How to Choose a Home Security System
You’ve worked hard to build the life that you have, and what you do every day builds on what you’ve already done. But your accomplishments and earnings — and even your loved ones — need to be protected. That’s why a home security system is so essential.
But choosing which home security system will protect your home is a bit of a chore. There are lots of competitors in the home security space, and each of them offers different home security systems, devices, and price tiers. It’s not a decision to take lightly, especially since most home security system providers lock their customers into contracts that last for years and cannot be cancelled early without penalties — if they get cancelled at all. You’ll be counting on your home security system to protect the things that matter most to you, and you’ll be counting on it for years. This is not a decision to be taken lightly.
That’s why we created our security system finder, which uses 8 questions to pinpoint your ideal security system solution. Our quiz should be all that you need in order to find your security system, but we took some time below to lay out the concerns and factors that we had in mind when we crafted our system. If you’re curious, read on!
The Elements of a Home Security System
When we talk about “home security systems,” we’re talking about combinations of hardware devices and monitoring services. Generally speaking, you’ll be paying your home security system provider for two things: the hardware that will detect intruders and other threats (you’ll pay for this once) and the monitoring services that will trigger calls to the authorities when your system spots a threat (you’ll pay for these services by the month).
Let’s take a closer look at the hardware and services that you can expect from a typical home security system.
Hardware offerings can vary from system to system, but there’s one thing that you’re virtually certain to see in even the most basic of systems: sensors that detect when doors and windows are opened.
Some professionally installed systems hide these sensors by installing them in door jambs and other out-of-sight places. In other cases, you’ll be able to clearly see the two-piece sensors, which line up when doors and windows are closed and sense the broken contact when they are open.
A sensor with a similar purpose is the broken window sensor, which will raise the alarm when — you guessed it — the alarmed window is broken.
Sensors can detect when someone is entering your home, but that doesn’t do you much good unless you have some way for those sensors to alert you — and the cops! That’s why security services are paid to keep an eye on their hardware devices. If the alarm is tripped and you don’t deactivate it, your security service will call in the authorities (your service may call you, first, to make sure).
Monitoring services are paid monthly under a contract you sign with the same company that provided you with your hardware.
Sirens and Alarms
If the cops shop and and catch the bad guys, that’s great — but the goal here is to protect you and the things you treasure, not to catch crooks. That’s why security systems are generally very up-front about what’s going on when intruders trip the alarm. Your system should include a siren or alarm that will go off in your home if the sensors are tripped and the system is not deactivated in time and by you or your family. Loud noises and recorded warnings will sound off and, ideally, spook the intruders and send them running.
Management: Keypads, Control panels, and Apps
Another thing that you’re going to see from virtually every home security provider is some kind of setup for managing your security system: turning it on, turning it off, deactivating it after accidental triggers, viewing security camera footage (more on that hardware in a moment), checking record logs, and more.
Most security systems make use a a keypad or touchscreen control panel, which is generally installed inside your home near your main point of egress. This makes it easy to arm or disarm the alarm on your way in or out — as long as you have the passcode, which crooks won’t!
Many modern systems also offer mobile apps for your smartphone and other smart devices, which will give you remote access to your system.
Beyond the Basics: Motion Sensors, Cameras, and More
Sensors that detect opening doors and windows are a given with pretty much all home security systems. Broken window sensors are common options with professionally installed systems. But beyond the monitoring of egress points, you’ll find lots of different options through different security systems.
Motion sensors are a common piece of hardware in security systems. When you’re not home, nobody should be moving around your house. If someone else, a motion sensor will catch it. Not so long ago, motion sensors didn’t work for folks with pets, but the rise of smarter devices has made some motion sensors useful even in homes full of moving pets.
Security cameras are a common option, too. Interior and exterior cameras can monitor your space, record and store footage, and give you a glimpse into your home through corresponding mobile apps. Doorbell cameras are high-tech peepholes that can work with apps or your system’s control panel.
Other hardware devices that you may see on offer include system-connected smoke alarms, keychain control devices, and wireless hubs that keep systems connected and functional.
Smart Home Connectivity
Home security systems are getting smarter. Many now use wireless connections to keep you up-to-date through apps and keep your security hardware in contact (we’ll talk more about wired and wireless security installations in a bit). And since so many modern systems feature network connectivity, it just makes sense that some can play nice with — or even include — connected home devices that don’t have much to do with security at all.
Some modern home security solutions include smart home features, like the ability to turn your lights on and off from afar (which does have home security applications) or adjust your thermostat (which does not, but is pretty convenient, don’t you think?).
What Differentiates Security Systems?
Virtually all home security systems offer intruder sensors, monitoring services, and in-home alarms. Most offer the other devices we covered above, either in established home security bundles or as add-ons and extras. So what’s the difference? What sets some systems apart? There are a few distinctions to watch out for.
Wireless Versus Hard-wired
One of the most important distinctions between different security systems on the market today is found in how they stay connected. The wired/wireless distinction applies both to connected sensors and to the connection between your system and the company monitoring it. And which wires are used matters, too; some old-school systems rely on landline phone lines, for instance, to reach the monitoring service.
Not all systems are strictly wired or wireless; there are plenty that use a hybrid approach.
Professional Installation Versus DIY Installation
Depending on which system you choose, you may be setting up an appointment for a professional installation or you may be setting up and connecting sensors and control panels yourself.
As you might expect, the wireless systems are more likely to have DIY installation processes. Generally, you won’t have to worry about drilling holes in your wall or soldering wires in order to get your new system set up! Still, as you shop, you may want to consider your tech-savviness and your willingness to put in the time to set things up.
You can expect to pay a monthly fee to have your security system provider monitor your system’s sensors. But some systems also give you powerful options to monitor things yourself. For instance, some systems may allow you to watch a live feed generated by your security camera.
(You can also, of course, set up some self-monitoring options on your own. You don’t need a security contract to buy a webcam and set up a security monitoring system of your own.)
Prices and Contracts
There’s one last difference between security systems that is probably going to matter to you: the price!
Depending on which security system you choose, you may pay different prices for hardware, installation, and monthly monitoring services.
And then there’s the contract. A typical home security contract will lock you in for three years of service, but some companies demand a longer commitment, and others forgo long-term contracts entirely and let you subscribe month to month.
Tailoring Your System to Your Home
Now we know what devices and features we can expect in a typical home security system, and we know where to look to find the important differences between various home security system options. To apply what we know to your specific situation, though, we’ll need to consider what that situation is. The features of your home will help you determine which system is right for you.
Points of Egress
Your home has doors and windows (at least, we hope it does!), and each one of these is a potential point of entry or exit for a crook. Make sure that you get a system that supplies enough entry sensors (and, ideally, glass-shatter detectors) for you to track every potential break-in point on your property.
The Size of Your Space
How many motion detectors, security cameras, and other pieces of equipment do you need? That will depend, in part, on how much ground you have to cover. Size up your space and consider your options. The bigger your home, the more equipment you may want to consider.
What’s at Home?
Pets? Kids? Valuables? Collectibles? What you have in your home may shape your security preferences. Motion detectors aren’t too useful when you have kids and nannies running around during the day, but cameras that will allow you to check in and monitor things while you’re at work might be useful. You may want extra smoke detectors or motion detectors in certain areas of your home, or a system that allows more smart home controls for things like your thermostat.
Making Your Decision
There are a lot of factors to consider as you choose a security system, but we can help you narrow things down. On this page, you’ll find our security system finder tool. Plug in your information, and let our expert findings and experience help you!