There’s a fine line between traditional security and a smart one, and it’s the security system’s capability to work...
Home security and alarms can provide a piece of mind in your home. Whether you are DIY or prefer professional installation, we’ve found the best offerings.
No matter where you live, the looming specters of thieves and porch pirates is something that many homeowners have to deal with. That’s why a smart homeowner will make sure that they’re investing at least a little bit of money in the best home security system they can find. If that’s your aim, you’re in the right place! Let’s get down to the brass tacks of what the best home security system can mean for you and your family.
Home security systems are often overlooked when a person purchases a home. We all know they’re necessary, but it’s pretty easy to either just go with the first name you pick or even a DIY-solution like a smart video doorbell and forget about the whole affair. The simple truth is that people are often unaware of the extensive amount of services the right company can offer you.
DIY-solutions aren’t a bad option, but they’re definitely not the most secure over time.
Instead, a home security company will often offer installation, security assessments, and professional monitoring. All of these limit the amount of time you need to use setting up your security system and increase its effectiveness over time.
Basically, while there are plenty of smart, stylish DIY-options out there they’re not quite there when it comes to convenience for the homeowner. These systems also require some level of proactive monitoring on the part of the homeowner to catch would-be thieves in the act.
A smart doorbell might give you the thief’s face… if they didn’t notice the camera and bundle up before approaching the doorstep. It’s not going to call the police for you, however.
You’ll also find out that many home security companies also offer a surprising array of other devices intended to keep you safe. These include carbon monoxide detectors, fire alarms, and other bits that some people overlook except for when the inspectors are around.
You simply get more when you use a company instead of piecemealing a few smart devices together and then coding them through IFTTT or another program to work exactly as you intend them to.
Home security is an extremely personal choice, what feels secure to one person may well leave the next feeling defenseless.
Thankfully there’s something out there for every taste and style, so let’s take a look at some of the available features you need to consider when planning your foray into a more secure home.
Most companies offer 24/7 monitoring of equipment for those who want an extra layer of security. It’s probably the biggest difference between a well-programmed DIY set up and using a company.
Professional monitoring means that someone will check on the cameras if your alarm goes off. Depending on the individual company that may mean they trigger an automatic call to EMS or police in your area or they may call you first.
The main difference with professional monitoring is that it allows you to get the authorities involved more quickly.
If you’re in an important work meeting for instance, you may not be able to check your phone in time to do anything about a thief at your house. Then you’re stuck with HD video of someone stealing your stuff. Company monitoring should contact the police about something being amiss – even if you don’t pick up your phone in time.
Make sure to check out the procedures the company uses before you commit to a purchase. You need to know the flow from the alarm going off to calling in the police for a good idea of how effective the monitoring is.
Home security companies carry a wide variety of equipment. While some may be happy with a few outdoor cameras, others may want to wire their entire home and cover it in surveillance.
The costs of a system vary a lot depending on what you’re trying to protect. For those setting up costly systems for large homes there’s often financing available to help ease the initial cost of the security system.
Be sure to look into options for fire alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and other devices designed to keep you safe from other threats. Most security companies offer additional types of monitoring devices. Paired with professional monitoring services, they can make a world of difference if the worst happens.
Ultimately what you want to be buying for is high-end equipment at an affordable cost. Wireless HD cameras, for instance, are much more effective than a grainy CCTV that doesn’t give any real details of the perpetrator.
Many companies are paired with one or more smart systems as well. If you already have these devices you can often rope them into the final setup, others may feel much better knowing that they’ll be able to get some extra convenience in addition to security.
Speaking of which…
Modern smart devices can make a world of difference when it comes to convenience for the user. The best companies will have a wide range of different home automation services available.
Individual plans within certain companies offer a greater or lesser amount of smart home automation depending on the company. These can be quite costly, so it’s up to you to decide if the convenience is worth the price but as a general rule we feel it’s something to keep an eye out for.
For those who are handy the idea of DIY is often appealing. With modern, wireless systems it’s easier than ever to set up your devices and get things going without having to drill holes and pull wires. Even those lacking tech-savvy can find themselves with their system up and running in an afternoon.
Home security technicians, on the other hand, may have an additional cost and you’ll have to make an appointment. However, most of them are also trained to notice blindspots, alternate entry points, and generally, have a good idea of where the cameras and sensors should be to protect your home the most.
Unless you’re already security savvy, we feel that going the professional route is the best for most people. Many people have their blinders on when it comes to security simply because they’ve never really thought about breaking into a home.
If you decide to go the DIY route you’ll need to think like an intruder. Do a full walk-around of your home to find possible access points or blindspots that obvious places for camera placements may miss.
First things first: a home security company still needs to be run well in order to deliver on their services.
Keep an eye on all of the following when you’re picking a company.
Is customer service fantastic? Lousy? Most companies will fall somewhere in-between, but do keep in mind there have been numerous complaints issued about some providers.
Customer service is always a big factor when you’re picking out a company you will be working with for an extended period. It’s doubly important when it comes to your home and it’s occupants’ safety, as quick communication can help you avoid problems in the future.
Service should be prompt and informative. If you have an issue with your system, you don’t want to spend an hour on hold with an alarm blaring in the background.
Most home security companies offer a variety of contracts. While they usually lower the price initially, it also means you’ll be stuck with them for the duration or have to pay a cancellation fee. Check the fine print and what you’ll have to go through to cancel before signing any paperwork.
Most contracts will run from one to three years in our experience. Other companies may not require any sort of contract at all, instead allowing you to pay on a month-to-month basis for monitoring and automation services.
Unfortunately, most of the high-end companies are going to try and lock you in. The difference, in this case, is that it also provides them with an excellent incentive to provide prompt, efficient customer service and above-average monitoring.
After all, you may be locked in but if you complain to neighbors, friends, and family about the company they are not going to be eager to dive into a three-year contract alongside you.
This is one case where competition helps. Most of the reputable home security companies operate nationwide. It’s not like a cable company where they’re likely the only option in town depending on where you live.
The bottom line: read before you sign. You should know the duration of the contract, terms for cancellation, and what the cost will be after expiration before your name hits the dotted line.
Will you be able to call or get a live chat 24/7? What about on the weekends?
Security is a real-time matter.
It’s completely unacceptable to not be able to contact your home security company, particularly if you’re paying for monitoring services.
If you see complaints about a security company that includes a lack of communication…run the other way.
If you’re not able to pay for the upfront costs of all of the cameras, sensors, and other devices you want installed then you should be looking for a company which offers payment plans for their equipment.
Many companies, but not all, will allow this for you as an extension of your monthly bill until the security gear is paid off.
Being able to lease or rent-to-buy equipment means you’ll have your initial setup from the very start rather than putting it together piecemeal over the course of a few months.
If you have already started with smart devices in your home, then the compatibility of a security provider’s equipment matters quite a bit.
Check with the company before committing if you already have smart devices in the home to see if they can be made part of the entire system. It’s not always possible but many home devices run on Z-Wave, Amazon Alexa, or are tied into other specific devices.
This is important if home automation features are high on your list of demands from the company.
No one can really guarantee that you’re going to be exceptionally pleased with their services. You may end up with something faulty, the system may be too touchy for your liking, or perhaps you simply decide you don’t need the system shortly after purchasing it.
That’s where return policies come in handy. Some companies allow up to six months to return equipment and even opt out of a contract. As noted above, competition is fierce with home security companies and it’s in their best interest to keep you around.
Still, no one was ever hurt by a little extra caution in the realm of security and that applies to buying as well as using the system as a whole.
Costs vary widely depending on the company and setup that you choose to go with. Complicating matters, most of the high-end security companies around will also have a wide variety of different packages to choose from.
Your initial costs are going to be dependent on the amount of equipment you need set up and technician fees if you opt for professional installation.
It’s hard to give a real quote in this case, but on average the non-custom selections we looked at ran from $150-$250 for the whole package and should cover a small-to-average sized home. Larger homes with more entrances and exits may end up costing double that for complete coverage.
Technician fees are also a wildcard depending on the specifics of your setup. $300 for the appointment seems to be about the minimum, while super high-end equipment and tons of home automation can run up to $1200.
If your budget is short it’s better to invest in easy-to-setup wireless equipment and do it yourself rather than opting for a system that doesn’t do exactly what you want.
Most of the time you’ll be paying for monitoring on a monthly basis.
During our research, we found that costs can run from approximately $15/month to upwards of $60/month depending on the company you’re using and the specific package.
If you opt for an entirely self-monitored system you may miss out on extremely fast response times but in the majority of cases, you’ll also be able to avoid any sort of monthly fees.
That doesn’t hold true in every case, however, as cloud storage for security systems is becoming quite common. For those who want to be able to review their wireless camera footage at any time, it is still a cheaper option than the bank of hard drives you would need to store at home.
In our research, we found that the average cost for a home security system that you’re able to install yourself will run you between $200-$250 for cameras and sensors which are both modern and affordable. How high this cost goes is entirely up to how complex you make the system.
Installation fees averaged around $500, but some of the larger companies ended up having a lower technician cost. Keep in mind that in most cases the lower technician costs will also have you locked into a contract by the time the purchase is over and done with.
For a no-frills, 24/7 monitored security system the monthly costs averaged to about $30. Roughly $60/month with high-end companies can get you permanently saved recordings from your cameras and more home automation if that’s what you’re looking for.
So, you’ll likely be looking at around $800 to get up and going with most companies and $30-60 per month afterwards.
Some people assume that a burglary will never happen to them. Others have argued that a burglary would cost them less than the fees associated with putting together a security system and paying for monitoring and recording services.
We crunched the numbers. At $60 per month you’ll end up paying $720 per year in monitoring fees. Add $800 for the system and technician and we’re looking at a realistic cost for the first year of a security system’s life.
That leaves us with $1520 for the first year at the high end of things.
According to the FBI, the average home burglary results in $2,614 worth of property loss. That’s not counting any exterior entrances which may have been damaged during the initial break-in and sentimental value that your belongings may have had.
We’d have to say that, based solely on the numbers, it’s a financially wise decision to invest in a good home security company.
Since people’s security is so personal, it’s hard to recommend exactly what you need when it comes to equipment and monitoring.
That aside, as long as the company has the equipment and automation software that you’re looking for you’ll generally have a good setup.
Things get more complicated when you’re working long term with a company. Make sure your company has all of the following if you’re paying for the service in the long term:
Reputation – The reputation of a company matters a lot in the end. Specifically negative reputations. Security is something where few people are going to be raving about it if all goes as planned but if there’s a large number of people complaining? Chances are that you should go with someone else.
24/7 Monitoring – Oddly enough, some companies will charge for monitoring… but not have staff present at all times. It’s rare, but it’s something to keep an eye out for with smaller companies.
Prompt Communication -The less lag there is in sales, customer service, and the rest of the process the better off you’ll be. A company which constantly leaves you on hold shouldn’t be in charge of your home security needs.
Competent Technicians-Ideally the tech who comes to your home should be able to do more than just run wires. Basic security training goes a long way towards keeping your home safe and a good tech will know exactly where to place cameras, sensors, and alarms for most entries.
Enough Cloud Storage – If you opt to go with a cloud storage solution for keeping video records then you’ll want to make sure that there’s enough storage available. Many companies only hold footage for a limited amount of time, especially if there hasn’t been an incident. Make sure it suits your needs.
Equipment Warranties – Any security devices that you purchase directly from a company should be warrantied. A company who doesn’t offer them lacks faith in the stuff they’re selling you, and that’s a big no-no as a consumer.
As long as all of the above seem right to you and the company you’re eyeing has equipment that meets your needs..well, then you’re going to be good to go!
Should I do a DIY installation of my home security system to save money?
If you have the skills, tools, and knowledge to place everything correctly… go right ahead. It’s not an advanced task and wireless cameras, alarms, and sensors have made it a lot easier in recent years for those who aren’t particularly handy. The important thing is to make sure everything runs well and that your camera’s recording is clear throughout the entire day.
Are there any problems with wireless security setups?
The problem with internet-based setups is that if the power goes off… so does the system as a whole. You should look into Z-Wave or solutions that work on a cellular setup. While many wireless systems do have a battery backup your wireless router doesn’t. If you’re not connected to the internet and your system relies entirely on wifi then the whole system is basically useless until the wifi is back on.
Is IFTTT support necessary?
For the most part it’s definitely not a requirement for your actual security system. If This, Then That is a great, simple way to program your smart devices but it’s mostly used for automation of the whole process(ie: turning off alarms when an action with another device is taken) rather than as a core feature of the system as a whole.
Is financing my security equipment the way to go?
This really depends on how much you’re comfortable paying from month to month. The financial burden can be spread across a much longer time period, generally the length of a contract, but paying upfront will help to keep recurring costs down.
What’s the biggest error most DIY installers make with their cameras?
Lack of proper focus distance. When you’re setting up your cameras you need to make sure that they’ll focus at the right range. A blurry shot of something that’s probably a man may not hold up in court, but a clear shot can nail the case closed in no time. If you set up your own cameras for home security then you’ll want to ensure you have them focused at the right range and place to potentially catch the person trying to enter your home.
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