All home security systems work on the same basic principle of securing entry points, like doors and windows, as well as interior space containing valuables like art, computers, guns, and coin collections. Regardless of the size of your home, or the number of doors and windows or interior rooms a homeowner decides to protect, the only real difference is in the number of security components deployed throughout the home and monitored by the control panel.
What Is a Security System and How Does it Work?
What is a security system?
The most basic definition of any security system is found in its name. It is literally a means or method by which something is secured through a system of interworking components and devices.
In this instance, we’re talking about home security systems, which are networks of integrated electronic devices working together with a central control panel to protect against burglars and other potential home intruders.
A typical home security system includes:
- A control panel, which is the primary controller of a home’s security system
- Door and window sensors
- Motion sensors, both interior and exterior
- Wired or wireless security cameras
- A high-decibel siren or alarm
- A yard sign and window stickers
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How does a security system work?
Home security systems work on the simple concept of securing entry points into a home with sensors that communicate with a control panel or command center installed in a convenient location somewhere in the home.
The sensors are typically placed in doors that lead to and from a house as well as easily accessible windows, particularly any that open, especially those at ground level. Open spaces inside of homes can be secured with motion sensors.
Control Panel: The control panel is the computer that arms and disarms the security systems, communicates with each installed component, sounds the alarm when a security zone is breached, and communicates with an alarm monitoring company.
They typically feature a touchpad for easy programming and interaction, is where pass codes are entered to arm and disarm the system, can work on voice commands, and can be programmed to work with wireless remote controls called key fobs.
Door and Window Sensors: Door and window sensors are comprised of two parts installed adjacent to each other. One part of the device is installed on the door or window and the other on the door frame or window sill. When a door or window is closed, the two parts of the sensor are joined together, creating a security circuit.
When the security system is armed at the control panel, these sensors communicate with it by reporting that the point of entry is secure. Should a monitored door or window suddenly be opened, the security circuit is broken and the control panel interprets this as a breach of a secured zone. A high-decibel alarm is sounded and in most instances the alarm monitoring company is automatically notified.
Motion Sensors: These security components, when armed, protect a given space by creating an invisible zone that cannot be breached without sounding an alarm. These are typically used to protect rooms containing valuables, as well as areas less frequented in larger homes.
Surveillance Cameras: Available in both wired and wireless configurations, surveillance cameras can be used in several different ways as part of an overall security system.
Typical uses include monitoring:
- Hard to see or distant areas of your property
- Remote buildings like garages, barns, and workshops
- Entry points, both exterior and interior, like garage doors and front doors
Surveillance cameras can be accessed remotely on computers, smartphones, and tablets. They are often used in this method when homeowners are out of town, to watch for deliveries and other service personnel like caregivers and landscapers, and to monitor the arrival of children after school. They can also be used to record any security breaches, which could result in having footage of a home invasion, including a good look at the burglars and perhaps even the vehicle they drove.
High-decibel Alarm: Loud enough for neighbors to hear, home security alarms serve a few different purposes. First, they alert the people inside the house that a problem occurred. They’re also shrill enough to send a burglar running while also notifying nearby neighbors to the situation.
Yard Sign and Window Stickers: On the surface, these items might seem like nothing more than marketing tools for alarm companies, but they play important roles in home security. When you place a security company’s sticker in a front window and plant their sign in your front yard, you are telling burglars you home is professionally protected and not a wise choice for an attempted burglary. They are effective at conveying this message and should be used as recommended by the security company.
What happens when an intrusion occurs?
Security systems are designed to perform certain tasks when a secured zone is breached. What your security systems does in the event of an intrusion depends on the type of system you’re using.
Professionally Monitored Security Systems: If your security system is professionally monitored by an alarm company, they are alerted when a security problem arises in your home. Along with the high-decibel alarm that sounds, the monitoring company is alerted. A trained security expert might attempt to communicate with the homeowner via the control panel if it’s setup for 2-Way Voice communication, or will call the emergency contact number listed on the account.
These types of security systems communicate with the monitoring company in one of several ways, including:
- Over existing home phone lines, which continue to work during power outages when battery backup is in use.
- Wirelessly through cellular radio frequencies like cell phones use, which also continue to work during power outages when battery backup is in use.
- Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which typically doesn’t work in a power outage.
- Via the Internet, which also typically does not work in a power outage.
In the event of an actual emergency, the monitoring company will notify the appropriate emergency response personnel in your area. This includes police, firefighters, and paramedics. The monitoring company will also try to maintain communication with you until emergency response teams arrive at your home.
Monitored systems typically allow for the homeowners (or designees) to be notified by text message and email when a security breach occurs.
Non-monitored Security Systems: There are plenty of DIY security systems available today that don’t include professionally monitored services. In the event of a home intrusion when this type of security system is installed, a high-decibel alarm sounds (provided one is installed). Contacting police, fire, or other emergency response personnel must be initiated by the homeowner by dialing the appropriate number, typically 911.
These types of systems may or may not allow for text messages or email notifications to be sent to the homeowner in the event of a security breach, depending on the provider and the system you opted for.
What are the advantages of having a home security system?
Homes without security systems are high on their list.
When you have a home security system professionally monitored, and advertise this by displaying window stickers and yard signs, you’re letting burglars know the likelihood they’ll fail and be caught are very high.
Another advantage is the ability to remotely manage your house. With this, you can typically arm and disarm your security system from anywhere in the world via a web-enabled device, monitor who arrives and leaves your home, as well as use a panic button to elicit an instant response from your alarm monitoring company.
Finally, most home insurance companies provide great discounts-up to 20 percent-when you have a home security system in your home.
Compare the Best Home Security Systems
|Luxury smart home pick||High-end DIY pick||Reader favorite||Pro monitoring pick||No-contract DIY pick|
|Brand||Vivint||Frontpoint||SimpliSafe||ADT||Blue by ADT|
|Lowest monthly monitoring price||$29.99/mo.||$44.99/mo.||$14.99/mo.||$27.99||$19.99/mo.|
|Starter equipment price||$0.00*||$0.00*||$229.00||$0.00**||$199.15|
|Smart home compatibility||Amazon Alexa
|Learn more||View Packages||View Packages||View Packages||View Packages||View Packages|
|Read review||Read review||Read review||Read review||Read review||Read review|
Data effective 11/24/20. Offers and availability subject to change.
* Landline monitoring only. Some restrictions apply. (Full disclaimer)