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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.
We’ve created this guide to bring you up to speed on what’s currently available on the home security market, as well as to help you understand the factors that you need to consider when deciding which security system is right for you.
This guide covers everything from home security system features and accessories, to payment options and contractual obligations. It also shines a light on 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!
Home security systems help protect your home and consist of entryway sensors, motion sensors, a base station, and security cameras, among other security sensors. The system will sound an alarm when a burglar enters your home, and if you have professional monitoring, the emergency response center will be alerted.
The different components of a security system include:
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
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 will discuss later).
Most often alarm calls 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.
On the other hand, security systems that are not linked to a professional monitoring center are considered a non-monitored, or self-monitored system. This implies that the task of monitoring for alerts falls on the shoulders of the homeowner. They’ll be the ones to contact police or emergency personnel in the event of a security breach.
There are loads of great do-it-yourself security systems that secure the home in that way, and one feature they all share in common is the ability to notify homeowners remotely, which helps the homeowner to take immediate action.
Self-monitored security systems use email and text alerts, but the immediate rise to popularity of smartphone-controlled security systems paved one more avenue of sending alerts: push notifications. Alerts are sent straight to your smartphone, and from there, you can open your home security app and investigate the incident.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 $99||Starts at $549.99||Starts at $125||Starts at $229.96|
|Monthly Monitoring Price||$49.99||$39.99 – $49.99||$28.95 – $52.99||$0 – $27.99|
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.
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.
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.
That might seem counterintuitive, but the reason is that most security companies that lease out their equipment require professional installation and a minimum three-year contract. That is a pretty big commitment for a renter, not to mention, a waste of money. Since you’re under contract, you must continue to use their service even if you move, and that means having a system professionally installed in your new place. Plus, your contract will likely start over.
If you purchase a DIY system, it moves with you when you go. It takes minimal effort to take down and set up most DIY systems, and some companies will even send you a care package of fresh adhesives for your sensors and other installation must-haves if you tell them you’re moving.
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 the scalability of the system you sign up for, especially if you want to upgrade or make changes to your system down the line.
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:
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 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, you may find it hard to search for a security system that works with smart thermostats from Google Nest, even though they’re some of the most popular smart thermostats today. That’s because the Nest Thermostat doesn’t support Z-Wave, which is what most security systems use today for inter-brand communication.
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.
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|
|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:
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 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:
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:
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:
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!).
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.