Pricing & Services
Cost of Security
Installation & Support
Security Devices Included
Best Home Security Systems
Which Is the Best Home Security System?
Editor's note: LiveWatch and MONI Smart Security recently announced plans to rebrand under the name BRINKS Home Security. Once this rebranding is complete, we will review the changes to contracts and pricing and update our reviews accordingly.
We've been reviewing security systems for six years. In the last year, we dedicated more than 600 hours to researching, contacting and reviewing 20 home security providers. Early on, we narrowed our comparison to 11 products. To create our rankings, we considered costs, contracts, policies and customer service. Ultimately, we chose LiveWatch as our Gold Award winner for best home security system. It has a wide array of equipment and an excellent alert system that can notify your emergency contacts simultaneously so there is no delay during an event. LiveWatch has some of the best contract terms and lowest prices among home security systems, so it's also our top pick for best value.
Our Silver Award winner, MONI, lets you choose from three service plans that come with excellent security devices. The company's professional installation and support are only matched by one other company we reviewed.
ADT, our Bronze Award winner, also has exceptional installation and support. It offers competitive pricing and a fair contract compared to most other professionally installed home security alarm systems.
Many other systems we reviewed have unique advantages that might make them a good choice for your home. Vivint is our top pick for smart home features and compatibility, while Link Interactive has the best selection of security devices of the companies we reviewed, which you can buy in its helpful online store.
To learn more about home alarm systems, take some time to read this guide to see how we chose systems, what we evaluated and what you should expect as well as buying tips on basics and upgrades. Our individual reviews cover each home security system in more detail. For a self-monitored, no-contract system, check out our DIY home security review.
How We Chose Home Security Systems to Evaluate
We chose monitoring plans and equipment packages that are comparable in price and features, and companies that ask you to call them before revealing any prices were disqualified.
Next, we looked at whether a company provides important information about contract terms and conditions online – if it didn't have this information publicly available and you first must request a quote, the service was disqualified. Prospective customers should have full access to important contract terms before contacting a salesperson.
What We Evaluated, Why It's Important
Our evaluation defines the best home security systems as those with fair contracts and good prices because these matter to you. We examined company websites for information and sought clarification from the services if we couldn't find what we needed to know. The companies have no input on our evaluation methodology, and we do not share our results or rankings with them prior to publication.
The goal of our comparison is to empower you to choose the best alarm system for your needs. We want you have a strong understanding of contract terms so you can grasp the give and take between a security company and its subscribers. We hope our comparison simplifies your home security system choices.
Costs Depend on Your Home
The costs and fees we use in our review are based on the starting rate for each plan we evaluated. However, other taxes and fees also affect how much your home security system costs each month. For example, there are often starting costs you pay at the beginning of your contract that cover equipment, installation and activation. If the company spreads these costs throughout your contract, your monitoring fee might be higher as a result. There's a silver lining to paying for a home security system: It can lower your home insurance costs.
Home security monitoring costs between $25 and $54 each month. Aside from monthly monitoring fees, starting costs average $120 to purchase basic equipment. With few exceptions, this is a quote-based industry, which means equipment prices vary from home to home. Large homes with more points of entry need more equipment than small homes.
Contracts Explain Fees & Cancellation Policies
In general, contracts make it practical for home security companies to do business by offsetting operating and equipment costs. As we examined contracts, we focused on the fairness of consumer-facing policies such as length of contract, early cancellation, equipment return and auto renewal.
Contract length ultimately affects your total costs and cancellation fees. Most security alarm systems have one- to three-year contracts, but some contracts are as long as five years. Two companies, LiveWatch and SimpliSafe, have no contracts, instead offering month-to-month services.
Early cancellation policies often require you to pay some or most of the balance remaining on your account. However, some of these policies are fairer than others. An ideal cancellation policy has no fees, but one that requires you to pay 80 percent or less of what you owe is better than one that requires 100-percent payoff.
Equipment return policies are a quicker way out of your contract that avoid most cancellation fees, but you must return the equipment shortly after installation. Some companies only give you three days to do this, though most give you two to four weeks, and a few have longer return policies.
Auto renewals are standard for contracts on all home security systems. However, companies that only renew your contract on a month-to-month basis are preferable to those that renew for a year.
While every home security company offers 24/7 monitoring services, these are for emergencies, and customer service often has more limited hours. Customer service runs on the same principle as cell phone signal strength, where more bars mean a better signal. In customer service, more support channels and useful operating hours lead to a better signal.
We looked at how each company offers customer service and favored those that provide support over social media. This is a reliable way to reach support since a public post or private message on a company’s Facebook or Twitter page often receives a quick response.
Each home security company in our review answers customer support questions on its main social media pages. Some security system providers, such as AT&T, have dedicated social media pages for customer support. Other effective support channels include live chat and phone, though phone support is less ideal. Email is the slowest support channel.
Support channels are only part of the equation. We also assessed if a company's customer support hours are useful to the average person, allowing you to get help on your time. Our customer service availability score favors companies that offer continuous support during the average waking hours for Americans in the continental U.S. over those with limited business hours.
What to Expect From a Home Security System
As we researched for this comparison, we found a few things common to every home security system to give you a better idea of how burglar alarm systems work.
Psychological Barriers, Not Physical Ones
Unfortunately, once someone commits to break into your home, a security system can't physically stop them. However, it's a strong psychological deterrent that relies on the intruder's fear of getting caught.
As a result, a security system's yard signs and window decals can make would-be burglars reconsider targeting your home, and the blaring alarm scares them away before they cause more trouble.
24/7 Home Security Monitoring
Security systems use certified monitoring stations to watch your home 24/7. When an alarm goes off, the monitoring station contacts you to see if everything's okay and sends help if needed or if there's no reply.
Security Devices Included
Three devices are the foundation of every security system: a control panel, entry sensors and motion detectors. Some companies include more equipment as an incentive, but it's not always free.
All these systems use battery-operated sensors that wirelessly connect to a control panel. The control panel requires a power cable most of the time but usually has a battery backup.
Cellular Monitoring Connection
Most systems have a cellular link to the monitoring station, which we consider the best option for 24/7 security, even during power outages. Some providers, like Protect America, can also use internet or landline connections.
You can use a smartphone to arm, disarm and control each of these home security systems, with more expensive plans usually offering more features like smart home control and security camera viewing.
Most warranties require you put the system into test mode on a monthly basis to look for faulty sensors or dead batteries. Warranties don't cover dead batteries, so expect to change them every few years.
While a warranty implies that you won't pay extra to replace a faulty sensor, some companies ask you to pay for the service calls or shipping needed to make that replacement. This is often a small monthly fee for a service plan that you pay in addition to monitoring fees or a flat fee charged for each service call.
Most cities require a permit for security systems, including DIY home security systems. Contact your local police department or city hall to see what the requirements are in your area. When you get a permit, you agree to pay for excessive false alarms that divert valuable police resources. If a professional installs your system, ask them whether the security company registers the alarm permit or if you must do this.
Buying Tips: Getting the Basics
Before you contact the sales team or buy equipment for your home security system, take some time to plan and decide what level of protection you need, and only get features that you plan to use and are within your budget. Having a plan helps you communicate your needs to the salesperson and makes it easier to resist upgrades you don't want or can't afford.
Start by listing the exterior doors and windows you want to protect with entry sensors to detect potential intruders. Any door or window is vulnerable, especially those that aren't as visible from the street or nearby homes. Entry sensors are your first line of defense; your budget should allow for as many as needed. For example, Frontpoint offers four entry sensors as part of the equipment package we reviewed.
The next step is to list the largest rooms and upper levels in your home. These are the first places you should put motion detectors, which act as a backup in case an intruder manages to bypass your entry sensors.
Although each home security system in our review comes with a control panel, you can add secondary panels or keypads near doors you use frequently. Extra panels are more expensive and have more features than keypads.
Buying Tips: Upgrading Beyond the Basics
There's no substitute for monitoring, and it should be the primary reason you have a system, but there are upgrades that can expand the capabilities of your home security system beyond detecting intruders. Depending on the security provider, upgrades can increase your monthly monitoring fees or starting costs.
Some sensors aren’t strictly necessary for an effective security system but are still nice to have. These include smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, pet-immune motion sensors, glass-break sensors, flood sensors, key fobs and panic buttons. Entry sensors on medicine cabinets also fit in this category.
Smart Home Devices
Home automation compatibility is common in most home security alarm systems, but isn't a necessity unless you want to use yours to control the following devices: garage door openers, lighting controls, smart locks, thermostats and voice controls.
For a smart home with better control and compatibility than a security system, professional home automation systems are a high-end upgrade and often work with security monitoring. DIY home automation systems are affordable alternatives, but usually don't have security monitoring.
Security cameras are a good way to identify intruders and document events for police reports or insurance claims. Each system in our review integrates with indoor security cameras, while most offer outdoor cameras as well. Cameras increase the cost of your monitoring fees, and you must use the cameras sold by the company.
For video surveillance that doesn't require a security system, take a look at our security camera review. The products in that review work just as well, with lower or no monthly fees.
Many security companies offer medical alerts, but a standalone medical alert system may be a better option if you want to save money.
Finding the best home security system for you can be tough, but it’s easier when you make a plan that prioritizes the needs of your family and home. Hopefully our comparison helped simplify your choice.