A security system can help protect your home, family, and valuables from burglars. But is it worth the expense? Let’s dig into the nitty-gritty of home security costs to find out when a price becomes a good value.
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* Based on the combined average cost of a control panel, keypad, two motion detectors, and six entry sensors. † Assumes two-year battery life and lithium-ion batteries at $2.00 each for sensors listed above.
How much are you likely to lose in a burglary?
The FBI reported that the average dollar loss per burglary was $2,799 in 2018.1 This likely includes both items lost and damage caused during break-ins. Of course, this won’t account for the sentimental value of heirlooms, collectibles, and other things that aren’t easily replaceable.
Professional monitoring is a worthwhile companion for your home security system since it mobilizes people when your alarm goes off. These professionals can send emergency responders directly to your home, which is especially crucial if you’re unable to call 911 yourself.
From a cost perspective, the monitoring fee is the most expensive part of most security systems, costing an average of $33.29 a month across the 144 national and local security providers we’ve researched over the past year.
In general, monitoring that costs less than average is a good value because you won’t find many contracts, but you will pay more up front for equipment.
Is home security monitoring a good value?
Because there’s such a wide variety of monitoring plans out there, we think it’s likely that you’ll find one that’s a great value for your needs.
As with any service, value depends on how you compare plans. If you’re comparing plans from a single company, a general rule of thumb is that more expensive monitoring comes with more features, like smart home devices and security cameras.
But when you compare plans from multiple companies, a different correlation appears: higher costs usually mean a better warranty and better equipment.
The core of every professional monitoring plan is essentially the same: 24/7 monitoring of your home. Whether you choose a particular brand, device, or feature ultimately depends on your personal preferences and budget.
Professional monitoring often qualifies you for a discount of up to 20% on your homeowners or renters insurance. Check with your insurance provider to see if they offer an incentive.
What are the long-term costs of security monitoring?
Because monitoring is a monthly fee, it adds up over time, like a cell phone plan.
Here’s a quick reference of expenses based on several price points to help you visualize the cumulative cost of home security monitoring:
Paying an annual fee to save money
Some security companies offer a discount for paying an annual fee instead of a monthly one. This discount usually saves you about 16% overall (equal to two free months of monitoring). Annual fees are a bigger expense up front but can save extra cash in the long run.
How do contracts and cancelation fees affect the monitoring costs?
The contract lays out what you owe if you cancel early, usually a percentage of your monthly monitoring payments. Here’s a quick list of termination fees from some national providers:
Link Interactive: 75%
Except for Alder and Vivint, all of the providers above sell contract-free options as well:
ADT: Blue by ADT
Brinks: Google Nest Secure (uses Brinks’ monitoring)
Link Interactive: Contact the company to arrange a no-contract plan
Historically, the biggest complaint about the cost of alarm monitoring is canceling it. While there are a ton of no-contract DIY security systems that don’t charge you a dime to cancel, you should always be ready to thumb through a contract if you choose professional installation.
Monitoring is usually cheaper on a DIY security system
Our proprietary research says that monitoring on DIY security systems costs around $28.05 a month on average. This is much cheaper than the $50.08 monthly average on professional systems. These savings come from DIY installation and up-front equipment costs.
A contract isn’t always a deal-breaker
If you plan to use a home security system for longer than a particular brand’s contract, you won’t have trouble switching later. Most contracts roll over to a monthly payment after ending. Still, always check with your provider to make sure it doesn’t renew for a longer term.
Another benefit of contracts is that you won’t pay a lump sum for your new equipment when you sign up for a monitoring service.
Here’s the good news—most national security companies, including Ring Alarm and SimpliSafe, don’t charge for installation and activation. This is because customers install and activate the equipment themselves.
While a few companies charge for these services, the cost is surprisingly small compared to long-term monitoring costs: usually between $99 and $199. The benefit of the higher price is that experienced technicians can install equipment quickly and correctly while you kick back with a good book.
Security equipment is the second biggest expense in a home alarm system and the highest up-front cost. Unlike monitoring, the equipment cost goes up as home sizes increase (at least if you want the same level of coverage).
While we don’t have complete equipment costs for local security companies, we do have them for 12 national providers:
Glass break sensor
Carbon monoxide detector
Indoor security camera
Outdoor security camera
Video doorbell camera
Info current as of 08/20/2020. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. Not every security company sells every device type listed above.
As you can see from the table above, a lot of home security equipment is affordable. The price bumps come when security companies sell complex devices or just mark up the price for a greater profit. On top of that, some security cameras require an additional subscription to store video clips.
If you want to save money on your security system, we recommend skipping its security cameras, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors in favor of stand-alone retail versions. They won’t talk to your system but are a good compromise that can cut down on short- and long-term costs.
Which equipment is “essential” for a home security system?
For most systems, there are three essential security devices:
The base station connects the system to monitoring services. It may or may not require an additional keypad or control panel. Companies usually include this in a starter kit, accounting for around $130 of a kit’s price on average.
Contact sensors (entry sensors) detect when someone enters through a door or window. Most starter kits include at least one or two of these, with larger kits including many more. These are generally affordable, costing around $29 each.
Motion sensors are the second line of defense inside the house and are handy when someone manages to bypass an entry sensor through a broken window. Most equipment packages include up to two motion detectors, costing around $43 each.
Anything beyond the intrusion detection devices above isn’t strictly necessary for a security system but adds a new way to detect different hazards.
Starter kit costs
Most equipment starter kits cost around $350 on average, but there are lots of cheap security systems for $200 or less.
Should I finance my equipment costs?
It depends on whether you want a slightly bigger monthly bill or an up-front bill that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Many security companies offer financing to help cover the large up-front costs of equipment. Financing plans raise your monthly monitoring fee but can help folks with limited funds.
They generally require a credit check and are more likely to saddle you with a contract, so you should study the terms carefully before committing to one.
Maintaining a security system doesn’t usually cost much more than the price of a few replacement batteries every year or two. Even if your sensors use expensive batteries, you typically won’t spend more than $10 a year on maintenance.
What if a security device breaks?
Faulty devices generally fall under the warranty, which lasts as little as one year or as long as you pay for professional monitoring (lifetime warranty), depending on the brand. The warranty will cover some or all of the replacement costs.
At least one home security company, ADT, includes mandatory fees to cover equipment and in-house service calls. This fee is part of the monitoring contract and changes based on the value of the equipment in your home. Another notable example is Vivint, which charges for individual service calls if you don’t subscribe to a premium service plan.
Taxes and permits
You should expect to pay local and state taxes (sales or service) for your equipment and monitoring. The exact tax amount varies by location, so look out for this line item on account statements to find out what you pay.
Do I need to pay for an alarm permit?
Much like taxes, alarm permits vary from place to place. For example, folks in New York City don’t need a permit, but Phoenix residents pay $17 each year. The idea behind permits is to reduce false alarms that divert city resources.
Permit or not, you might be on the hook for fines if your security system causes too many false alarms. A false alarm fine typically ranges from $50 to $500 depending on the city and the number of instances in a calendar year.
Amazon.com List Price as of 09/09/20 10:46 a.m. MST. (Full disclaimer)
*$0 due up-front with consumer financing. **With $99 installation charge and new monitoring agreement. Early termination fee applies. See SafeStreets.com for full offer details, terms, and conditions. ˄No-contract options available with outright equipment purchase.
† Professional monitoring provided by Brinks Home Security.
‡ Landline monitoring only. Some restrictions apply. (Full disclaimer)