Choosing the Best Home Security System in 2020
While every homeowner worries about break-ins, skepticism has surrounded home security systems due to their traditionally high costs, complicated contracts with long-term lock-ins, and difficult-to-use interfaces often resulting in false alarms. With this long list of cons, many have chosen to accept to simply accept the risk of home invasion.
The situation has changed: home security systems have grown both more technologically sophisticated and user friendly, increasing their accuracy and reducing the risk of false alarms. At the same time, home security companies--spurned by the emergence of new competitors and the ease of a Google search revealing the level of customer satisfaction in their prices and products--have made their contracts more transparent and flexible with a wider range of security solutions available that cater to many different customers’ needs and financial situations.
Now’s the time to invest in a home security system. The threat of burglaries isn’t going away, but the market has never been more customer-friendly. However, with all of the options on the market and choices of security features available, it can be hard to hammer down a decision. Should you choose a wired or wireless system? Monitored or unmonitored?
To help you with this important decision, we’ll run through all the key features of a home security system, discuss some important choices homeowners must make, and review the major companies offering systems, while first providing some of the main reasons your home may be at risk. Hopefully after reading, you’ll have a better understanding of the home security system market in 2020, and have a solid idea of what you and your family are looking for in a system.
Is your home at risk of being burglarized?
According to the FBI, over 1.4 million burglaries were committed in 2017 in the United States. While this number may seem high, the rate per 100,000 inhabitants has actually dropped significantly from 733 to 430 since 2008. Much of the decrease is attributed to the increasing sophistication and prevalence of home security systems.
As more and more homes are protected, burglars are increasingly on the lookout for homes with easily exploitable weaknesses. The following are some of the main reasons your home could be at risk of burglary:
- No security system installed
- It is known by thieves to contain valuables, i.e, cash, jewelry, electronics, etc.
- Is within a high-crime area
- A new home you’ve just moved into
- Vacant for extended periods
- Got plenty of cover for thieves, e.g. overgrown bushes and trees, walls, or fences
- Isolated with no nearby neighbors
- Is poorly lit on the outside
- Has an easy escape route down alleyways
- Has weak entry points, e.g. decaying doors and windows, old locks, etc.
- Has unlocked windows or doors
- Hasn’t got any security devices, e.g. outside lighting, window locks, or deadbolts
- Has valuables on show – e.g. TVs can be easily seen through the window
- Has no dogs
Should you opt for monitored or unmonitored security?
Home security systems are available in two basic forms: monitored and unmonitored. The main difference is that monitored security systems are overseen at all times by a professional security company, while unmonitored systems are not. Though unmonitored systems are often smartphone compatible, you’ll be tasked self-monitoring, which isn't something you'll likely wish to concern yourself while away from the home or on vacation.
The decision essentially comes down to cost, as while monitored systems have a security advantage, they are significantly more expensive than unmonitored systems. Let’s look at more of the facts to help you decide what’s right for you.
Monitored security systems: The Facts
When you select a monitored alarm system, you’ll be charged a monthly fee alongside the standard installation fee. This monthly fee will be determined by the length of contract and options you’ve selected.
Even though they tend to be more expensive than unmonitored systems, they do give you peace of mind. That’s because when your system is tripped, a signal will be sent to the company via your phone line, alerting them that there’s an intruder in your house. Within approximately 10 seconds you’ll receive a phone call from the security company (via the intercom system or your telephone), where you’ll be asked to verify who you are by using an authorization code. If you’re unable to do this, the police will be sent straight to your home.
Another benefit to these systems is the inclusion of primary, secondary, and tertiary contacts who will be notified if you’re unavailable and cannot be contacted.
One thing to look out for if you’re choosing a smaller company is whether or not they use a third-party monitoring service rather than their own in-house monitoring station. Even though these options can be cheaper than others, the standards they have to adhere to aren’t as rigorous as the ones larger companies have to commit to.
A larger security company that continually monitors your home will have a designated station that watches thousands of homes and businesses at once. They cost more because they have to go through verification with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent, non-profit organization that specializes in testing services and products to ensure maximum reliability and safety.
These companies must also have a backup system that can be relied on for 10 to 15 days – if there was a power outage, for example. They also need to contact authorities in under 45 seconds.
Unmonitored security systems: The Facts
A more affordable alternative to monitored systems, unmonitored systems may include many of the same features as their monitored counterpart, including sensors, alarms, and outdoor/indoor cameras, but they are not observed by a security service, meaning homeowners will not be paying the costly monthly expenses associated with monitored security systems.
The downside is, of course, security will not be as tight. Though a loud alarm may go off in the event of intrusion, there’s no guarantee that neighbors will alert the police to the potential break-in if you are away. Also, while an unmonitored system can be set to alert the police in the case of activation, there’s nothing in place to prevent them from coming in the case of a false alarm.
Many unmonitored security systems offer self-monitored solutions. Companies like abode and Arlo sell systems that begin recording footage as soon as motion detectors in your home are tripped, sending the video feed or a text alert to your phone while you’re out. For many homeowners, these systems offer a comfortable middle ground between monitored and unmonitored systems.
Should you choose a wired or wireless system?
Both of these security systems include the installation of sensors in various parts of your home which will communicate with the central control panel. This, in turn, is connected to your alarm, and, in monitored cases, can be linked to an external company via an Internet or telephone connection.
Wired Security Systems: Low-voltage wires are used to connect the system around your home. To make sure these are as discreet as possible, installation is normally carried out by an alarm company, however, some DIY options are available.
Wireless Security Systems: Instead of using wires to connect the sensor and central control panel, these are connected by tiny radio transmitters. Because no hard wires need to be installed, they are an easy option – but this comes with slightly less reliability, too.
Both types of systems do have batteries which will be activated if some of the wires are cut or your power fails. Sometimes, these batteries recharge when your home is connected to mains power.
Which security system options should you look out for?
The features of a home security system vary depending on the needs of the homeowner, but the following are some of the devices you’ll typically find included with many home security systems:
- Hidden Control Panel: This is standard for all types of alarm systems and is the hub of your entire system. Connected to all the sensors, it can also be attached to a phone line / Internet connection to transmit signals to an outside company.
- Security Keypad: Another standard component, the security keypad is designed to allow you to disarm or arm your alarm system. It’ll also tell you whether you’ve set your alarm correctly, and you can choose to have more than one of these installed if required.
- Motion Detectors: Also referred to as passive infrared detectors, these detect any changes in motion or heat in their designated area. They’re often installed high up on a wall, or can be placed above windows or doors.
- Window and Door Sensors: These magnetic devices are placed along window frames and door jambs to activate the alarm if a window or door is opened. Some systems will also feature a chime that’s activated every time you open a window or door – perfect if you’ve got young children you need to keep an eye on!
- Glass Break Detectors: Also known as audio discriminators, these handy sensors will react when they hear the sound of glass breaking, triggering your alarm system.
- Sirens: These come in a range of different sounds, from bells to horns, and may also feature strobe lighting. They tend to be installed outside but can also be installed on the inside of the property (in the attic), alerting your neighbors to intruders.
- Alarm Signs: Often included as part of your security package, these stickers and signs can be placed around your home as a deterrent to burglars. Knowing the home is protected can be enough to put off would-be thieves.
- Backup System: If your power goes down or your phone line is cut, this backup system will kick in. Alarm systems also come with a backup system, which can keep your alarm going for up to 72 hours by using battery power. If your home uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system, backup systems are crucial because a lot of alarm systems aren’t compatible with this. Alternatively, if you provide cellular backup, this will allow the monitoring company to get in touch with you.
- Intercom Keypads: Some keypads provide two-way intercoms between your home and the security monitoring company. Therefore, instead of calling your landline to verify an alarm signal, they speak to you directly through the keypad using an intercom system.
- Remote Control: Instead of using the keypad to deactivate your alarm, some systems come with a remote control. There are some disadvantages to these, however, including the inability to see if your alarm is activated (adding to the risk of you tripping the system), and if the remote is stolen, it provides thieves with an easy way of deactivating your alarm.
- Smoke, Fire, Carbon Monoxide, and Flood Detectors: Even though these aren’t related to intruders per se, they are essential in protecting your home. Integrating these detectors within your alarm system allows it to quickly notify the alarm company and fire department of an issue within your property.
- Pet-Friendly Alarm Systems: If you have pets you may be wondering what alarm system is going to work with them, especially if they’re free to roam around while you’re asleep or away from the property. However, there are some options available. One option is a dual-element sensor that can tell the difference between a pet (weighing up to 100 pounds) and a human. This requires two beams to be triggered at the same time in order to sound the alarm, which is difficult for your pet to do unless you have more than one and they’re prone to fighting or playing. Alternatively, you could choose to place beams high enough above the floor to avoid detecting your pets – creating “pet alleys.”
- Security Camera Surveillance: You can choose to add a video camera and monitor to your system so you can catch thieves in the act if they do choose to break into your home. Or, you may want to up the ante by installing a complex closed circuit television (CCTV) which features digital recorders, multiple operators, and several cameras. Some systems will also alert you by text if they detect anything, allowing you to log in on your smartphone to view the footage.
- Automated Appliance Control: Utilizing automated appliance controls within your system allows you to turn various appliances and lamps on to give intruders the impression that someone’s at home. This is a much safer option than timed devices, as, over a period of time, potential thieves can become wise to this.
- Night Vision: This is a feature that’s often overlooked but is incredibly important when monitoring your home during the night. The best systems will come with infrared LEDs, providing a high-quality picture even when it’s pitch black outside.
- Indoor and Outdoor Coverage: To keep your home as safe as possible, having full coverage of every inch of your home is a must. Look for devices that offer high-quality zooms and panoramic views so you can access all areas in high definition. Also check with your provider that they’re installing cameras in key areas, especially exits and entryways.
- Digital Security: Even though your primary concern is protecting your property, it’s also crucial you’re protecting your personal data, too. In an increasingly connected world, you need to make sure all of the images and videos created by your security system are protected from hackers. Look out for systems that boast password and encryption capabilities.
- On-the-Go Access: Thanks to advancements in technology, monitoring your home while you’re away for extended periods has never been easier. Logging into your account online or through an app on your smartphone, you’re able to keep tabs on the comings and goings at your property even if you’re thousands of miles away. This is a huge plus for business owners too as they can monitor employees, day-to-day operations, out-of-hours deliveries, and so on while they’re on the move.
What do you need to know when shopping for an alarm system?
As you start looking for a house alarm company, there are a number of things you need to look out for. Proceed with caution when you’re dealing with companies who install proprietary systems and claim that they only work with their licensed monitoring systems. You should also watch out for organizations who won’t let you alter your passcode or switch to another company even after your contract has finished. To be sure, opt for a company that gives you full access to your programming and code features and uses non-proprietary components.
Your contract should also come with a standard warranty and a guarantee on labor and parts. Some companies will allow you to extend your warranty for $100-200, which will cover any repair or maintenance that needs carrying out, removing any costs associated with parts or labor.
Length of Contract
Check to see how long you’re signing the contract for – these tend to be three-year contracts, but may run as long as five years. Also take some time to understand whether there are any penalties if you want to leave the contract sooner and if the fees can rise during the contract time frame. Be sure to check what equipment you’re allowed to keep once the contract has expired.
Does a company's security system integrate with virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant devices? Will you be able to use third-party cameras, ring alarms, smart door locks, and other third-party products along with the proprietary technology? DIY enthusiasts usually prefer a higher level of customization with their home security solution, and certain home security companies offer a much higher level of flexibility than others.
To make sure you’re getting the best-value system for your money get quotes from up to 5 companies first. Ask each of them to do a risk assessment on your property to see what areas of security need addressing and why. This on-site inspection should be free of charge. Never accept a company who says they don’t need to visit your property to do an inspection.
Ask for References
One of the best ways to determine whether a company is going to be right for you or not is to speak to previous clients. Ask for some references and speak to these people about their experiences with the company – was everything completed on time and to a high standard? Are the police contacted straight away if there’s an intrusion? Have they come across any problems during their time with the company? You might also be able to find out this information (unbiased) through online reviews, although be careful of bogus reviews.
Get Quotes in Writing
Ask for a written quotation so you can check the following is included:
- Monthly monitoring fees (if applicable)
- Set-up fees
On average, a basic installation will cost up to $2 per square foot of your property. Monitoring charges are between $25 and $40 per month, with around $10 extra for intercom communication. For pet-friendly devices, an extra $50 to $300 may need necessary, while fire protection features tend to be $5 extra a month. For a remote control, you’ll probably have to pay a one-off fee of up to $100. Fees shouldn’t be charged to connect you with the central monitoring base station – this should be included as standard.
Home security provider reviews
The home security market is pretty crowded these days, with a lot of young upstarts challenging the more established names in the business. We’ve narrowed the list of choices down to five key names, some old, some new, and provided a review of their systems, along with pros and cons associated with the providers:
With 140 years of experience (it started as a telegraph-based alert system), ADT is the oldest company in the home security industry, as well as the largest, with over 7 million customers in the United States. Few companies have a wider range of equipment or larger security network available.
In total, the company runs 12 well-staffed security monitoring centers around the country, along with 200 local offices, ensuring that customers are well-attended to. As far as equipment goes, ADT’s uses products from multiple manufacturers, including General Electric and Honeywell, in its systems rather that self-produced gear. This means that customers have plenty to choose from.
Potential customers may find ADT’s pricing scheme to be disagreeable: it’s hard to find clear information on costs on the company’s website, and you won’t have an idea of your security system’s price until a technician comes to your home and draws up a proposal. You can be sure that it will be steep, though, coupled with the mandatory 3-year contract and monthly professional monitoring fee.
- Boasts a long history with 140 years in the business
- Wide ranging network of security centers
- ADT is a leader in remote monitoring of home security units
- Offers some of the best response times
- ADT has fully embraced new technological capabilities including non-invasive wireless coverage
- ADT Pulse Voice App comes with special features, such as control lights and appliances, easily adjustable thermostats, smart lock integration, live streaming videos, and effective alarms
- Installation with ADT is quick, including same-day options in many regions
- Long-term contracts
- Pricing is unclear without technician visit
- Costly penalties for early contract termination
Vivint Smart Home
Founded in 1999, Vivint has positioned itself as a next generation smart security services provider with an emphasis on home automation and integration with smart home devices. After a home consultation with a technician, customers can expect a security system with plenty of cutting edge equipment designed to be operated at home, or while away using the remote access function. Unlike ADT, a majority of Vivint equipment is self-manufactured, although third-party gear is also available.
Vivint’s $599 starter kit includes a touch-screen Smart Hub, two window sensors, two door sensors, one water sensor, one motion sensor, and $100 towards more sensors, as needed. Customers can purchase add-ons, such as $100 glass break sensors and a $249 doorbell camera, but the total equipment price will be driven up rather quickly.
The company only offers professional installation and 100% wireless systems. Customers that pay for all of their equipment upfront can pay month-to-month, however they can also opt for a 60-month financing plan to pay off the equipment. After the equipment is paid off, customers can switch to a month-to-month pricing plan.
All in all, Vivint is an excellent provider of state-of-the-art security systems and home automation technology if customers can afford the high equipment price, though choosing the 60-month financing plan can lighten the burden somewhat.
- Wide array of high-end equipment designed for a variety of purposes
- Clear, easy to understand pricing options
- Excellent smart locks integration
- Easy to use with smart devices
- Vivint is committed to energy conservation with their equipment, enabling customers to cut down on high electricity bills
- Customers enjoy the fact that Vivint technology features are easy to use, including an LCD touchscreen with mobile access, energy efficiency, and home automation
- Expert home installation
- Expensive upfront costs
- No DIY installation option
Protect America distinguishes themselves in the industry by providing customers with a multitude of options to suit their needs: homeowners can opt for thrifty DIY installation, or have their system professionally installed. With the cheapest plan starting at $19.99 a month, the company is also one of the most affordable.
Compared to equipment offered by other home security providers, Protect America’s may not be the most impressive, but their door and windows sensors, indoor and outdoor cameras and glass-break detectors are all sturdy and functional. Homeowners operate the system through a Simon XTi 5-inch touch-screen control panel, and some equipment comes free.
Some might be put off Protect America’s 3-month lock-in contract, although the company has a 15-day window to cancel after the date the equipment has shipped. With DIY installation and low prices, Protect America provides quality home security solutions for homeowners on a budget.
- Protect America includes specialized features, such as GPS Vehicle Tracking and Z-Wave equipment
- DIY installation
- 15-day trial period
- Protect America gives its customers the option of three monitoring systems: broadband internet connection, cellular uplink, or a landline phone
- According to a Protect America guarantee, equipment replacement is promised
- Consistent and thorough customer care
- Professional installation if needed
- Long term, 3-year lock-in contract
- Costly starter fees
- Landline package lacks live video streaming and home automation options
A relative newcomer to the home security industry founded just over a decade ago, Frontpoint has quickly risen to the top of the pack with its DIY home security systems and affordably priced Alarm.com-sourced equipment.
Although the DIY-only installation limits the complexity of the available security systems, Frontpoint equipment is completely wireless, with monitoring done through a cellular signal only rather than a Wi-Fi/cellular combo. Compared to other providers like Vivint, available home automation products are somewhat limited, although smart light bulbs, garage door openers, and smart door locks can be purchased.
Customers can choose from a variety of plans and payment options, with the cheapest being the Safe Home Starter Package, which costs $69. Basic protection costs $34.99 a month with more expensive plans also available. Judging from online feedback, customers love Frontpoint, and with good reason: the provider offers some of the best DIY systems with flexible payment options.
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Easy DIY installation
- Wide range of plans available
- Integration with Google Home devices
- Month-to-month pricing
- Customers receive quick alerts from a range of potential emergency situations, including carbon monoxide leaks, freezing, or flooding
- 3-year equipment warranty
- Excellent customer support
- Video and home automation only available with high-end plans
- Installation may be difficult for those with limited wiring experience
Link Interactive leads with the slogan, “Protect What Matters Most”. And in an effort to do so, Link Interactive boasts cost-efficient, user-friendly security that the whole family will appreciate. The company specializes in 100% wireless systems able to be controlled through the company’s Alarm.com mobile app.
According to its DIY policy, customers are able to build a specialized smart home security systems package that best suits their individual needs, rather than choosing a specific plan. The equipment on offer includes a wide range of devices manufactured by Z-Wave, including indoor and outdoor cameras, video doorbells, and door locks. In addition, Link Interactive offers up notifications in the case of power outages, a central monitoring station, and a reliable cellular system.
Link Interactive is unique in offering a no contract option if customers pay all the initial equipment costs, and there are no installation or activation fees. Monitoring plans start at $30.99 a month, with high end monitoring options available. All in all, due to its DIY policy, excellent monitoring, and flexible options, Link Interactive is one of the best home security providers in the industry.
- Industry leading customer service
- Flexible plans and pricing
- DIY installation
- Affordable monitoring
- No contract necessary if equipment is purchased in full
- Free installation services and after-installation support
- Products are highly customized and come at a price that customers can afford
- Among its specials, Link Interactive offers unique packages for video monitoring that is only $5 above the base cost of service
- Link Interactive relies on a cellular network to connect users to their systems, rather than Wi-Fi or the use of a landline
- Additional equipment is costly
- Cancellation of financing plan requires the payment of 75% of a customer’s remaining balance.
So, who’s the best?
While each home security system has unique attributes suited for a range of customers, Link Interactive has set itself apart from all others in the industry. Customers are met with top care, affordability, and highly-specialized products.
Link Interactive is a company that has fully embraced new technologies in order to deliver its customer base the best services available, every time, without fail. While an à la carte system of purchase may at first seem daunting to new customers, ultimately, buyers are given total control of the services they receive, which allows for the best-customized care possible. Link Interactive puts customers first and keeps striving for the next big break in innovation at the highest level.
One of the most rewarding things about installing a home security system in your home is the sense of relief it brings. Furthermore, as technology advances, these systems are becoming even more user-friendly, providing you, your family, and your business with a way of staying safe at all times, regardless of where you are or what your security needs are.
As a final note – once you’ve had the system installed, make sure your family members, friends, and/or colleagues are up to speed with how things work. This will make sure everyone’s making the most of the state-of-the-art security system you’ve installed.
Additional home security system reviews
Looking for more information on the home security systems available? On our site, you’ll find more in-depth reviews of some of the most popular systems on the market, along with cost and contract info. Follow the links below:
- ADT Home Security
- Vivint Review
- Frontpoint Security Review
- Simplisafe Review
- Link Interactive Review
- Protection 1 Review
- LiveWatch Review
- Scout Review
- AT&T Digital Life Review