Your Guide to Choosing the Best Home Security System
Feeling safe and secure at home is incredibly important for peace of mind. With crime rates unfortunately on the rise in many areas, home security has become a priority for many families. A reliable home security system can help deter intruders and prevent theft and property damage. If you’ve been considering getting a security system, this comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to choose the best option for your needs.
A home security system is made up of different sensors, cameras, alarm components and monitoring capabilities that work together to keep your home safe. Here are some of the key elements:
- Indoor and outdoor security cameras– Provide video monitoring and recording of activity on your property. Systems range from a couple of basic cameras to sophisticated systems with multiple high-def cameras covering every angle.
- Motion sensors– Detect movement in certain areas like hallways, rooms, or doorways. They’re a key component in detecting unexpected activity.
- Door and window sensors– Trigger an alarm if a door or window is opened unexpectedly. Help protect entry points into the home.
- Control panel– The central hub that controls and configures the system. Newer panels have touchscreen displays. Panels can also be controlled via smartphone app.
- Alarm siren– Loud siren activates when sensors detect a threat, scaring off intruders. Indoor and outdoor siren options are available.
- Monitoring– Many systems provide live monitoring by professional security personnel who can dispatch police if the alarm is triggered.
- Smart home integration– Leading security systems can integrate with smart locks, lights, thermostats and other smart devices, allowing for easy remote control.
With the right security equipment tailored to your home’s specific layout and entry points, you can create a formidable multifaceted protection system. Monitoring adds an extra layer of security, as trained professionals are notified of a break-in attempt and can take action.
I’ll be going over all the key factors you should consider when picking a home security system. I’ll also provide an overview of the top home security providers and help decipher important terminology and key concepts. By the end, you’ll know exactly how to select the ideal system to help protect your home and family.
Key Factors to Consider When Choosing a Security System
Picking the right security system involves more than just going for the most cameras or sensors. You want an option that’s tailored to your home’s specific security needs without overspending on unnecessary equipment. Here are some key factors to keep in mind while you search for the perfect system:
Home Layout and Property Size
One of the most basic but critical factors is making sure you get a system suited to the physical layout and size of your property. The square footage of your home, yard size, number of floors and doors/windows will determine how many sensors and other hardware you’ll need. Make a checklist of all entry points a burglar could use as well as high value spots like hallways and bedrooms. This will help you select the optimal security components.
For example, a large two story home will require more motion detectors and cameras than a smaller single level property. And a house with lots of large windows will need more window sensors than one with smaller windows. Make sure any blind spots are covered as well. Knowing your home’s physical security needs will prevent gaps in protection.
Monitored vs Unmonitored
A major choice you’ll need to make is whether you want a professionally monitored system or an unmonitored DIY system.
- Monitored securitymeans your system is linked to an offshore monitoring center that’s manned 24/7. When the alarm goes off, security personnel will remotely access the situation via video feeds and sensors and can dispatch police or emergency responders as needed. This provides comfort that trained pros are keeping watch if an intruder invades. Monthly monitoring fees apply.
- Unmonitored securityrelies solely on self-monitoring. When the alarm is triggered, you’ll get notified by push notifications to your smartphone or tablet. You can then check video feeds and sensors to determine if police should be called. No monthly fees usually, but more responsibility falls on you.
Most security experts recommend monitored security for maximum protection. But an unmonitored DIY system can work well if you want to save money and are comfortable responding to threats yourself.
Smart Home Integration
Many modern home security systems now integrate with smart home platforms like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. This allows for easy voice control of your system and components. For instance, you can arm or disarm the system, lock doors, view cameras and more with simple voice commands. This adds major convenience and accessibility.
Integration also allows you to control security systems remotely when you’re away from home via smartphone. Easy remote access means you can monitor your home anytime for peace of mind. And it allows you to trigger your system if you get an alert while you’re out of the house. Research which providers offer smart home compatibility to take advantage of these handy features.
Security Features and Components
The security hardware included is obviously critical. As mentioned, basic systems include door and window sensors, motion detectors, cameras, and an audible alarm. But components can vary widely between providers, so closely compare what’s included with each system.
For example, you’ll want security cameras with high resolution and night vision capability for the best video quality possible during a break-in. Analyze the field of view and range of each camera as well. And make sure motion sensors use current technology like infrared to reduce false alarms. The more advanced components a system has, the better protection for your money.
Also consider possible add-ons like glass break detectors, smoke/CO sensors, temperature sensors, flood sensors and more. Additional components like these can provide protection against environmental threats beyond just intruders.
Ease of Use
You don’t want an overly complex system that’s difficult to operate on a daily basis. Look for systems with intuitive interfaces, easy-to-understand panels, and straightforward remote access via mobile apps. Voice control integration is also a huge plus for ease of use. Complicated systems with poorly designed interfaces can lead to false alarms and frustration for you and your family.
Additionally, keep an eye out for hardware like touchscreen control panels rather than clunky keypads. Capacitive touchscreens with smartphone-style swiping and controls are much more user-friendly. Mobile access should provide simple arm/disarm capabilities from anywhere as well. With the right system, you’ll have convenient access and controls at your fingertips.
Reputation and Customer Support
As with any major home purchase, it pays to do some brand research. Look at reviews and testimonials for the security companies you’re evaluating to get a sense of general customer satisfaction. Well-reviewed companies like Ring, SimpliSafe and ADT generally have better reliability and service reputations in the industry.
You also want assurance that the company will stand behind their products and fix any hardware issues or malfunctions. Check policies on warranties, technical support, repair services, etc. to get a sense of responsiveness if problems arise. Ongoing customer service and support is a huge advantage.
Costs, Contracts and Fees
Of course cost is a major factor as you compare home security options. Watch out for high equipment costs, hidden fees and long multi-year contracts if possible. Monthly monitoring fees typically range between $15-40 depending on your system’s capabilities. Some companies charge more for cellular monitoring or integration features as well.
Ideally, transparent pricing and month-to-month contracts are preferable so you aren’t locked in long-term. Compare total costs across a few top companies to best optimize value. And if opting for a contract, make sure you can live with the terms and don’t get slapped with early termination fees if you switch.
Choosing the Right Equipment and Components
Now that you know what to look for in a general sense, let’s take a detailed look at the core equipment and hardware that makes up a home security system. Understanding these key components will help you select options best suited to your home.
The Security Panel
This is the brains of your operation – the central control system for your home’s security network. The panel receives signals from all detectors and sensors and triggers alarms or alerts as needed. Most modern panels are “all-in-one” contained units while some systems have separate modules for different functions.
You’ll want a straightforward panel that’s easy to operate. Look for touchscreen displays which are more intuitive and easier to use than old-school numeric keypads. Voice control integration is another handy panel feature for hands-free access.
Panels that serve double duty – like providing home automation controls for lights, locks and thermostats – also provide more value for the investment. And cellular connectivity options eliminate the need for a landline. Carefully compare control panels to choose a model that best meets your needs.
Door and Window Entry Sensors
These sensors use magnetic or contact detection to monitor doors and windows for unexpected openings or break-ins. They’re a vital first line of defense against intruders entering your home.
You’ll want enough sensors to cover every exterior door and window on your lower and upper floors. Most systems come with enough sensors for up to 20 doors/windows but you may need to purchase extras if you have a larger home. Make sure sliding glass doors are also covered. And look for compact sensor designs that blend into door/window frames for minimal visual impact.
Also check that the sensors have tamper protection that will trigger an alarm if a burglar attempts to disable or destroy the device. Top sensors connect via wireless for quick DIY installation as well.
Motion sensors use passive infrared, microwave, or dual technology to pick up movement in a room or hallway. They’re a key component in detecting unexpected activity in your home.
Strategically place motion detectors in entrance areas, hallways, living spaces, staircases and corridors to cover key areas a burglar would navigate through. Look for wider fields of view, longer detection ranges and adjustable sensitivity to reduce false alarms. And pet-friendly detectors with built-in pet immunity can avoid triggering from your pets.
For even better protection, choose dual technology motion detectors that combine PIR and microwave detection. This results in fewer false alarms. You want reliable motion sensors that will sound the alarm at the first sign of an intruder.
Today’s security cameras provide incredibly detailed video surveillance around your home’s exterior and interior. Look for full high definition recording quality for crystal clear footage of any criminal activity. Many systems integrate automatic recording options when the alarm is triggered for evidence.
For outdoor cameras, ensure wide fields of view and high resolution night vision capability. Dome cameras and discreet designs are harder for intruders to tamper with as well. Make sure camera housings are weatherproof. And consider extras like motion-activated spotlights or sirens to scare off prowlers.
Indoor cameras should cover main entryways, hallways, living spaces and valuables like safes. Options like pan/tilt cameras allow you to manually view different parts of a room. Cameras with privacy shutter options help protect personal spaces from recording.
A blaring siren is one of the best burglary deterrents. When your system’s sensors detect an intruder, an ear-piercing 100+ decibel siren will sound to scare them off while alerting neighbors.
Look for alarm sirens with multiple tone options and bright strobe lighting effects for maximum impact. Outdoor sirens are very loud to cover a wider area while indoor sirens alert occupants in a contained space. Dual indoor/outdoor sirens are a good option for whole home coverage.
And make sure sirens have battery backup in case a burglar tries to disable electricity to your home. The last thing you want is a muted alarm system during a break-in!
Environmental and Safety Sensors
While intruder detection is the main focus, many home security systems also offer additional sensors for fire, flood, temperature and other environmental hazards. This provides all-around protection beyond just break-ins.
Smoke and carbon monoxide sensors can alert occupants to fire dangers before they spiral out of control. Water and freeze sensors protect against water heater leaks, busted pipes and AC malfunctions while you’re away. And glass break detectors pick up the sound patterns of shattered glass windows.
Including a few of these sensors expands your security coverage and prevents costly property damage. Just make sure they integrate seamlessly with your main system.
Keypads, Tags and Touchscreens
While many systems now offer slick touchscreen panels, traditional numeric keypads and tag scanners are still common options for controlling your system.
Make sure any keypads have an intuitive layout and are conveniently located near main entrances/exits for easy access. And be aware that too many incorrect code entries can trigger an alarm. Keyfobs, keycards or stick-on tags that you scan to arm/disarm the system are also handy alternatives to punching in codes.
Having multiple control options – like a wall-mounted touchscreen plus keyfobs – provides flexibility. Just choose controls you find simple and convenient to use on a daily basis.
Reviews of the Top Home Security Companies
Now that you’re an expert on the critical components that make up home security systems, let’s take a look at some of the top providers. I’ve researched the most popular and reputable home security companies out there to provide an overview of the various solutions available.
Here’s a preview of 5 top contenders:
SimpliSafe is one of the pioneers of the DIY home security model. Their signature all-in-one system focuses on easy wireless installation and straightforward monitoring options.
- Very affordable equipment pricing and monthly monitoring fees
- DIY installation with modular wireless components
- Sleek touchscreen command panel
- Professional 24/7 monitoring available
- Video quality could be improved
- Limited smart home integrations
Overall, SimpliSafe excels at no-fuss affordable systems for the DIY crowd. Their pricing can’t be beat. Just don’t expect all the bells and whistles of higher end systems.
The Ring Alarm system integrates seamlessly with Ring’s popular video doorbells and exterior cameras for robust whole home protection.
- Deep integration with Ring cameras provides live video streaming
- Professional monitoring optional
- Works with Alexa for voice control
- DIY installation with bundled toolkits
- Requires a Ring Protect subscription for video recording
- Limited to Ring’s own products – no third party device support
Ring is the obvious choice if you already own their cameras and want a cohesive experience. Just be prepared to be locked into their ecosystem.
Vivint prioritizes high-end components like advanced cameras, smart locks, and touchscreens for their systems. It’s a great premium option if budget isn’t a concern.
- State-of-the-art equipment like 4K cameras and smart locks
- Automation integration for lighting, thermostats, etc
- Professional installation and support
- Very expensive both for equipment and monitoring
- Long multi-year contracts required
Vivint is costly but delivers robust whole home integration. It’s an investment for serious security and automation.
The venerable ADT has been a leader in home monitoring services for decades. Their systems focus on professional installation and monitoring.
- Trusted name in monitoring services
- Fast emergency response times
- Customized equipment packages
- Available smart home add-ons
- Expensive monitoring fees
- Multi-year contracts often required
- Customer service could be better
ADT is a stalwart brand in home security known for reliable monitoring. But you pay a premium for their services.
Abode stands out with flexible monitoring options and support for many third-party devices like Nest and Alexa.
- Integrates with tons of other smart home gadgets
- Can self-monitor or add professional monitoring easily
- Custom packages to fit your needs
- Hardware is good but not best-in-class
- Requires a lot of technical know-how
Abode offers versatility with their ability to integrate various products and monitoring choices. But the setup requires more effort.
This is just a small taste of the in-depth brand reviews I can provide. Let me know if you would like more detailed overviews of other top home security companies like Frontpoint, Scout, Link Interactive and more. I can provide 2-3 paragraphs on the pros/cons, costs, features and overall value of each system.
Answering Common Home Security Questions
As you evaluate home security options, chances are you still have some lingering questions. Here I’ll address some of the most frequently asked questions about choosing and living with a home security system:
Do I really need professionally monitored security?
- Professionally monitored security provides maximum protection and peace of mind thanks to round-the-clock support from an emergency response center. But unmonitored DIY systems can also be effective for more budget-friendly protection. It comes down to your comfort level handling incidents yourself.
How much does a good home security system cost?
- Expect to pay $200-$500 upfront for equipment like sensors, cameras, panels etc. Monitoring fees are typically $15-$40 per month if you add professional monitoring. Higher end systems with more cameras, automation features and advanced monitoring can cost $1,000+ upfront and $40-$100+ monthly.
What are the best DIY home security options?
- SimpliSafe, Ring and Abode stand out as top DIY providers. Their equipment is designed for easy self-installation and their apps make it simple to self-monitor your home. No professionals required!
Is it easy to install and use home security systems?
- In general, DIY systems are designed for simple installation without hardwiring or drilling. High-end systems still usually require professional installation. Newer control panels and apps make operating a security system easier than ever nowadays.
How long do home security contracts last?
- Contract length varies by provider. Many require long multi-year contracts for professional monitoring – like 3 years with ADT. Others like SimpliSafe only require month-to-month or 1