Home Security Systems Review
Why Install a Home Security System?
Editor's note: On May 2, 2016, ADT announced the completion of a merger with Protection 1. Although the two companies currently operate independently, both will eventually operate exclusively under the ADT brand. When ADT and Protection 1 complete this brand integration, we will update our home security reviews to reflect that information.
The top performers in our review are LiveWatch, the Gold Award winner; Monitronics, the Silver Award winner; and Frontpoint, the Bronze Award winner. Here is more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 15 systems.
Whether you are away for 15 minutes or two weeks, you need to know that your family and valuables are safe at home. If you have one of the best home security systems, it can notify you when things happen in your home, such as when your children come home from school. It can also protect you from risks of fire, flood, carbon monoxide and natural gas leaks, which pose very real threats.
The best security systems can also protect against the insidious and terrifying dangers of break-ins by criminals, which in some respects can be even worse than other threats. The very idea of a human intruder creeping through the house and pawing through possessions is enough to make adults feel violated. If you are at home at the time, the risk is even higher.
Even if no one is at home when a burglar breaks in, children can suffer from the mere idea that a stranger was in the place where they deserve to feel safest. Some mental health experts have found that break-ins can traumatize children to such a degree that youngsters are plagued by nightmares, experience a profound decrease in confidence, start to do poorly in school and obsess about somebody breaking in again. But let's face it – once your house has been broken into, every family member is going to feel a little less safe, and who knows how long it will take a sensitive person, young or old, to get over that troubling sense of uneasiness?
Taking concrete steps to prevent something like this from happening can go a long way toward making you and your loved ones feel secure and comfortable in their own home. Installing the best home security system for your budget and overall needs can offer peace of mind to the whole family.
Installing one of the top home security systems can be a significant financial investment for the equipment, possible labor installation costs and monthly fees. On the bright side, it can lower your home insurance costs. If a security system can protect your family and your irreplaceable belongings when disaster strikes, these costs will probably seem irrelevant.
In addition to paying for the services of home security companies, there are a number of inexpensive ways to enhance the safety of your home with some systems that you can install yourself. Along with that, you can undertake a few simple and common sense measures to ward off would-be burglars. For additional information, read our articles on the best home alarm systems. If you prefer a hands-on, no-contract approach, check out our DIY home security review.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What We Evaluated; What We Found
All home security firms give you a basic amount of coverage, but the best home security system companies offer extra options as well. The best home security systems help you effectively protect your home by offering a variety of alerts and monitoring services, a large assortment of security devices, and strong customer support services. In trying to provide the best security system reviews, we examined many factors including such diverse topics as fees, equipment selection, customer service and more.
When you are looking for the best home security plan for your situation, consider the things you want to protect, for example, children, pets and valuables. To start, information is one of the most important tools you have for keeping your home safe.
Home surveillance systems can alert you in the event of various emergencies, and these alerts can arrive as a text, email, phone call or an alert from a mobile app. You can typically receive alerts for such things as intrusion, fire, carbon monoxide, and broken window or door glass. Many companies also provide additional alerts that address child safety, medical emergencies, temperature changes, flooding, power failure and natural gas line breaks.
The best home burglar alarm systems offer a speedy response time that automatically notifies the right party within seconds of an event, which means you can take steps to stop or modify any risks to you, your family and your valuable possessions.
In our exploration of firms to find the top home security systems, we checked prices since there are costs involved for professional monitoring of your property and, in many cases, expenses for professional equipment installation.
Not only do you need to know what you must pay monthly for the service, but it is also important to find out whether there are installation or activation fees. Some home security systems offer equipment that is easy to install so you don't have to wait for a company crew to arrive and do it for you.
Consider Costs and Your Needs
Naturally, no one can put a price tag on security. When it comes to your beloved family members, housemates, pets and cherished personal belongings, there is a deep-seated sense that one's home should be a sanctuary free from the dangers of the outside world. However, it is wise to be a shrewd consumer when it comes to signing up for a home security system since it is extremely easy for a savvy salesperson to talk (or even guilt-trip) you into paying for upgrades you do not really need, all in the name of safety.
Aside from finding a home security system that fits your budget, it is important to get a plan that includes the equipment, services and customer responsiveness that suits the unique needs of your home and your loved ones. If you live with someone who is elderly or who has mobility problems, a medic alert necklace can be a lifesaver. However, if no one in your home needs that, there is no sense paying for it.
It is best to really evaluate your home and decide what level of protection will make you most comfortable. The cheapest plan might be easy on your wallet, but it might not offer what you need. The most expensive package, despite its high price tag, might be lacking in some area that is important to you. Shopping around can yield great results.
Aside from monthly monitoring fees and starting costs, another thing to keep in mind is the duration of your contract. Most security systems for homes have one- to three-year contracts, but some residential security alarm systems can extend as long as five years. It is important to know how much it will cost if you decide to opt out of a particular company's service before the contract ends since some firms require you to pay the full remaining amount while others might have a prorated sum or no fee at all.
What Types of Equipment Do You Need?
The top home security systems we examined all offer wireless plans, which means you do not have the nuisance of wires snaking all through the house. You also get considerable flexibility as far as which devices you want to connect to and where you want things placed. You can connect the best systems to multiple sensors and cameras within and outside your house and link them with smartphones or other mobile devices.
Among other things, you undoubtedly want a home alarm system that protects every entrance and exit with a variety of door and window sensors, as well as recessed door sensors and garage door sensors. These will alert you if someone is trying to break or sneak into your home, and motion detectors in rooms can sense if someone is creeping through your house. You can even place a sensor on a medicine cabinet in the event someone is snooping around with the intention of swiping prescription drugs.
If you have pets, you may want to consider pet-immune sensors to reduce false alarms so your dogs or cats are not setting off motion detector devices all the time. You can get other false-alarm prevention sensors as well, such as glass-break sensors. These are designed to react to the sound of breaking glass in such things as windows or sliding glass doors, but they will not kick in if you accidentally drop a coffee mug and it shatters on the kitchen floor.
If your company includes a panic button in its equipment package, this allows you to activate a silent alarm that alerts the security company if something goes wrong. In addition, you can get a system that uses environmental sensors as well as sirens that frighten burglars and sound an SOS to neighbors. These extra devices can enable the system to detect a greater variety of threats for heightened security.
The best security systems are compatible with security cameras that you can access remotely using a smartphone or laptop. You can find systems that use top quality cameras that can be installed indoors and outdoors so you can see what is happening both inside and out. These not only let you see what is going on, but can be extremely helpful later for identification and prosecution purposes if police catch a burglar who was inside your house and/or an accomplice who was waiting outside.
What Kinds of Monitoring Can Home Security Systems Provide?
Home security monitoring services can alert local emergency responders when a threat appears, which helps keep an eye on your home when you are away. You probably benefit most from alarm companies that offer 24-hour monitoring since that ensures your home is protected at all times.
Cellular and internet monitoring tools let you remotely see when your children get home or check on pets during the day. These are reassuring services for parents and pet owners who worry about their two-legged and four-legged loved ones when they are not home to make sure everything is safe.
Many home security companies also offer home automation, which allows you to lock doors and adjust your thermostat remotely. Follow-up notifications and two-way intercoms give the security service a way to contact you after or during an emergency to see if you need further assistance.
What Customer Service Can a Home Security Company Provide?
If you have the misfortune to experience a home emergency, it is crucial to be able to contact home security personnel quickly and easily. All services in our product lineup have a telephone service and email contact, and many have live chat available to answer questions about the system.
In addition, such things as online tutorials, FAQs and alarm history reports can help you set it up or learn how the system works. You will also want to learn about the kind of warranty a company offers. It is especially important to know how far a warranty goes toward protecting your security system's equipment from manufacturer defects and other problems. Some companies offer installation and relocation services if you require assistance with system setup.
Home Security: Things You Can Do on Your Own
You can get sophisticated equipment and monitoring systems from professional companies, but do not lose sight of the fact that most career criminals are essentially stupid, but they are sneaky and sly enough to want to avoid prison. A few common sense actions on your part can help considerably to thwart them.
Light up: If you plan to be away for any length of time, keep lights on in rooms where they would logically be on and consider buying inexpensive timer devices that you can set to turn lights on and off automatically.
Appearances count: Enlist a friend or neighbor, or pay someone, to collect any mail, print newspapers or flyers you might receive and attend to trash pickup. In addition, make sure your lawn gets mowed, snow gets shoveled and the house looks like someone is present.
Tighten up: Be sure to lock doors and windows and always close your garage door when you leave home. And do not make the mistake of hiding your house key under the porch mat or potted plant.
Clear the view: Tall shrubbery can look attractive, but also can obscure what is happening near your home. Keep hedges trimmed so your neighbors and passing squad cars can see what is up.
Stash valuables: Buy a small safe for jewelry and important papers, and hide cash and other precious items in unlikely places. While you are at it, be discreet when talking about valuable new possessions. No sense spreading the word you got diamond earrings for your birthday or a new iPod.
Sign of the times: Consider a window decal and possibly a yard sign indicating your home is protected by a security system, but avoid including too many details to deter some thief who thinks he can dismantle a particular brand.
Home Security Companies: Precautions to Take
Resist a Hard Sell
If you are meeting with a sales person, insist on getting identification from that individual and do not take no for an answer. You should be able to write down the person's name, contact information, the name of the company and anything else that seems pertinent to ensure that this is a valid company representative.
Legitimate sales people are not afraid to let you know who they are and what company they represent. No matter how personable the sales representative is, do not tolerate non-identification or delaying tactics such as the sales person asking for a glass of water or use of the restroom before talking your ear off about a bewildering assortment of plans and costs. This is a business deal, so insist on professional behavior. If you do not get it, ask the person to leave.
Get Paper Documents
In an era when so much information is online, paper documents seem outdated to many people. However, it is always helpful to get written estimates and then do some comparison shopping with other companies – and get written estimates from them as well. You are doing due diligence for an important investment and you deserve to have a clear idea of exactly what services are offered, what equipment is available, what costs are involved, how and when you will be billed, and more.
Ask About Cancellation Policies and Auto Renewals
One of the most heatedly criticized areas in the home security industry is the matter of automatic contract renewals. You should get written information either in the estimate or the contract – while still unsigned – regarding how you are notified about any renewal, what steps you need to take if you do not want the renewal to go through and what the procedure is for cancelling service before the contract ends if you are unhappy with it.
In some cases, you cannot cancel the contract or, if you do, you must pay a fee. In a situation like that, find out well before you even sign up for the service what the fee is, when you must notify the company and other details, and get this information in writing.
Demand More Time
When you sign up for what you expect will be the best security system for your house, you are signing a legal document promising to pay monthly for the assistance you get from the company. However, there is more at stake than mere money since this business deal involves the physical safety of you, your loved ones and your home.
Take the time to call your city hall or the non-emergency number for law enforcement in your area to find out whether you have to register your system and whether there are any policies regarding false alarms and potential fines if they occur. Above all, read the contract very carefully and pay close attention to the details. Make a copy and keep it with your records.
Sign Nothing If You Suspect a Scam
Unfortunately for the reputable home security companies, there are scam artists who pose as sales people with bogus home security plans. There is no rush, so do not sign anything until you have done some comparison shopping, checked with the local Better Business Bureau, and asked friends and relatives to see if they have had any experience with a particular company. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
LiveWatch, our Gold Award winner, provides you with a wide array of equipment so you can customize the level of security you want for your home. This firm offers a self-installation program as well as an alert system that can go to several sources simultaneously so there is no delay as with some companies that painstakingly go down a list of emergency contacts. You also have options for equipment upgrades. You can also get emergency key fobs and necklace-style pendants for elderly or less mobile family members to use for medical emergencies.
Our Silver Award winner, Monitronics, gives you a choice of three home protection plans and around-the-clock home security monitoring. You, your loved ones and your property will be in good hands since the monitoring is handled by operators who have undergone 96 hours of classroom training and eight weeks of personal mentoring, along with routine quality assurance checking.
Frontpoint, our Bronze Award winner, provides three home monitoring plans and home security equipment you can install on your own. Its Interactive plan lets you control your system with a smartphone.
When choosing a home security system, always keep in mind the needs of your house and family. An effective system protects everything you hold dear, helps you feel safe and offers peace of mind. Strong support features and effortless interaction with the security company are surefire ways to help you feel a greater sense of security at home and while you are away.
Contributing Reviewer: Linda Thomson