Pricing & Services
Installation & Support
Security Devices Included
Best Home Security Systems
Which Is the Best Home Security System?
Over the last two years, we spent over 650 hours researching and contacting 23 home security providers. We selected the 11 security system companies that passed important transparency requirements. As we evaluated each system, we looked at costs, contract terms and customer service. Based on our analysis, Brinks Home Security is best home security system you can find. It sets a high standard by giving you multiple options for installing your equipment and is compatible with many smart home devices.
Brinks Home Security is the result of a merger and rebranding of LiveWatch and MONI, which were our top-rated security systems in past comparisons. It has an excellent return policy that's second only to ADT among alarm systems. It also works with a wider variety of smart home devices than most other security systems.
When you sign up for this company's 24/7 monitoring services, you get two options for installation: professional or self. If you choose to self-install your system, Brinks sends instructions and pre-programmed equipment to your home. Although professional installation costs extra, a technician does all the work for you and shows you how the system works. Professional installation includes a lifetime warranty, but self-installers can pay $49 for the same benefit. Uniquely, Brinks also sells optional monitoring services for Nest Secure, a DIY system, making it the only provider we reviewed with three system options: self, professional and DIY.
As is typical of most security systems, the contract lasts three years. However, the early-termination policy is higher than average, requiring 80 percent payoff of your account balance. If you want to cancel without fees, you have 90 days after your contract begins to return equipment.
The most basic of the company's two monitoring plans, Brinks Home Complete, costs $39 a month, a little higher than the industry average of $37. It comes free basic equipment, though there's a $19 activation fee, which means you can get started without too many costs upfront.
Link Interactive has the best equipment selection among home security providers. Best of all, you can choose your equipment a la carte in an online shop without a sales call. We were also impressed by the transparency of Link Interactive's equipment and monitoring prices. The monthly monitoring fees of $35.99 are lower than the industry average of $37, making Link Interactive an affordable security system. If you start a three-year contract with Link Interactive, you get a free basic control panel. You pay upfront for other equipment, which can make starting costs higher than those of competitors.
Although Link Interactive offers shorter one- and two-year contracts, it defaults to three years unless you ask; three years is average for the home security industry. If you cancel before your contract ends, you must pay 75 percent of the remaining balance. This is the lowest early-cancellation fee in our comparison (apart from no fees). You have 30 days to return the equipment without paying early-cancellation fees.
All equipment comes pre-programmed for self-installation, but if you need help you can look at tutorials on Link Interactive's website. Customer support is available through social media, email, phone and live chat, though the customer support hours are limited compared to 24/7 offerings from competitors like ADT. Link Interactive's three-year warranty pairs well with the contract length and is average for a home security system.
Best Return Policy
ADT's monitoring plans start at $28.99, but the company doesn't have the same price transparency as many of its competitors. Starting costs are equally vague at $25, though this probably increases when you get certain equipment. All ADT equipment has a lifetime warranty.
In fact, there are almost no references to prices on the ADT website, making it difficult to comparison shop. ADT prefers that customers work with a salesperson, so we called for more information. The salesperson emphasized personalized quotes rather than discussing the base pricing for the three service plans listed online.
Although pricing details are scarce, we found that ADT makes its full contract available online for anyone that wants to take a look. The contract lasts three years and subsequently renews on a month-to-month basis. If you want to cancel early, ADT gives you six months to return your equipment without any fees, the best return policy we've seen; any later and you must pay 75 percent of the balance remaining in your contract.
ADT requires professional installation for its security systems unless you buy the ADT Home Security Starter Kit, a DIY option sold by SmartThings. You can contact ADT 24/7 via social media, phone, email or live chat; only Brinks Home Security offers the same level of customer service excellence. ADT's Pulse system is compatible with a variety of third-party smart home devices.
Why Trust Us
Top Ten Reviews has reviewed home security systems since 2011. Over the last two years, we logged more than 650 hours researching for the various updates of this comparison. We checked with sales and customer support representatives to verify each company's contract terms.
Before choosing monitoring plans and equipment packages to evaluate, we disqualified companies that don't reveal any prices without a sales call. We also rejected companies that don't share key contract terms and conditions online in some form before you sign. This narrowed our initial 23 companies to 11 that fit these requirements. You deserve access to vital contract terms before calling a salesperson.
While researching this topic, we requested information from two associations in the security industry. First, we contacted the Security Industry Association (SIA), which connected us with a board member, Kirk MacDowell, president of MacGuard Security Advisors Inc. He suggests getting a security system sooner than later, "Sadly, many consumers wait until a burglary occurs before they invest in a system. And burglars don’t discriminate."
We also got information from Jamie Vos, vice president of the Electronic Security Association (ESA), who told us, "You need to go into the decision-making process with your eyes wide open. Select the provider that understands your security needs, can act as your advocate and point out security needs you may not have considered or explain why a certain technology you want may not be the best option for you."
For a self-monitored, no-contract system, check out our DIY home security review.
How We Tested
We define the best home security systems as those with good prices and fair contracts because these matter to you. We examined company websites and sought clarification from the services if we couldn't find something.
To evaluate pricing, we looked at the base rate, with smartphone controls, for comparable monitoring plans from each security company. Pricing breaks down into two categories: monitoring fees and starting costs. Monitoring fees are what you pay each month your contract is active, while you pay starting costs one time at the beginning of your contract.
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. A strong understanding of contract terms lets you grasp the relationship between a security company and its subscribers. Contracts help businesses offset operating and equipment costs, but they should also be transparent and equitable for customers.
While every security company offers 24/7 monitoring services, these are for emergencies, and customer service often has limited hours. We also assessed which customer support channels a company offers and whether its support hours extend beyond the business day, letting you get assistance on your time.
What to Expect from a Security System
Costs Depend on Your Home
Each monthly monitoring fee in our comparison is the base rate for cellular monitoring and mobile app controls. Other taxes and fees also affect your home security system costs each month. If the company spreads equipment costs throughout your contract, the monthly fee might be higher as well. These monthly monitoring fees range from $21 to $50. There's a silver lining to paying for an alarm system: It can lower your home insurance costs.
You can expect to spend an average of $120 in starting costs, which covers equipment, installation and activation fees. 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
Contract length ultimately affects your total costs and cancellation fees. Most security alarm systems have one- to three-year contracts, though five-year contracts exist. The best contracts don't have a minimum term, instead offering month-to-month services. Auto-renewals are standard, with monthly renewals better than yearly ones.
Early-cancellation policies often require you to pay some or all 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 let you return your system and avoid most cancellation fees. Some contracts only give three days after installation for this. Most allow two to four weeks, and a few have longer return policies.
Customer service is similar to 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 favored companies that provide support over social media. This is a reliable channel, since a public post or private message on a company’s Facebook or Twitter page often gets a quick response. Other effective support channels include live chat and phone, though phone support is less ideal. Email is the slowest support channel. We also favored companies with 24/7 customer support over those with limited business hours.
Psychological Barriers, Not Physical Ones
Unfortunately, once someone decides to break into your home, a burglar alarm 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 could scare them away before they cause more trouble.
24/7 Home Security Monitoring
Alarm 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 basis of every security system: a control panel, entry sensors for doors and windows, and motion detectors. Some companies include other equipment as an incentive, but it's not always free.
Modern 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 can also use internet or landline connections.
You can arm, disarm and control modern security systems with a smartphone, though some basic plans don't support it. More expensive plans usually offer features like smart home control and security camera viewing.
In general, most companies with a lifetime warranty are actually talking about an extended warranty that requires a monthly fee in addition to monitoring. This is used to pay for shipping and service calls. Some providers charge a flat fee for each service call instead of requiring a monthly fee.
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. Faulty devices under warranty are usually replaced for free.
A permit means you agree to pay for excessive false alarms that divert limited police resources and require your system to meet certain local standards. Vos said, "Different jurisdictions have their own unique permitting requirements. You should check with your local law enforcement to determine if a permit is needed and what the requirements are for that permit."
If you're unsure what you can do regarding your permit, ask if the security company provides assistance with permits or if you must do this on your own.
Security Systems: Getting the Basics
Contacting the sales team or buying equipment should be one of the last steps in getting a home security system. It's a good idea to develop an outline to help you explain your needs to the salesperson. This also makes it easier to turn down upgrades you don't want or can't afford.
Begin by making a list of exterior doors and windows you want to protect with entry sensors. Any door or window is susceptible, especially ones 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.
Next, 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 bypasses your entry sensors.
Although each alarm system in our comparison comes with a control panel, larger homes may need secondary panels or keypads near the exterior doors you often use.
Security Systems: Upgrading Beyond the Basics
Monitoring should be the main reason you have a system, but some upgrades can improve or go beyond simply spotting intruders. They often increase fees and starting costs, but aren't strictly necessary for basic security.
"Many times homeowners are not told about additional options," MacDowell told us. "A professional alarm company will suggest smoke and/or heat detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and water leak detectors can be added to just about any alarm system, to name a few."
These include smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, pet-immune motion sensors, glass-break sensors, flood sensors, key fobs and panic buttons.
Smart Home Devices
Home security alarm systems usually work with a few types of home automation devices like garage door openers, lighting controls, smart locks, thermostats and voice controls.
Security cameras help identify burglars and record incidents for police reports or insurance claims. Cameras add to your monitoring fees to cover video storage costs.
Many security firms offer medical alerts, but a separate service is better if you don't need a security system. Check out our reviews of medical alert systems for more information.