Having a reliable home security system is essential for maintaining the safety of your home for you and your family. Knowing that your house is being monitored 24/7 will provide some much-needed peace of mind in a time when peace of mind can be hard to come by.
According to Harry H. Knowles, a home security expert at Locksmith Earl, “modern systems are small, but powerful enough to improve the security of your home and prevent the chance of burglary by up to 87%.”
Not only do (good) home security systems monitor your property for potential break-ins, they also protect your loved ones against fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Home security systems used to just be for the rich and famous, but advances in technology have made securing your home more affordable than ever. To top it off, you can monitor your home no matter where you are in the world.
“Smartphones have revolutionized the home security system,” says Brianne, a home security expert with Reviews.org. “You can check in with your system from across the country, even across the globe. You can also remotely turn your lights on and off to make it look like someone's home or open your door to a delivery person while you're still at work.”
But those same technological advances have also led to a flood of new brands and options in the home security market, making it harder than ever to sift through the garbage to find what is actually worth it.
In this article, we are going to explore the ins and outs of home security systems and provide insights from experts so you can decide which home security system is right for you.
What is a Home Security System?
One of the first issues we should address is what a home security system is (and isn’t). The biggest misconception is that a home security system is just a burglar alarm. Sure, that is part of it, but a home security system does so much more.
A simple burglar alarm just emits a loud noise when a door or window is breached. They often don’t even alert the police. Burglar alarms are more of a deterrent than a full-on security system.
A security system will allow you to actively monitor the state of your property. That means you should be able to visibly watch what is happening through a camera. Home security systems also send alerts (either to you or a professional company) so you can take action when you are away from home.
Burglar alarms also don’t help if there is a flood, fire, or carbon monoxide issue. Most professionally-monitored (and some self-monitored) systems have some sort of detection features for these types of issues.
Self-Monitored vs. Professionally Monitored
One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make when choosing a home security system is self-monitored vs. professional monitored. Both types of systems are automatically triggered by noise, movement or contact on your property; the difference is who is alerted by those alarms.
With a professionally-monitored systemed, alarms are sent to teams of professionals who are available 24/7. When they get a notification, you can be sure that they are actually going to see it. They can check if the motion on your camera is just a raccoon in your trash, or burglars trying to break into your house. From there, they can take the appropriate actions - like alerting local authorities.
Self-monitored systems don’t have that sort of backup. When a self-monitored system is triggered, it usually just sends a notification to the homeowners phone. From there, you will be responsible for calling the police. This is great if you are on your phone constantly, but it is less than ideal if you are on an airplane, in a different timezone, in an important meeting, or fast asleep.
Brianne, a home security expert with Reviews.org, has strong feelings about the self vs. professionally monitored debate. “I 100% recommend going with a system that can be professionally monitored,” Brianne says. “It's okay if it has a self-monitoring option, too, like Ring or Abode, but odds are you're going to want that professional monitoring eventually. Even if it's just while you're out of town.”
The biggest downside of a professionally monitored system is obviously cost. Professionally monitored systems come with a monthly price tag (usually starting around $15 to $50 a month). And many companies require a minimum contract, which can sometimes be as long as five years.
Self-monitoring is the DIY solution - which means it is much cheaper and doesn’t (usually) come with a monthly monetary requirement.
But, honestly, you can’t put a price on peace of mind. So unless you’re struggling to put food on the table and pay your bills, it’s a good idea to at least consider a professionally monitored system.
What to Look for in a Home Security System
Besides the self vs. professionally-monitored decision, there are a few other key factors to consider when choosing a home security system.
One important factor to consider is image quality. There are a lot of cheap options out there, but they don’t necessarily capture the best videos.
“[C]hoose a security system with good quality cameras that offer night vision because this is the time that you're really at risk,” says John MacMahon, Re:sure CCTV Monitoring. “Similarly, pair this with really good motion detection equipment and hook this up to floodlights if you can.”
It is important to capture high-quality images because they have a better chance of standing up in court. No judge or jury is going to send a potentially innocent person to jail based on a couple of blurry images. But if you can provide clear images of the assailant, you’ll have much better chances of winning your case.
Fortunately, even cheap DIY solutions have pretty high-quality cameras these days. Unfortunately, many of them don’t have the best quality in low light conditions. Always check how a camera performs in darkness when making a purchasing decision.
“Security systems are an interesting product because a lot of their effectiveness is based on how they are perceived,” says Jon Knight, Chief Security Officer at Fortified Estate. “It's similar to a country's military apparatus. The United States, at any one time, only uses a tiny fraction of their resources. Their aircraft carriers merely navigate waters in an effort of deterrence, to indicate that the US stands at the ready. That's similar to a home alarm system.”
This makes a lot of sense when you stop and think about it. If you were trying to break into someone’s house, would you be more deterred by a tiny webcam with some unknown logo on it? Or a reputable brand with years of home security experience?
Knight continues, “the prestige and dependability of the brand is actually a very important factor. Nowadays, there are many very inexpensive options, even some with cool technological features, but their budget-nature and brand obscurity means that a criminal may not be deterred from breaking into your home.”
This is why a well-known brand can have a huge impact on your home. It can stop a potential burglar before they even set foot on your property.
If you want to monitor your home on the go, it’s important to look for a system that allows for mobile monitoring. Most modern security systems (both self-monitored and professionally monitored) have apps where you can view cameras, control angles, and even speak through the cameras (which could be a major deterrent if someone is trying to break into your home).
The best home security systems of 2020 come jam-packed with additional features to make your home a smart home.
“Those functionalities allow you to have a remote command of your home,” says Harry H. Knowles, a home security expert at Locksmith Earl. The features allow you to “schedule the function of your light fixtures to scare burglars away [and] remotely control the access to your property.”
High-quality systems will also connect “with your fire alarm and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure the safety of your family members,” Knowles continues. “Wireless connection and voice recognition are some of the traits of the new technologies. To that, you can speak to your guest through your doorbell camera and protect your elders with the innovative panic pendant.”
Power and Internet Backups
One of the biggest pitfalls of DIY home security systems is that they lack a backup system when the power goes out.
When buying a home security system, “double-check if the traditional security systems come with a battery/cellular backup, so you and your family can be safe if your home loses electricity, says Stephany Smith, a home security expert at Fantastic Services. “If your budget cannot be stretched to the value of innovative multi-functional products, you can ensure power-free operation with a modern, affordable power generator,” she adds.
Smith also adds that you should be equally aware of internet outages. If your DIY monitoring system loses connection to the internet, it won’t be able to send you alerts. “The savvy way to secure your home is to bet on a system with reliable secondary security protection, says Smith. “Opt for cellular radio connectivity as an alternative security source and stay immuned against network outage situations, wire cuts by intruders, or equipment malfunction.”
How Much Does a Home Security System Cost?
As we mentioned above, the biggest factor when it comes to cost depends on if you choose a DIY solution or a professional solution.
“One of the worst things you can do is go for the cheapest option, often the cheapest on the market won't be the best. The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ really does apply when looking into home security.” says MacMahon.
Shayne Sherman, CEO of TechLoris doesn’t necessarily agree that a home security system has to be expensive. “As technology drives our homes and they become smarter and smarter, the need to have someone else come in and give us a security system may be becoming rather old fashioned,” says Sherman.
“In the past, having a video feed in your house meant a costly installation with systems hardwired in your walls and sending the video feed to a server somewhere. Now you can use systems like Zmodo or Wyze,” he continues. “For $35 you can buy a Wyze Wi-Fi camera that allows you to pan, zoom, and tilt. You can use their web app to create zones of motion detection as well as view 7 days of history for free.”
Many of these new security gadgets can be paired with “smart door locks that can work with Google Home, Amazon Alexa, or Apple Home,” which makes “paying for a costly installation as well as a monthly service is the way of the past.”
Obviously, one of the biggest downfalls of a DIY solution is that it is not professionally managed. “A system that's purely self-monitored does save money, but it has major pitfalls,” says Brianne of Reviews.org. “You aren't monitoring your system while you're asleep or at the movies. Sooner or later, something's going to happen, and you might not be around to respond.”
In general, a DIY system will start around $30 for a single camera. You will obviously want multiple cameras (depending on the size of your property), so you can expect to pay at least $100 for a DIY system upfront. You’ll also want to consider back up equipment in case your system fails.
The cost of a professionally managed home security system will depend on a variety of factors, but the size of your property is probably the biggest. When buying a home security system, you’ll either pay for the monitoring equipment up-front or through a monthly payment option. On top of that, you’ll pay a monthly monitoring fee.
Best DIY Home Security Systems
Our favorite DIY home security solution is the Wyze Cam V2 with Wyze Sense Starter Kit. Starting at less than $50, this basic system comes with a surprising amount of features. The starter kit comes with one camera and multiple sensors for home monitoring. That said, we suggest buying a few more Wyze Cams for additional coverage.
The Wyze Cam has a wide-angle lens and records video in 1080p high definition, while the additional sensors monitor when a door opens or closes.
Probably the nicest part of the Wyze system is the app, which makes it easy to monitor and connects seamlessly to your other smart devices.
If you live in an apartment or condo, Wyze provides a capable and affordable solution. If you have more land and more home entry points, we suggest going with a professionally monitored and installed system.
Best Professionally-Monitored Home Security System
Remember when we said choosing a brand name can be a major deterrent for potential burglars? That is one of the many reasons why we trust ADT when it comes to top-of-the-line home security.
The security systems that ADT offers in 2020 are as technically advanced as any that we’ve witnessed. Their digital command center panel is so much easier to use than old analog systems and it connects easily with other smart features in your home. The ADT app is also one of the best in the security industry and with over 140 years of experience they are experts in making sure you and your family are protected.
They also offer the best in class security cameras and motion detectors. You don’t have to worry about second-rate or poorly installed equipment.
But the best part is, of course, the professional monitoring service, which will keep a watchful eye over your property even when you’re hundreds of miles away.
It is obviously not the cheapest option, but it is undoubtedly one of the best.