Ready to Pick a Home Security System?

Here's What You Need to Consider

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When it's time to choose a security system you may not be sure where to start looking or how to decide which one of the many options is right for you, but we can help. That's what we're here for! There are a lot of things to think about, and since these systems can be costly you want to be sure you have the right one for your needs and goals.

Below, we’ll go over what you want and need to think about when it comes to your lifestyle, along with all the terminology commonly used by security system companies. That will help you make a wise choice when it comes to which security system will give you everything you need, whether you want to rent or buy equipment, and which company will be the most reliable. Knowing all of that is a great way to have true peace of mind with your home security system choice.

Home Ownership

Owning a home is a big responsibility, and security is a large part of that. When you own a home there are also factors that come into play with a security company that won't be there if you rent. That's because:

  • Homeowners typically stay in one place longer than renters
  • Making changes to a home you own doesn't require a landlord's permission
  • Having a system installed makes it harder to move your security service
  • Not all monitored security companies operate in all areas
  • Wired and wireless systems can be very different in reliability

So, do you rent or own your home?

This is the first thing you should consider. If you’re renting and plan on only being at your current location for a couple of years or less, then you’ll most likely want to buy a security system with a DIY installation and purchased equipment, rather than something that's rented. Most major security companies rent out their equipment, with the cost of that rental built into their monthly fee. These plans often require a three-year contract and professional installation.

So if you’re living somewhere long-term and you own the house, you may want to choose a permanent solution with a lower upfront cost but longer contractual obligations. If you're renting, pick from companies that have a higher upfront cost, but that give you ownership of the equipment. Then you'll see lower monthly costs and the benefit of being able to take the equipment with you from location to location. Having the opportunity to move your security equipment around with you can be extremely beneficial if you rent, or even if you plan to sell your home and move relatively soon.

You don't have to hold off getting a security system for peace of mind if you're a renter, or if you're a homeowner who knows you'll be moving soon. You can get everything you need from a system that doesn't have a big contract. Just keep in mind that the upfront cost is going to be higher. The benefit, other than being able to move the system easily, is that you'll own the equipment instead of renting it. That way you don't have to worry about giving the equipment back later, and potentially being charged for missing or damaged items. It's also much easier to get a new system or get extra sensors or other options for something you own, because you can buy them through any retailer that sells compatible equipment.

When you rent equipment the upfront cost is definitely better, but you're still paying for that equipment over time, in your monthly service fees. Additionally, if you want extra sensors or other things, the cost of that monthly subscription may rise. Or you may simply be told no, because the company you use doesn't have what you're looking for, doesn't offer it to customers in your area, or has compatibility issues that have to be considered. Only you can decide which option is right for your needs, but consider your current home ownership or rental status carefully before you make a commitment to any kind of security system.

Compatibility

Having a monitoring system that's compatible with your home is, of course, extremely important. If you aren't careful with what you're buying, you could end up with expensive equipment or a long-term contract that really isn't going to give you what you need. False alarms aren't a good thing, but neither are issues with alarms that don't go off when they should. Additionally, some types of systems are better for more rural areas while others can basically be used anywhere, and addressing that before getting a security system is a good way to save money and ensure compatibility.

So, is the monitoring method you're considering compatible with your home?

When choosing a monitoring system, there are three different options to consider. These are:

  1. WiFi,
  2. Landline, and
  3. Cellular

Most modern security systems are broadband reliant, which means they need a WiFi connection to work. This method is best for home automation systems, but not every house is capable of broadband connections. That's especially true in rural areas. Many of these more remote locations don't have WiFi available, and when they do the coverage isn't going to be the best. That might not be a serious issue for your computer usage, but it's vital to having the peace of mind that comes with a good security system. Don't skimp on the level of protection, or there's little point to having a system at all. If you can't trust your home security system, it's time to look into a different option you feel better about.

If you’re in a rural area, you may need a security system that utilizes a landline. Landline monitoring is the least expensive option, but it's not always the most secure. Someone who wants access to your home can easily cut the wires to disable the entire system. That's a concern, but it's also not that common. Most of the time, seeing burglars or vandals cut the wires to the security system before a break-in only happens in the movies. Still, that's not to say that it couldn't happen. It's important to consider that as a possibility if you live in an area where you need landline monitoring, or if you simply prefer it and choose that as your option for a home security system.

Cellular is the third and final option and the least susceptible to tampering, but it's also the most expensive choice. If you select this choice you’ll want to be sure your area has good cellular coverage. Otherwise you won’t be able to reliably access your security system remotely, to check on any alerts or make use of live view security cameras. You also need to have good coverage so your security equipment can “talk” to the monitoring company, or 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 that technology needs proper interaction in order to make everything truly safe and secure.

Home Automation

A properly automated home isn't important to everyone, but there are many people who want to see their home as automated as possible. They do that because it's easier and more convenient, but also because it's novel and interesting. Being able to control so many aspects of your home with your voice is an excellent way to relax and still get things done. It's also very helpful if you don't have something handy to make notes on, or if you're trying to find a particular song you want to hear. No matter what kinds of things you want to do, home automation can make your daily life more comfortable. But is it really for you? That's something only you can decide.

So, ask yourself whether you want a smart home capable device.

Some security systems are compatible with smart home automation devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa. If you're looking for a security system that's compatible with features like unlocking your door from your phone, controlling the AC, activating lights with your voice, and more, then you’ll want to be sure the system you choose is compatible with other devices. Not all systems are, but most people don't think about that before they buy equipment, or before they get involved with a security company and rent equipment as part of their monthly service fee.

Some equipment is compatible with almost everything, while some are only compatible with very specific systems. Homeowners who really do their homework will quickly find that a lot of smart thermostats, for example, won't work with voice controlled options such as Alexa. Additionally, getting each and every device in a home to work together, and stay working that way, can be frustrating and difficult. The more compatible a security system is with other smart technology in the home, the less chance you'll have of problems with the system or its components.

Cost

While the cost of a home security system shouldn't be the main focus, it still matters. Not everyone can pay premium fees, but they still want to be protected. For those who don't have money as an object, they still may want to save as much as they can. With that in mind, focus on how much you're really paying, not just what the company is advertising. Many security companies like to offer monitoring services “starting at” a particular price. They may also say “as low as” a fee. But those aren't the actual tallies when you get a monitoring system. There's more to the total cost than that initial, starting price.

If you rent equipment, for example, that will be added onto the monthly fee. If you need extra sensors, want to protect a larger house, or have anything out of the ordinary to address, the cost will also rise. Then there's the taxes and surcharges that are always added on, along with a fee for activation and one for installing the equipment, too. These can be high depending on where you live and what kinds of fees the company claims to have. Your $20 a month monitoring contract may end up being $45 by the time you're done with fees, charges, extras, and equipment. That's not necessarily a problem, but it's well worth paying attention to.

So, what is the true, overall cost of the system you want, including installation, activation, equipment, and monthly fees?

Remember, when searching for a security system, the only price you see upfront is usually the monthly fee. However, most security systems also have installation fees, activation fees, and sometimes even equipment fees, as well. You’ll want to compare the upfront costs to the long-term costs of each security system. A company advertising free installation and activation may have a higher monthly fee, making it more costly than a system that has a fee for installation. Equipment is often rented out by the company, too, with the cost of that rental built into the monthly fee.

Other companies require you to buy the equipment upfront. You’ll want to add up the overall cost, and compare that cost between the various security companies you’re considering. That's the only way to truly get a real sense of their pricing, and if they fit into your budget. One that seems too expensive based on its upfront fees may actually be very affordable when you take a look at how much you'll be paying every month. It could average out to be a lot better deal, or it could end up costing you more than if you rented the equipment and paid a higher monthly fee, but still got a much lower upfront price.

Features

The features of a home security system are likely the most important aspect to think about. If you aren't getting the features you want and need it seems relatively pointless to have the system at all. But if you're paying for a lot of features you're not using and don't want to use, that's also not very helpful to your budget. There needs to be a good balance between the features you're using and how much you're paying for those features. In short, you should get good value for your money. That can mean plenty of great features, but it can also mean not paying for things you don't use.

So, does the system have all the features you need, without a lot of things you just won't use?

Depending on your monitoring requirements and home protection goals, some security features and bundles will have equipment you just don’t need. You can save money by choosing a system that meets your needs perfectly if that's possible, rather than paying extra for 10 window sensors when you only have eight windows, for example. On the reverse, the bundle you’re looking at may not have all the sensors you need to properly secure your home. Write down what you want monitored in your house, and make sure the systems you’re considering have all the devices necessary for it.

It's generally better to have features you don't use, instead of wishing you had features that didn't come with your system. But you don't want to pay too much. It may not be realistic to find something that meets your exact needs, but some research into the companies in your area will give you a better idea of how close they can come to meeting the home security needs you have. Then you'll be able to narrow the field and choose a company that's truly best for your needs. Some compromise may be needed, but you'll want to keep that to a minimum. At the end of the day it's your home, security, and peace of mind at stake. So make sure you're getting a company and system you can trust and feel good about.

There are all types of monitoring plans and devices you can get through a monitored security company. Here, we've consolidated some of the most popular and common options and features you might come across, when you're shopping for a security system. That way you can think about these options one at a time, and make a decision on each one as to whether it's something you want and need, or something that doesn't really matter to you.

  • Control Panel – A control panel monitors security equipment, has a siren or other alarm, and can communicate with emergency dispatchers. Some control panels have simple digital displays. Others feature full-color touchscreens for managing home security and automation. The quality of the control panel can vary greatly based on the brand and price. You want one that's going to be reliable, but you don't need the most expensive one to get that.
  • Remote Control – Remote controllers that fit onto keychains are included with home security systems at all price levels. A keychain remote has buttons that arm and disarm the security system, and they can alert a monitoring company if help is needed. It's a quick and easy way to access the system, and works very much like the key fob offered with many cars today.
  • Sensors – These come in a number of different types, so making sure you get the right ones matter. Some of them may be needed, and others may be options that aren't really going to enhance your security experience. There's no need to pay for a lot of sensors you aren't using, but at the same time you really want to protect your home. The bigger the house the more important extra sensors may be. The main ones include:
    • Motion SensorsThese sensors are generally placed at entry walls and in large rooms. They will send an alert whenever they detect motion, and often work hand-in-hand with security cameras, so they can activate those cameras to record the motion visually. That way not only will you be notified that someone is in your home, but you'll be able to see who it is. Your alarm company can be notified, as well.
    • Freeze Sensor – These sensors will alert the user of very low temperatures that may freeze pipes. Wrapping pipes to keep them from freezing and breaking is very important, especially in some climates where the winters can be severe. With these sensors, you can reduce the risk of broken pipes and water damage.
    • Heat Sensor – Different from smoke alarms, this sensor will be set off by rapidly rising temperatures indicative of a potential fire. They don't need smoke to be activated, so if there isn't much smoke or it's blowing the other way, these sensors will still work to keep you and your home safe and protected from harm.
    • Flood Sensor – Most useful in flood prone areas with basements, this sensor will alert you when water levels are detected. That way you can take action to prevent further damage to your home. A lot of times, a homeowner doesn't realize a basement or other low-level area is flooding until significant damage has occurred. Avoiding that and catching water right away can save a lot of stress, time, and money.
    • Glass Break Sensor – This sensor is set off by the high frequency sound of glass breaking, alerting you to vandals or burglars. There are specific noises that can be used to test these sensors, and they are generally relatively sensitive. If someone breaks your window to access your home, this sensor will let you know.
    • Door and Window Sensors – These are similar to motion sensors, but only detect whenever the window or door they are attached to is opened. This can be great for a door or window that's not easy to see or get to from the main parts of the house. Someone could more easily slip into these areas if the door or window is left unlocked, so having sensors there makes good security sense.
  • Carbon Monoxide Detector – You’ll be alerted if carbon monoxide reaches a level high enough to be life threatening. That's very important, because carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. You may not realize it's a problem until it's too late, but with a detector you can have good peace of mind.
  • Smoke AlarmSmoke alarms will detect and alert you when a high level of smoke is detected, signaling a potential fire. These can be purchased with a battery and used effectively, but having them wired into the house and into the alarm system is a better choice for most homes. It's safer, and can reduce the risk of loss when it comes to life and property.
  • Two-Way Voice – This allows you to speak with someone at the call center of your security system monitoring service, either through the control panel or another device enabled with this feature. You can let them know about a false alarm, and also tell them if there's a serious problem you need help with, such as a medical emergency.
  • Mobile & App Support – Mobile access for home security systems lets people monitor and control their homes from anywhere in the world. A smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer can be used for arming a system, viewing live security video, controlling lights, and much more. Systems with app support allow you to control the security system remotely, such as being able to see who is at your door when you’re away, unlocking and locking the door, and even controlling the air conditioning.
  • Guarantees and Warranties – Companies often offer warranties for their equipment, in case that equipment happens to fail within a given time frame. They may also provide relocation guarantees with discounted or free installation services, in case you move within the length of your contract. Not all companies provide these things, though, so be sure you're paying close attention to the details of any contract you're considering before you sign it.
  • Security Cameras – These provide video recordings and a live view of your house and surroundings, which can be seen remotely if the service provides app support. If you want this service, be sure to check whether there is app support. That's especially important if you travel or work long hours, when you may be away from your house a lot of the time.
  • Home Automation – Installing a security system in your home is a convenient time to add home automation. Home security companies provide mobile apps that can control home lighting, thermostats, surveillance cameras and more. But not all companies have a lot of this, and some equipment is only compatible with certain systems. Finding all of that out before signing up with a company is a good idea.
  • Cellular Monitoring – Many alarm system control panels use cellular signals to communicate with emergency operators. Others use landlines or broadband Internet connections. Cellular systems are generally the least vulnerable to tampering, but they are also the most expensive. Be sure to find out which type of connection the company is offering before getting an alarm system.
  • Landline Monitoring – Landline monitoring provides the most stable connection when a reliable cellular network isn’t available. Traditionally, landline home security was the least expensive, but cellular networks today are becoming more affordable, as well. With a landline there is a risk of having someone cut the wires to disable the system. While this isn't common, it can and does happen, so it's something to be aware of.
  • Flood Lights – Often combined with motion sensors, these are used to light up a large area so you can see who is on your property or scare them away. When bright lights come on after motion is detected, an intruder is very likely to rethink their strategy and leave the area. That can keep your property safer and better protected.

Security System Installation Methods

Installation of security systems can be a daunting task best left to the professionals, especially if you’re not much of a DIY person to begin with. However, there are some systems that can be installed by the homeowner themselves with little to no experience. That can save you a substantial amount of money, and provide system functionality that is just as good as a professional installation. We’ll go over everything you should be aware of when deciding between the two installation methods, and the terms you should understand.

So, do you need a professional or a DIY installation?

Professional installations can ensure that everything is working properly, and give you a walkthrough of all the features to take advantage of. This is best for people who are sure they’ll be living in their current place for a long time, since you won’t have to worry about needing to pay for a professional installation again if you move elsewhere. If you do think you're going to move relatively soon, then a system with a DIY installation option may be the best choice for you. It could save you money, and would also allow you to install the system elsewhere in case you move. Professional installations are sometimes included for “free,” but really the cost is built into the higher monthly fee of companies that don’t allow for a DIY installation.

Professional Installation

There are many benefits to professional installation beyond just having someone else do it for you. Professional installations aren’t just for people who don’t know how to work with tools, or connect and wire technological devices. More importantly, a professional installation is a major time saver that ensures proper functionality of all the devices in the security system. It may sound like the best idea in all cases, but it can be expensive and may not be set up exactly the way you want. To help you decide whether a professional installation is right for you, let's go over the pros and cons of having your security system installed by a professional.

The Pros

It's a 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'll never have to spend hours toiling over what goes where, getting everything drilled and screwed in, and then realizing you did it wrong and have to redo it all. The professional does this every day for months and years, so they know how to set up the security system without any issues. It's an easy way to get a good system installed, and not worry about whether it's going to be the right thing for your home, or work when you turn it on.

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 sometimes get sloppy, but there is no chance of that with a professional installation. That's not to see that DIYers don't do things right, but only that experience has its benefits. The more experienced someone is, the better job they'll generally do. So when you hire a professional to install something, the chances are high that it's going to be done right. Having it look nice is a benefit of a professional installation.

There Isn't Any Troubleshooting

If you do the installation yourself, you may come across a few, or dozens of, connectivity issues between the devices, the control panel, and your phone. You may think you ran the wires correctly and set up the connections correctly, only to realize that nothing is working the way it should be. Then you'll have to spend hours, or even days, trying to figure it out. With a professional installation, the technician already has the experience to solve issues on the spot. That can get your security system up and running faster, so you can be protected and have peace of mind.

You'll Get Experienced Walkthroughs

At the end of the installation, the installer will be able to walk you through how to work the system and take full advantage of all the features. If you do it yourself, you may never come across that page in the manual when it comes to using an amazing feature, or turning something off easily. Receiving a walkthrough from an experienced professional is invaluable in this regard. You can even take notes, and the installer can show you, in the manual, where you can find the information again when you need it.

There's an Opportunity for Bundled Discounts

Opting for a professional installation can offer the benefit of extra equipment or even upgrades on the monthly plan at discounted rates, too. You’ll want to check with the provider to see if they offer any such discounts, and then calculate what it would cost with and without the discounted extra equipment and upgrades. If it comes out to be the same cost, or just a few dollars more a month but of greater value to you, then take advantage of the bundle deal. It could really be worth it, for people who want more than just a basic, standard monitoring package.

The Cons

There Could Be Increased Upfront Costs

Installation costs can be “free,” but at the expense of higher monthly fees or equipment costs. Really, the costs for professional installation can range from as low as $99 for a basic system, up to $1,500 or more. Generally, this cost depends on what features you want and how big your house is. You’ll want to 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 really is free. In some cases, it's actually much more expensive than it needs to be, but most people don't notice because it's built into the monthly fee.

Appointment Scheduling Could Be a Hassle

If you’re a busy person that's only home in the evenings, for example, scheduling an appointment could be difficult. You may not have to be home during the entire installation, but some companies only give a timeframe of up to eight hours when their installer will show up, and you’ll need to be home that entire time. Taking the whole day off for a security system install may not be realistic, depending on what you do for a living and what types of hours you traditionally work.

Your System Isn't Fully Customizable

While the professional installer will set everything up nicely, it may not be exactly to your specs. If you want to add other components, that will come at an additional cost. Also, some systems only offer certain things, so you may not even be able to get everything you really want unless you buy equipment and construct a system for yourself. That's worth considering, especially if you're very particular about what you're getting with your home security system.

A Professional Installation Isn't Generally Useful for Wireless Systems

If the security system you’re getting is fully wireless, then there really may not be much need to pay a professional installer. With no wires to run through walls, and some systems having very user-friendly connectivity processes in place, you’ll most likely be able to install the devices yourself with basic tools. These simple types of installation are nearly plug-and-play, so a professional installer certainly isn't a requirement.

These Types of Installs Are Best for Busy Families and Non-Tech-Savvy People

Opting for professional installation would be best for anyone who isn't tech savvy or good with tools. The elderly and busy families may also benefit from getting the professional installation, rather than over-burdening themselves with a DIY option. But if you have the time and the skills, a DIY install can be a good choice and save you some money.

DIY Installation

If DIY work sounds difficult with all the devices that are a part of most security systems, then please take another look. You may be pleasantly surprised. Most modern security systems are wireless, and have adhesive backing or screw mounts on each device. You can simply put them on the wall right where you want them. The companies that allow for DIY installation also have very comprehensive manuals on how to set everything up, and even 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 liked a quick setup could turn into hours of back-and-forth dialogue with customer support, being put on hold, and having to redo installations over, and over, and over again. That can become a huge source of frustration, and no one wants to deal with that. These kinds of problems are generally not the norm, but they can happen in some cases.

The Pros

You'll Have Full Control

Professional installers tend to follow a strict routine when it comes to how to install security systems. When you do it yourself, you can fully customize where the devices go. You can then add on any additional devices whenever you want, or change out old ones. It's a great way to have the freedom to really make the home security system your own.

There Will Be Lower Costs

Doing it yourself eliminates the need to pay someone else. You’ll easily save hundreds, and possibly even more, as the monthly plans at companies that allow for DIY installation tend to be cheaper, too. You can still get great monitoring and feel safe in your home, without the need to spend so much on the installation of needed equipment.

There Aren't Any Appointments to Keep

You can install whenever you want. There's no need to wait on the installer to come by, or to reschedule if something changes. That's a great way to work on the system after hours, on weekends, or whenever you have the time to set it up and get it operating and protecting your home. If you're in a hurry, there's no need to wait on an appointment, either.

You'll Get a Sense of Satisfaction

Anyone who has done DIY projects knows the satisfaction of seeing something you did yourself. If something does go wrong down the road, you’ll feel empowered to fix it on your own, rather than feeling helpless and thinking that you need to call in someone else to address the issue. You'll know a lot about your security system by the time it's operating, and you can feel good about your level of knowledge in caring for the system in the future.

The Cons

DIY Installs Can Be Time Consuming

DIY work can be very time consuming, especially if things don’t go smoothly the first time. If you’re a busy person or you have a chaotic schedule, it could turn out to be a much bigger hassle to install the system yourself, rather than simply paying someone else to get it done quickly and correctly. You have to way the lower price of the DIY installation against the value of your time.

There May Be Troubleshooting Issues

When things don’t go smoothly, you may have to spend hours to figure out what the issue is. If the company doesn’t have a professional installer option, then you’ll really have to figure it out on your own, or through the company’s customer support. Even then, you may not be able to fully solve the issue. Not all customer support personnel are helpful, and it can be hard to explain and understand the issue if you're not exactly sure what's wrong.

Consider the Upfront Equipment Costs

You may have to buy the equipment to install it, which adds to the upfront cost. With professional installations, you may just be renting the equipment, with its costs built into the monthly subscription fees. If you don't mind paying a little bit more upfront, though, you could save yourself a lot of money over time by doing a DIY install.

You Won't Get a Professional Walkthrough

There's a chance you won’t fully comprehend all you can do with your new security system without a walkthrough given by a professional. Control panels and apps can have a lot of hidden functions that you may not discover on your own, or see any mention of in the manual. While all the information should be there, some of it can be confusing or get overlooked. If you have a simple system, that's far less of a concern.

The DIY Install is Best For DIY Enthusiasts and Tech Savvy Individuals

If you like tinkering or want to save money, then DIY installation is for you. You’ll gain the satisfaction of installing the system yourself, you’ll understand the system better, and you’ll have a better chance to resolve any future issues on your own. It can give you a great feeling when you've installed it and it works right, but only if you're patient and good at figuring out issues on your own.

List of Home Security and Alarm Companies

 

Summary

Choosing a home security system can seem intimidating, especially when you're trying to decide which one best fits your lifestyle and living arrangements. It can be time consuming to go through each and every offering. But the more understanding you have of home security systems, the better off you'll be when it comes to finding the one that's going to work for you and meet your needs the right way. Hopefully, our guidance and explanations will help you narrow down your options to one or two choices that would truly be right for your needs.

Then you can get peace of mind, along with a home security system that provides everything you're looking for at a price you're happy about. It's hard to get something more valuable than that, and those types of security systems definitely exist. They depend on what you really want, because everyone's home security needs are different.