How to Choose a Security System

From the big national brands with multiple monitoring centers to DIY systems you can watch from your smart device, there are thousands of home security options to choose from. The best alarm system for your house makes life safer and more comfortable without breaking your budget or feeling too complicated. But how do you choose one?

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See our top picks for 2021

Check out our comparison of the best home security systems to find the right option for your home security needs.

Answer the questions below to help you know what to look for in a home security system:



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Home security features

Before choosing one type of home security system, ask yourself what you want to protect. Do you want a nanny cam for the little ones or monitors to catch leaky pipes? Security systems do more than keep intruders out of your home. They can also communicate with your kids when they get home from school or tell you when that Amazon package arrived.

The right equipment package, payment plan, and features for you depend on what you want to do with your system. In today’s market, there are three main types of security system packages available: home automation, security equipment, and environmental monitoring.

Smart home automation

Smart tech adjusts to your family’s schedule and preferences. Home automation can keep the lights on while you’re out of town or let the dog walker in while you’re out of the house.

Security equipment

Traditional home security devices like burglar alarms, glass break detectors, and outdoor cameras are helpful if you’re worried about issues like intrusion, theft, or vandalism.

Environmental monitoring

Equipment like smoke alarms, pipe freeze detectors, and leak detectors fall into this category. Families with older homes, especially, should look for devices in this category.

Selection of Vivint equipment

Common home security equipment and features 

We made a list of standard security system equipment most companies carry. Security providers tend to bundle devices differently, so it’s essential to keep your priorities in mind as you browse through product packages. The following equipment and features are available from almost every security company.

Video doorbell

What it does: Video doorbells record who stops by your front step and let you speak with them remotely through your smartphone.

What it’s good for: Use your doorbell camera to talk to the mailman, shoo away solicitors, welcome guests, and catch package thieves.

Learn more: Best Video Doorbell Cameras

Nanny camera

What it does: Nanny cameras watch over nurseries, kids’ rooms, and caretakers.

What it’s good for: Use your nanny cam to catch up with the nanny or babysitter, help aging parents, and watch pets while you’re away.

Learn more: Best Nanny Cams

Spotlight camera

What it does: A spotlight camera records video clips and lights up the surrounding area when it senses motion.

What it’s good for: Use a spotlight camera to catch intruders, stop curious animals, ground sneaky teenagers, and to light your path at night.

Learn more: Best Outdoor Security Cameras

Panic pendant

What it does: Panic pendants provide a wearable shortcut to emergency services.

What it’s good for: Use a panic pendant to help people who are aging or have a disability in an emergency.

Learn more: What Is a Panic Pendant and How Does It Work?

Door/window sensor

What it does: Entry sensors tell you when a door or window opens.

What it’s good for: Use a door and window sensor to guard entrances and alert you when kids access off-limits rooms or cabinets.

Learn more: Best Door and Window Sensors

Glass break sensor

What it does: Glass break sensors can alert you to loud noises and broken glass.

What it’s good for: Use a glass break sensor to trigger an alarm for scaring off intruders who enter through broken windows.

Learn more: How Does a Glass Break Detector Work?

Motion sensor

What it does: Motion sensors can alert you when they detect motion.

What it’s good for: Use a motion sensor (AKA motion detector) to help keep kids and large pets out of dangerous areas. They can also alert you to intruders in your home.

Learn more: The Beginner's Guide to Motion Sensors

Smart home integration

What it does: Smart home integrations allow your security system and smart home devices to team up for more convenient control options from a single app.

What it’s good for: Use smart home integration to add voice controls to your system and for creating custom automation routines to help your smart home security system run smoother.

Learn more: Best Smart Home Security Systems

Wireless monitoring

What it does: Wireless monitoring uses radio signals to connect devices in your home, allowing the sensors to send alerts to the base station. This results in a push notification on your phone or a call to the monitoring center.

What it’s good for: Get a wireless security system to make installation easier, simplify moving to a new house, and for functionality during a power outage.

Learn more: Are Wired or Wireless Home Security Systems Better?

Two-way talk

What it does: Two-way audio turns a device (either a control panel or security camera) into an intercom you can speak and listen through.

What it’s good for: Use two-way audio to check on the kids, get the dog off the couch, speak to visitors, catch intruders, and call for help with security systems like ADT.

Learn more: What is ADT's 2-Way Voice and How Does It Work?

Carbon monoxide detector

What it does: CO detectors activate an alarm when sensing carbon monoxide in your home.

What it’s good for: A carbon monoxide sensor can save lives and send alerts when you’re home and away.

Learn more: Best Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors

Flood sensor

What it does: Flood sensors alert you of leaks and pooling water.

What it’s good for: Use a flood sensor to help prevent serious water damage and to catch issues with your plumbing and appliances.

Learn more: Best Water Leak Sensors

Freeze sensor

What it does: Freeze sensors alert you of severe drops in temperature.

What it’s good for: Use a freeze sensor to help prevent frozen pipes that can lead to serious plumbing issues.

Learn more: How to Protect Against Frozen Pipes in Your Home

Fire and smoke alarm

What it does: Fire and smoke alarms can alert you to fire, smoke, and severe heat.

What it’s good for: Use a smoke detector to help prevent fires in your home.

Learn more: Best Smoke Detectors

Professional monitoring

What it does: Professional monitoring connects your security system to a professional call center that can contact emergency services for you.

What it’s good for: Professional monitoring is ideal for catching emergencies before they become disasters and providing a calm voice to guide you in a stressful situation.

Learn more: What Is Alarm Monitoring and How Does it Work?

man installs door lock

Professional vs. self-installation

Security systems have recently adopted cellular technology, making them easier than ever to install without professional help. Naturally, there are pros and cons to self-installed and professionally installed systems.

Professional installation can come with steep installation fees, but you won’t have to do any of the work. Home security companies like Vivint and ADT send a trained professional to your home for a consultation. You’ll be able to discuss your security priorities, budget, and expectations with a real person. These professionals also offer product package bundling and years of industry experience to put you at ease.

On the other hand, a DIY system like SimpliSafe or Frontpoint comes directly to your door pre-programmed and ready to go. These systems may not have as many bells and whistles as their professionally installed counterparts.

But they’re great for smaller homes that need the basics. Installation for these systems is a breeze since most of the equipment sticks onto your walls, doors, and windows.

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To the point

Professionally installed security systems require an installation fee, but you don’t have to lift a finger. Self-installed systems are generally more affordable, but you need to do all the placement and installation yourself.

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Security system size

Whether you opt for a DIY or professionally installed system, you’ll need enough equipment to fit your home. For example, the best security systems for apartment dwellers require fewer sensors overall. Professional installers for systems like Vivint can recommend the right sized package and add-ons to fit larger homes.

Just remember to cover all the entrances and exits in your home with a sensor or camera, plus any other equipment to protect kids, pets, or the rest of your family. Even adding sensors to window wells and basement entrances can bring an extra measure of security.

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Security system costs

It’s tempting to put the price tag as your top priority, but look for the right equipment first, and the right price will appear. All of our favorite home security systems have different tiers of services and prices, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. You can find a great home security system on a budget, but you shouldn’t compromise safety while doing it.

When looking at your budget, prices boil down to a set of one-time and regular fees. Most security systems require a monthly payment for monitoring and a one-time payment for the equipment. You can find systems without a monthly fee like Nest Secure that allow you to monitor your own home, but the initial cost is steeper.

It’s wise to read the fine print before signing onto any security system. Most companies charge for cancellation after a trial period or could add extra fees for moving equipment from house to house.

Checklist
How much does a security system cost?

You can expect to spend around $32 a month on average for professional monitoring services, though costs range from as low as $5 a month up to $65 a month depender on the provider you choose.

Check out our article covering home security costs to learn more.

FAQ

Landline security systems use a home phone connection to link security devices and monitoring together. They aren’t as common anymore because they’re easier to tamper with. But folks in rural areas may find that this is their only option if cell reception is poor where they live.

Broadband security systems connect to the professional monitoring center through your home’s internet connection. So if your home’s Wi-Fi goes out, so does your security system. The good news is it’s harder to tamper with than landline security, making it a little safer. All self-monitored security systems and most DIY security systems use an internet connection.

Cellular services are about as expensive as broadband security systems, but you won’t have to deal with hardwiring or power failures. Your devices can “talk” to each other and the professional monitoring center from your home using cellular uplink. The majority of professionally-monitored security systems use a cellular connection.

Most security system companies allow you to take your system to a new home, but some will charge you to buy new equipment or reinstall new devices.

If you move frequently, self-installed systems are much easier and cheaper to use.

For those on a budget, the short answer is “no, but it helps.” Home automation and smart home devices have a variety of functions (and prices).

From something as simple as a smart outlet that lets you turn lights on and off remotely to more sophisticated equipment like a smart doorbell, it all boils down to what makes your life easier and safer.

Smart home equipment is getting better and more affordable every year, so if you’re building a home security system, it’s not a bad idea to start integrating smart devices now.

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Compare the best home security systems

Top pickReader favoriteWhole-property pickPro monitoring pickNo-contract DIY pick
Brand
Vivint
Vivint
SimpliSafe
SimpliSafe
Frontpoint
Frontpoint
ADT
ADT
Blue by ADT
Blue by ADT
Lowest monitoring price
Starter equipment price$599.00$229.00$99.00$0.00$199.15
Contract required
Icon Yes  LightNo *
Icon Yes  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightNo
Icon No  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightNo
InstallationProDIYDIYProDIY
Smart home compatibilityIcon Tooltip  DarkAmazon, Google,
Z-Wave
Amazon, GoogleAmazon, Google,
Z-Wave
Amazon, Google,
Z-Wave
Amazon, Google,
Z-Wave
Learn more
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Info current as of 06/04/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
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Katie McEntire
Written by
Katie McEntire
As a renter, pet-owner, and woman living alone, Katie McEntire takes safety seriously. She’s tested devices like pet cameras, home security systems, and GPS trackers in her own home and devices in the name of safety. In addition to testing, writing, and reviewing for SafeWise, she also makes videos for the site’s YouTube channel. She’s been featured on publications like TechGuySmartBuy, Forbes, Healthy Moms, and Digital Care. Katie has a Bachelor’s degree in Technical Writing from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She’s held previous writing positions at Overstock.com and Top Ten Reviews.

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