Home Security Systems: Your Options for 2024

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Getting to Know Home Security Systems

Your home is undoubtedly one of the most important places or spaces in your life. It’s where you sleep at night. It’s where you create memories with your family. It’s where you should feel most safe and secure.

Unfortunately, the sanctity of this safety is violated with frightening frequency. According to the FBI, approximately 2.5 million homes are burglarized every year.1 That doesn’t mean you have to sit back and wait to be a victim, though. There are proactive measures you can take to protect your family and your property.

For many people, that means installing a home security system. There’s really no better way to prevent burglars and thieves from snooping around where they shouldn’t, and you can’t beat the peace of mind that comes from knowing you can summon help in seconds (or at least minutes) during an emergency situation.

That said, selecting which security system is right for you can be a little daunting. And we get why. You might have questions about installation: do you need to have someone out to install it, or are you handy enough to do it yourself? Questions about features: what’s better, battery-powered or hardwired cameras? And don’t forget questions about money: how much does it all cost? It can be tricky to know where to start.

Don’t worry. We’re here to help.

SimpliSafe Equipment

SimpliSafe Equipment

To say that shopping for a home security system can be daunting is a profound understatement. There is a lot to consider, but don’t worry — we’ve spent countless hours testing security systems in our home. After reading this guide you’ll be up to speed on everything you need to know about home security, and it will hopefully make your purchasing decisions a lot more clear.

This guide covers absolutely everything you need to know about home security systems. We get into features and accessories, costs and contracts, and even touch on a few factors you might never have considered. But let’s not keep beating around the bush. Let’s get to it.

What are Home Security Systems?

Let’s start with the basics: just what is a home security system. Probably the best definition of a home security system is a network of connected sensors and other equipment that work cooperatively to protect your home. All of these devices are designed to let you know when there’s a problem – a fire, a flood, a break-in – so you can contact emergency personnel.

Another way of defining a home security system is to talk about its various components. There are a lot of choices.

In fact, probably the best way to understand home security systems is to focus on each one of these pieces of equipment in turn, so you get an idea of how a system can protect you.

Image of house with security system components

Entryway Sensors

Vivint Door and Window Sensor

Vivint Door and Window Sensor

  • Core Function — Also called door and 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 come in two parts, a magnet and a sensor. The two components form a magnetic field when in close contact with each other. However, when the door or window they are attached to opens, the magnetic field is disturbed and the sensor signals the base station to sound the siren.
  • Key Features & Tech — Once upon a time entry sensors had to be bolted to doors and windows, and you might still find that with some professionally installed security systems. DIY systems have grown more and more popular though, and these typically offer easy adhesive or velcro installation that you can do yourself, no tools required. In either case, when a sensor is triggered, the system sends you a mobile alert.
  • Add-ons and Integrations — Some systems allow users to automate IoT devices based on the entry sensor’s status. For example, when a door opens, the base station can signal smart lights to turn on. We recommend installing an entry sensor on every possible first-floor entry into your home and on any accessible second-floor windows. However, you can purchase entry sensors to protect every door and window in your home.

Motion Sensors

Closeup of Cove Motion Detector

Cove Motion Detector

  • 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 (like the one pictured below) use infrared technology that can sense body heat. The simplest of these sensors, called PIR (passive infrared) sensors help avoid false alarms by triggering only when a moving object emits body heat. That means leaves blowing by or a passing car won’t set them off. More sophisticated “active infrared” sensors can distinguish between different types of objects, which helps to prevent pets from setting off alarms.
  • Key Features & Tech — Motion detectors can be integrated into other types of equipment. A motion detector might be connected to a floodlight, for instance, so that movement triggers it to come on. Attaching a motion detector to a security cameras allows for even more features, such as video capture and even facial recognition.
  • Add-ons and Integrations — As with entry sensors, most motion sensors can be connected to smart home ecosystems and configured to perform interconnected actions.

Security Cameras

Lorex cameras

Lorex 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 if it is the pizza guy or a porch pirate 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 — Many cameras integrate with existing home automation platforms like Nest, HomeKit, etc. You can configure your cameras with various rules, such as setting it to record every day at 3 p.m. when your kids get home from school.

Video Doorbells

Ring Video Doorbell 3

Ring Video Doorbell 3

  • 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. Homeowners and neighbors have even used them to identify car thieves. With car theft on the rise, these cameras are a welcome tool for many.
  • How it Works — The easy DIY video doorbells replace your existing doorbell. They sport a small camera that either records video activity or takes still shots. In the simplest setups, you can access images yourself so you know what’s happening in and around your home. Some systems, though, allow you record footage you can then turn over to the police. Oh, 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

Vivint App Package Notification

Vivint App Package Notification

  • Core FunctionHome 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. Home automation also enables families to ensure the safety and security of extended family members — like older loved ones who are aging in place.
  • 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. A lot of them also work with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant to allow for hands-free voice control.


Ring Floodlight

Ring Floodlight

  • Core Function — Floodlights’ primary purpose is to shine a light on suspicious activity. After all, the perimeters of many homes can be dark, thus making them especially vulnerable to intruders. They also help with visibility at night for guests entering and exiting, especially seniors who don’t see as well.
  • 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

Vivint Smart Hub Settings

Vivint Smart Hub Settings

  • 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

SimpliSafe - Glassbreak Detector

SimpliSafe – Glassbreak Detector

  • 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

abode Key Fob

abode Key Fob

  • 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

SimpliSafe - Smoke Detector

SimpliSafe – Smoke Detector

  • 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 device is app-based, so you can be up and running within minutes. You can access and control the smoke detector just by opening the app, then monitoring any potential situations.
  • 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

Vivint Smart CO/Smoke Detectors

Vivint Smart CO/Smoke 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). Note that many companies have begun offering devices that offer both smoke and CO detection. See the Vivint detector in the picture above.
  • 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.

Pro Tip: While an increasing number of companies are offering DIY installation, some still require professional installation. Keep in mind, though, having your system professionally installed will likely cost you north of $100.

How Do Home Security Systems Work?

Cove Installation Steps 1-2

Cove Installation Steps 1-2

The most basic home security systems will primarily use door and window sensors that communicate with a central hub. When the system is active and a door or window opens, the sensor will notify the hub which will send out an alert or sound an alarm. Some systems will even alert the authorities if you have professional monitoring set up. From there, your system can get more complex by adding on sensors, security cameras, and other pieces of equipment, but we’ll get into that more later.

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).

Thankfully, a lot of the time alarms are false. This can be for any number of reasons — maybe you forgot the alarm was set and opened a window; maybe your dog set off the motion detector — but regardless of the reason, your monitoring staff will still reach out to you. If it is a false alarm, you can let them know what’s going on. If you don’t respond, though, most will then escalate action and alert authorities.

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.

Security systems that aren’t linked to professional monitoring centers are referred to as non-monitored or self-monitored systems. As these names suggest, the task of monitoring and responding to alerts falls entirely on the shoulders of the homeowner. They have to be ready for alerts, they have to be willing to check the system and see what’s happening, and, if there is an emergency, they’re the ones who must call in emergency personnel.

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.

The majority of self-monitored systems rely on text-based alerts that are sent to your smartphone via push notifications. Depending on how detailed they are, you might get a message saying “hallway motion sensor activated” or “there is a person at your gate.” If you have cameras in place, you might also be able to see what’s going on. Some folks feel this is enough protection, but others might feel more secure if a professional was also alerted.

There’s yet one more way security systems work that’s worth mentioning: simply having one can be an effective deterrent to anyone who might be thinking about breaking in. Video doorbells and outdoor cameras can alert would-be home invaders that you’re keeping a close watch on your property, but truthfully all you need to do this is put your security company’s sign in your yard. Even the idea of a security system scares most burglars. It’s another good reason to display signs and stickers where they’re obvious.

Deep Sentinel Yard Sign in our yard

Deep Sentinel Yard Sign in our yard

Home Security Quiz & Checklist

How does your home measure up when it comes to security? Take this quiz to see how you score, and get recommendation to protect your home.

Take the Quiz

Benefits of Owning a Security System for Your Home

There are tons of benefits to outfitting your home with a security system. For one, it can cut down the chances you’ll fall victim to a burglary or a home invasion.

While that alone would be enough to convince most people to invest in a security system, 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.
Police Officer Sent to Our House from Cove Monitoring

Police Officer Sent to Our House from Cove Monitoring

Is a Home Security System Right for Me?

The long and short of it is this — your home security should be thought of just like any other system in your home. You wouldn’t really go without an HVAC or an electrical system, and your security — we feel — is even more important. Even more so now, given how accessible and affordable these systems are.

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?

There are a ton of home security companies out there — from abode to Xfinity — and they’re all vying for your security dollar. We’ve linked to our opinions of dozens of security companies below, but that’s just scratching the surface. There are hundreds of these companies, and that number is growing all the time. Many are small and only service select areas, while others aren’t worth the time of day.

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.

The good news is, you don’t have to do that homework yourself. That’s what we’re here for. We spend all our time–more than a thousand hours a year, in fact—putting security systems through their paces. We find out what it takes to trip a SimpliSafe motion sensor, just how loud a Ring Chime is, and how much you’ll pay to add a camera to your ADT system. Then we condense it all and write it up in clear, easy-to-understand language so all you have to do is read through guides like this one.

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.

An additional piece of advice: be on the lookout for sales. Many home security companies offer seasonal discounts. For example, at the time of this writing, SimpliSafe was offering a 50 percent discount for any new system.

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 when it comes to pricing. Some home security providers rent out equipment rather than sell it outright. This means your initial cost will be lower, but you’re going to be paying a higher monthly fee, and you can’t take your equipment with you when you go. Some people prefer one over the other, but it’s really a matter of preference and budget.

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 the best home 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 $194.98 Starts at $249.96
Monthly Monitoring Price $49.99 $39.99 – $49.99 $24.99 – $64.99 $0 – $29.99

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.

SimpliSafe Base Station Closeup

SimpliSafe Base Station Closeup

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.

Now we get that this might seem counterintuitive, but the reason is that most security companies that lease out their equipment will require professional installation and a mandatory long-term contract. That’s a pretty big commitment for a renter, and usually a waste of money. If you decide to leave, you still have to pay to cancel the contract. Note though, that some providers will allow you to transfer your system to a new property, but that usually comes with contract renegotiations.

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. Full service companies typically charge premium fees for their equipment. Looking elsewhere is yet another way to save money.

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.

Alder Security Equipment

Alder Security Equipment

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.

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.

Closeup of Deep Sentinel Camera, mounted Outside

Closeup of Deep Sentinel Camera, mounted Outside

Home Automation Options

These days homes also differ when it comes to intelligence. More and more of us have begun to partially and fully automate their homes. It’s becoming more affordable every day, it makes for an easier and more convenient life. But let’s be honest: 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).

Just as with other aspects of your home, though, it’s intelligence is something to consider when you’re selecting a home security system.

Many security systems today are compatible with smart home automation devices, like Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Not all of them are, though. 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.

Person Detection on the Vivint Smart Hub

Person Detection on the Vivint Smart Hub

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.

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 Sensors – These 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. They can even help protect your pets! To find your perfect fit, see our favorite security systems with cameras.
  • Home AutomationInstalling 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 Vivint Outdoor Camera Pro

Installing Vivint Outdoor Camera Pro

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.

Frontpoint Door Sensor vs Ring Sensor

Frontpoint Door Sensor vs Ring Sensor

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.

One of the main issues with a DIY system is that if problems arise during the setup, it’s going to be between you and the customer service team to figure them out. What seemed like a quick setup could turn into hours of troubleshooting and headaches trying to describe what’s going on to folks who aren’t there looking at it. These problems aren’t the norm, but if you don’t have the troubleshooting skills — or time, or patience — it’s something to consider.

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.

abode Gateway

abode Gateway

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.
Photo of our Vivint Installation Specialist, Don

Don, our Smart Home Professional from Vivint

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.
Installing Vivint Window Sensor

Don, our Vivint technician, installing the Vivint Window Sensor

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.
Installing the Reolink Argus 3

Installing the Reolink Argus 3

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.
Deep Sentinel Equipment

Deep Sentinel Equipment

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.
SimpliSafe Wireless Keypad Menu Options

SimpliSafe Wireless Keypad Menu Options

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!

SafeHome.org only uses high-quality sources to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Zebra. (2023, January 31). Burglary Statistics.

Rob Gabriele
Written By
Rob Gabriele
Managing Editor & Home Security Expert

As a home security expert and Managing Editor for SafeHome.org, Rob Gabriele has written and edited over 1,000 articles related to home security. His expertise is in smart 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 Indianapolis, IN.