You.

Now consider your personal living situation. Do you own your home, or are you renting? This matters greatly, as it will influence the type of system you choose and the money you will spend.

When you own a home, you have different factors to consider when choosing a security system. Homeowners typically stay in place for longer than renters, so they often choose a system with longevity in mind. This allows them to spread the costs over a longer period of time. Also, homeowners can make major changes or modifications to their home, so this might influence their decision.

Renters, on the other hand, may need to seek a landlord’s permission to make changes to the home. They may also be hesitant about spending a lot of money to purchase a system they may not be able to take with them when they move.

Also, there are contracts to consider. A renter must be careful not to lock themselves into a contract they might not be able to get out of. If you rent, consider contract lengths for rental or purchase/rental options that allow you to keep the system and take it with you when you move.

Now, this isn’t to say that home security options for renters are thin pickings. Quite the contrary – more and more companies are offering fantastic security systems for renters at affordable prices.

FYI: Thinking of taking your home on the road? Learn about some easy security options for recreational vehicles in our thorough buyers guide to RV security systems.

Buying Home Security Equipment vs Leasing

If you’re renting, consider how long you plan to stay at your current location. If you’re only staying for a couple of years, then look into a security system with do-it-yourself (DIY) installation and purchased equipment, rather than something that’s leased. This might seem counterintuitive, but the reason is that most major security companies that lease their equipment require a minimum three-year contract and professional installation, which can be a big commitment for a renter. But if you purchase a DIY system, it moves with you when you go. To set up and take down most DIY systems takes minimal effort.

If you own your home, and are planning to stay awhile, you may want to choose a more permanent solution with a lower upfront cost but longer contractual obligations. If you’re renting (or are a homeowner but plan to move in the near future) consider going with a company that has a higher upfront cost, but that gives you ownership of the equipment. This way, you’ll see lower monthly costs and the benefit of being able to take the equipment with you when you move.

Did You Know: Amazon is pretty generous on doling out home security systems deals and discounts on Prime Day. To find some great savings, head over to our rundown of The Best Amazon Prime Day Deals on Home Security Systems.

Another benefit of owning the security equipment is that you can source extra sensors (and other options) from commercial retailers, rather than having to buy direct from the company that will likely charge a premium. So this can save you money, too.

If you prefer to lease equipment rather than purchase, the upfront cost will definitely be lower, but in reality you’re still paying for that equipment over time, most likely in your monthly service fees. So again, consider the overall cost. Additionally, if you want extra sensors or fancy options or add-ons, the cost of that monthly subscription may rise.

Or… you may simply be told that you cannot get the options you want. Sometimes the company won’t have what you’re looking for, doesn’t offer it to customers in your area, or has compatibility issues that were not considered. You’ll want to think about scalability of the system you sign up for, especially if you want to upgrade or make changes to your system down the line.

What to Look For in a Home Security System

Home Compatibility

Here’s another big factor to consider. It’s important that your monitoring system is compatible with your home. Overly sensitive alarms leading to false alarms can cause a nuisance, while on the other hand, you do not want an alarm that doesn’t sound when it should.

Note that some systems are better for certain areas and living conditions. For instance, some systems are well suited for rural areas, while others can be used pretty much anywhere.

With this in mind, there are three connectivity types that will power your system, and these are:

  1. Wi-Fi
  2. Landline
  3. Cellular

Let’s take a closer look at what these options are all about, and to see which is right for you.


Today, most modern security systems rely on broadband, which means they need a Wi-Fi connection to function properly. Wi-Fi is best for home automation systems. Although the availability of broadband connectivity has dramatically increased in recent years, not every house has this type of connection, especially in rural areas. Or, such areas may have broadband connectivity, but poor or unreliable coverage due to the location. Obviously, this presents a problem, as you need a security system that offers reliable 24-hour service for peace of mind.


If broadband or Wi-Fi is an issue, you may want to consider a security system that utilizes a landline. Landline monitoring is the least expensive option, but it’s not always the most secure. If a criminal wants access to your home, they could easily cut the wires and disable the entire system. While this is always a possibility (and therefore a concern), it’s actually not too common.


Cellular is least susceptible when it comes to tampering, but it also tends to be the most expensive of the connectivity options. If you do go with cellular, you must ensure your area has good cellular coverage. If it doesn’t, you won’t be able to reliably access your security system remotely to check on alerts or to view security camera live-feeds. You also need good coverage so that your security equipment can communicate with the monitoring station and work with compatible devices and sensors. Think of it in the same way your computer wirelessly connects to your printer and interacts over the same network. If you have a security system with remote sensors and a smartphone app, all of this technology needs to properly interact in order to make your system truly safe and secure.

Home Automation Options

Home automation is a serious benefit of modern security systems. More people are looking to fully automate their homes, especially as smart devices are becoming more affordable and available.

And let’s be honest, while home automation makes for an easier and more convenient life, it’s also novel and interesting. Controlling your home with your voice or with the push-of-a-button is an excellent way to relax and still get things done (and show-off to your neighbors).

Some security systems today are compatible with smart home automation devices, like Google Home and Amazon Alexa. So, if you’re looking for a security system that works seamlessly with home automation features – like unlocking your door remotely from your phone, controlling the AC, voice-activated lights, etc. – then be sure the system you choose is compatible with third-party automation platforms.

You’ll find that some equipment is compatible with almost everything, while other equipment is only compatible with specific systems or devices from the same company/brand. For instance, a lot of the current smart thermostats won’t work with voice-controlled options such as Amazon Echo.

Additionally, getting each and every device to communicate properly, and to maintain this functionality, can be frustrating and difficult. However, the more compatible a security system is with other smart technology in the home, the fewer problems you’ll have with the system and its components.

So be sure to look into the platforms that your system works with.

Common Features Found in Home Security Systems

For many, the features of a home security system are incredibly important and top the list of things to consider when it comes time to buy. However, you need to strike a balance between the features you want and how much the system costs. Also, you wouldn’t want to pay for features you don’t need and won’t use, which can happen when you purchase standard home security bundles.

Don’t fall into this trap. Instead, save money by choosing a system that meets your needs perfectly, and only pay for what you are going to use. For instance, why pay for a security bundle with ten window sensors when you only have six windows? That’s money down the drain.

So write down exactly what you want monitored in your home or apartment, and then make sure the system that you’re considering checks all of the boxes (equipment, devices, add-ons, etc.) to meet your needs.

However, it’s generally better to have too many features than it is to have too few features, so be sure to do your homework. Also, it’s important to note that almost all major security companies will customize a system that works specifically for your home and budget.

Here’s a comparison of some of the most common features available from a few of the top rated security companies:

Home Security Features Frontpoint Vivint ADT SimpliSafe
Installation Type DIY Professional Professional DIY
No-Contract Option No No No Yes
Home Automation Yes Yes Yes No
Mobile App Yes Yes Yes Yes
Customer Support Score 5-stars 3.5-stars 3-stars 4-stars

Now, here are the most common options and features to look for when shopping for a security system:

  • Control Panel – A control panel monitors the security equipment, has a siren or other alarm, and can communicate with emergency dispatchers. Some control panels have a simple digital display, while others may feature a full-color touchscreen for managing the system. But it’s the 21st century after all – so the majority of people are controlling their systems from their smartphones. This is why a sophisticated touchscreen digital display is becoming less and less of a selling point.
  • Remote Control – Most home security systems now offer remote controllers that fit onto keychains. These typically have a convenient button that can arm and disarm the security system, and can alert the monitoring station if there’s an emergency or break-in. These remote controls are a quick and easy way to access your system, and they work very much like the key fob that comes with many new cars on the market.
  • Sensors – Sensors come in a number of different styles. Making sure you get the right ones is perhaps the biggest consideration when it comes to finding a home security system that makes sense for you. Some sensors are essential, while others may not truly enhance your security experience. Sure, extra sensors might give you added peace of mind, but they’ll come at a price. Generally, the bigger the house, the more important the extra sensors become. Here are the sensors and detectors that you’ll want to consider:
    • Motion SensorsThese sensors are generally placed at entryways and in large rooms. As the name suggests, motion sensors send an alert (or alarm) whenever they detect motion, and they often work hand-in-hand with security cameras (they activate the cameras to record the motion). This way, you’ll be able to see the perpetrator (or the plant that fell from the counter) and even keep a recording of it for evidence or what have you.
    • Door and Window Sensors – These are similar to motion sensors, but they only detect if the window or door they are attached to is opened. These can be great for doors and windows that are on the other side of your house, or the rooms you visit less frequently.
    • Freeze Sensors – These sensors will alert you about very low temperatures that could potentially freeze pipes. This allows you to wrap the pipes or take other preventative measures to keep pipes from freezing and breaking.
    • Heat Sensors – Different from smoke alarms, these sensors are set off by rapidly rising temperatures indicative of fire. They do not need to detect smoke to be activated, so if there isn’t much smoke present (or the smoke is blowing the other direction) these sensors will still work to help keep you and your home safe and secure from a potentially catastrophic house fire.
    • Flood Sensor – Most useful in flood-prone areas with basements, Flood Sensors alert you when water levels are detected so that you can take the necessary action to prevent further damage to your home.
    • Glass Break Sensors – These sensors are set off by the high frequency sound of glass breaking, alerting you of vandals or burglars. Needless to say, if someone breaks your window to gain access to your home and valuables, you’ll be the first to know.
  • Security Cameras – Security cameras can provide video recordings and a live view of your house and surroundings. The best motion sensor security cameras can detect the slightest movement and begin recording immediately. You can also monitor your property remotely using your smartphone if your particular system allows for it. This feature is especially important if you travel or work long hours. To find your perfect fit, see our favorite security systems with cameras.
  • Home Automation – Installing a security system in your home is a convenient occasion to add home automation. Home security companies provide mobile apps that can control home lighting, thermostats, surveillance cameras, and more. But be sure to carefully check equipment compatibility. To help you on your way, here’s a list of our favorite home security systems with automation.
  • Carbon Monoxide Detectors – These detectors will alert you if and when the carbon monoxide in your home reaches life-threatening levels. As you likely know, carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, so you may not realize there’s a leak until it’s too late. But with a quality carbon monoxide detector, you can rest easy knowing you’re covered.
  • Smoke Alarms – Smoke alarms alert you of high levels of smoke, signaling a potential fire. Although they are often purchased with a battery and used separately from your system, having a smoke detector wired into your house and into your alarm system is a smart choice for most homes. This solution is safer and can reduce the risk of loss when it comes to life and property.
  • Two-Way Voice – Another nifty feature, two-way voice allows you to speak directly with the call center of your security system monitoring service. You can two-way talk either through the control panel in your home, or remotely with another device such as a smartphone (if your system allows for it). You can let the monitoring station know if it’s a false alarm, or if there’s a serious problem like a medical emergency or security breach.
  • Mobile & App SupportMobile access for home security systems enables you to monitor and control your home remotely, from anywhere in the world. A smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer can be used for arming a system, viewing live security video, controlling lights, unlocking and locking the door, and even controlling the air conditioning.
  • Guarantees and Warranties – Many companies offer warranties for their equipment that covers equipment failure within a given time frame. They may also provide relocation guarantees with discounted or free installation services, in the event you move while still under contract. Not all companies offer guarantees or warranties, so go over the contract with a fine-toothed comb before you sign it.
  • Cellular Monitoring – Many alarm system control panels use cellular signals to communicate with emergency operators. Others use landlines or broadband internet connections as mentioned previously. Cellular systems are generally the least vulnerable to tampering, but they are also the most expensive. Be sure to learn which type of connection the company offers before signing up for an alarm system.
  • Landline Monitoring – Landline monitoring provides the most stable connection when a reliable cellular or Wi-Fi network isn’t available. Traditionally, landline home security was the least expensive, but cellular networks today are becoming more affordable. Also, as we discussed, a landline connection carries a certain risk. That is, a burglar can cut the wires to disable your system. While this isn’t common, it’s something to keep in mind.
  • Flood Lights – Often combined with motion sensors, flood lights can be used to light up a large area so you can see who is on your property and scare them off.

Home Security Installation Methods

Installing home security systems can be overwhelming, so for some people it’s best left to the professionals. However, if you count yourself among the DIY crowd, there are many systems that can be easily installed by homeowners and renters; this can also save you a lot of money. With that said, there are benefits and drawbacks of both installation methods. So let’s have a closer look.

Professional vs DIY Installation

Professional installation ensures that everything is up and running properly. And the installation professional can give you a walkthrough of the system so that you can familiarize yourself with the different features and how to use them. This option is best for those who will be living in their current home for a long time. However, if you think you’re going to move relatively soon, then a system with DIY installation may be the best choice for you. It will certainly save you money.

So ask yourself an important question: “What type of person am I?” Professional installations are best for busy adults, non-tech-savvy people, and those who aren’t good with tools (although many DIY systems only require a single screwdriver for setup). The elderly may also benefit from getting professional installation, rather than over-burdening themselves with a DIY option.

But if you have the time and the skills, DIY installation is a smart choice. Many companies that offer DIY installation have comprehensive manuals – and even video tutorials – on how to set everything up. Also, companies now provide easy-to-use apps that will guide you through the connectivity between devices and the control panel.

The main issue with DIY installation is if any problems do arise, you may not be clear on how to fix them. What seemed like a quick setup could turn into hours of troubleshooting, back-and-forth dialog with customer support (if you go with the wrong company), being put on hold, and having to redo installations over, and over, and over again. This can become a source of frustration that you might not have the time or patience to handle. Problems like these are generally not the norm, but they do arise from time to time.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that wireless systems usually do not need professional installation. Such systems are virtually plug-and-play, with no wires to run through walls, and user-friendly connectivity processes. These wireless systems allow for easy-install with basic tools and minimal skills.

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of both types of installations:

Professional Installation

The Pros

  • It can be a major time saver – All you need to do is set up the appointment for the installer to come by your house and get everything installed. You won’t need to spend hours toiling over what goes where, getting everything drilled and screwed in, and then realizing it doesn’t work right and you have to troubleshoot to find where you went wrong, and then having to redo it all again. The professional knows exactly how to set up the system.
  • It will have a professional appearance – The professional will install everything flawlessly, so that all the cameras, sensors, and the control panel are level and properly secured. DIY installations can get sloppy if not done properly.
  • You’ll get an experienced walkthrough – At the end of the installation, the installer will walk you through how to use the system and how to take full advantage of all the features. If you do it yourself, you may never come across certain features.
  • There may be a bundled discount – Sometimes professional installations come with extra equipment, or even discounts on the monthly plans. This can offset some of the cost of the professional installation and make it more economically attractive. Check with your system provider to see if they offer any such discounts.

The Cons

  • Higher upfront costs – Some providers may advertise professional installation as free, but really the cost is built into a higher monthly fee or higher equipment costs. Generally, the costs for a professional installation can range from as low as $99 for a basic system, up to $1,500 or more. Often this cost depends on what features you want and how big your house is. As mentioned, you should compare the upfront costs, along with the total cost of the monitoring service over the course of the contract, to see if the “free” installation is worth it.
  • Appointment scheduling can be a hassle – If you’re busy and only home in the evenings, scheduling an appointment can be a pain. Also, some companies give a window of up to eight hours when their installer will show up, so you’ll need to be home that entire time to wait for them. Taking the day off work for a security system installation may not be realistic.
  • Your system may not be fully customizable – While the professional installer sets everything up nicely, they tend to follow a strict install routine, which may not be exactly to your specs. Also, you might want additions and upgrades later, but these may not be compatible with your system setup. So remember to consider scalability, especially if you’re particular about what you want.

DIY Installation

The Pros

  • You have full control – Professional installers tend to follow a strict routine when it comes to how to install and set up a security system. When you do it yourself, you can fully customize where the devices go. You can then add on any additional devices, or change out old ones, whenever you want. DIY installation offers the freedom to really make your home security system your own.
  • Lower costs – Doing it yourself eliminates the need to pay an expert to do it. You can easily save hundreds of dollars this way, possibly more, as many companies that offer DIY install have cheaper monthly plans.
  • No appointments to keep – You can install the system whenever you want. There’s no need to wait on the installer, or to reschedule if something changes. This is a great way to work on the system after hours, on weekends, or whenever you have the spare time to set it up and get it operating and protecting your home.
  • Get a great sense of satisfaction – Anyone who has finished a DIY project knows the satisfaction that comes with it. There’s nothing else like seeing your own handiwork come to fruition. And if something goes wrong down the road, you’ll feel empowered to fix it on your own, rather than feeling helpless and needing to call an expert. You’ll know all about your security system by the time it’s operating, and you can feel confident about using and maintaining the system well into the future.

The Cons

  • DIY installations can be tough and time consuming – DIY can be time consuming, especially if things don’t go smoothly. If you’re busy and have a hectic schedule, DIY install might become a much bigger hassle than you bargained for. You have to weigh the low price of the DIY installation against the value of your time (and patience!).
  • There may be troubleshooting issues – When things don’t go as planned, you may have to spend hours figuring out the issue, possibly seeking help through the company’s customer support. Even then, you may not fully solve the issue. Not all customer support personnel are helpful, and it can be difficult to explain and understand the issue if you’re not exactly sure what’s wrong.
  • High upfront equipment costs – You may have to buy the equipment yourself to install it, which only adds to the upfront cost. With professional installations, you’ll likely be renting the equipment, with the costs built into the monthly subscription fee. If you don’t mind paying more upfront, you could save money over time by going the DIY route.
  • You won’t get a professional walkthrough – With no walkthrough, there’s a chance you might not fully comprehend your new security system, and you might miss out on some neat features or pro tips. Control panels and apps can have a lot of hidden functions you may not discover on your own, or even see mentioned in the user’s manual.

Comparing Home Security Systems by Company

By now you should know what to look for when it comes to features, technology, and the specifics of a security system. But what about the companies behind these systems? What do you look for to ensure the company is worth buying into? And how do you compare the security system companies to one another?

Here are a handful of important things to consider when choosing a home security company. While there might be other considerations, these are the main factors that can (and will!) impact your service:

  • Does the company serve your area? You wouldn’t want to fall in love with a company that only serves, say, the state of Florida when you live way up in Minnesota. This happens, so be sure you understand the service area.
  • How fast is the response time? The reliability of a home security company is easily measured — and it’s measured in ‘average response time.’ If a system has 24/7 professional monitoring (many do), then the response time is how long it takes for the monitoring center personnel to reach out to the homeowner after a security breach. The faster, the better. Some companies have this down to 15 seconds. Steer clear of companies that take longer than 30-45 seconds.
  • What is the customer service like? Most people don’t even think to consider customer service, until it’s too late. Some security companies don’t exactly have the best track-record of satisfying customers when it matters the most. While others get outstanding marks across the board. So be sure to find a company with A+ service; you’ll be glad you did.
  • Do they require contracts? While contracts aren’t all bad (as we’ll discuss), be wary of companies that require long-term contracts on all of their plans. If you’re a homeowner and plan to stay put for several years, a contract isn’t a deal-breaker. But if you rent, for instance, and plan on moving around, it’s best to find a company that doesn’t require you to mortgage your security system, if you will.
  • Do they offer a money-back guarantee? A money-back guarantee (and other customer-friendly policies) is the security company’s way of standing behind their products and services. Look for a generous money-back guarantee, because you just never know. Many companies offer 30-day, 60-day, and even 90-day money-back guarantees. This is a great way to take the risk off your shoulders.
  • Does the company offer ‘scalable’ systems? Some security companies only offer ultra-basic home security systems that do not accommodate additional devices or integrate with home automation platforms. So be sure to find out if the company offers add-ons and options, as well as systems that are compatible with third-party platforms. These are all important factors to consider.
  • Does the company offer DIY installation? Some companies actually require professional installation. While this is great for some people, it simply doesn’t work for others. So it’s nice to at least have the option of DIY install. When comparing home security companies, be sure you understand their installation methods.
  • Count the cost. We really dig into this important consideration in our ‘Cost of Home Security’ section below. But get a good feeling of the average price-points when comparing security companies. And don’t forget to look past the advertised pricing — as there’s always more to the story.

Reading Security Company Reviews

It’s the digital age, so security system company reviews are easy enough to find. They can also be extremely helpful in narrowing down your choices and digging deeper into a particular system. In fact, you can learn pretty much everything about a security company and their offerings by reading an in-depth review.

A really solid review will share the pros and cons, the ups and downs, and pretty much everything you should know before you pull out your wallet. It’s entirely possible (and encouraged) to fully understand each system you have your eye on – the features and tech, the contracts, warranties, everything.

But unfortunately, not all home security company reviews are created equal. There are lots of websites that are just trying to push products, making their reviews completely unbiased and downright misleading.

So here’s what you want to look for in a review:

  • The company/reviewer is a true authority. If the reviewer isn’t a home security expert, keep searching. There are enough quality sources out there that really know home security, so it’s silly to waste time reading the opinions of amateurs. The one exception is the consumer who owns the actual system they’re reviewing. These reviews are typically not in-depth or detailed, but they give you a sense of customer satisfaction.
  • They share the pros AND cons. If a review is 100% glowing and has nothing negative to say about a security system, then it’s probably a fake review. By fake review we mean unbiased and not trustworthy. No security system is perfect. So look for reviews that tell the whole story about your potential purchase.
  • They test the security systems. Ideally you want to read a review written by someone who has tested the system. This way, they can share specifics about how it functions. Taking the thing out of the box and actually testing it is the best way to get a full picture of the product.
  • They score the security systems. It’s nice to see an easy-reference chart that scores the different categories. This score chart helps you to see how a particular offer stacks up against other similar security systems.
  • They are very thorough. Too much information is better than too little information. Look for reviews that are easy-to-navigate from section to section, with each section detailing everything you need to know, and nothing you don’t.
  • They are helpful. You should get a sense that the review is actually helping you to make a wise decision on your home security purchase.

Final Words

Choosing a home security system can seem intimidating at first, especially when you’re trying to decide which one best fits your lifestyle and living arrangement. But the more understanding you have of the different options, the better off you’ll be when it comes to finding the one that makes sense for you. Hopefully, this guide has helped you to get a better grasp on the options and what to look for so that you can make the right choice.

The good news is that there are plenty of options. From features and technology, to the different installation methods, monitored vs. self-monitored, warranties, guarantees, customer service, and more. No two companies are exactly alike, and each one has something new and unique to bring to the table. This means that you’re sure to find a system that suits your needs (and your budget!).

Written By
Rob Gabriele
Managing Editor & Home Security Expert

As Managing Editor for SafeHome.org, Rob Gabriele has written and edited over 1,000 articles in home security. His expertise is in smart home automation and home protection with thousands of hours of testing and research under his belt. Formerly a reporter and producer for the USAToday network, Rob has been a writer and editor for over 10 years. He holds a Master’s of Science with an emphasis on writing from the University of Montana, and he currently lives in the Reno/Tahoe area of Nevada.

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