The best home security system
One of the most important concerns for any new homeowner should be security. Few locations are completely immune from criminals, and it falls on private homeowners to provide protection for their property and loved ones. Fortunately, there are numerous home security systems on the market today that are relatively easy to install, and professional monitoring services provide the right amount of backup during an emergency.
However, it can be difficult for homeowners to determine exactly how much protection their home requires and the cost-to-benefit ratio of a monthly monitoring fee. Some DIY systems allow owners to monitor their property privately through smart technology, while others require a connection to an external monitoring service. A home security system can be as simple as a few contact alarms on doors and windows or as elaborate as video cameras, motion sensors, and digital recording devices around the entire property.
If you're in the market for a new or upgraded home security system, read our buying guide. We examine some of the issues surrounding home security and suggest the best models to fit your budget and security needs. At the top of our list is SimpliSafe's 9-Piece Hearth Wireless Alarm System, an expandable system that's easy to install and doesn't lock owners into expensive monitoring contracts.
Considerations when choosing home security systems
Ease of installation
Professional-grade alarm systems often involve trained technicians who can install hardwired sensors throughout a building and connect them to a central command unit. Systems sold for home use are not quite that sophisticated, allowing homeowners to install their own sensors, cameras, and detectors with common household tools.
When shopping for a new home security system, consider the number of sensors and the installation method. Some sensors and cameras need to be fastened securely, while others use adhesive strips or special clamps to stay in place. Renters may have to check on the legality of installing their own alarm systems, since the sensors may be considered permanently attached to the structure.
Hardwired vs. wireless
Most home security systems use one of two technologies to process information. A hardwired system uses actual wires to connect sensors to each other, the alarm siren, and a central base unit. Installing a hardwired system can be a little more complicated up-front, but it doesn't rely on WiFi or cellular service to work. Some WiFi systems are partially hardwired, so homeowners need to be prepared to do some installation work.
A wireless security system sends electronic signals between sensors, cameras, and the central unit. One advantage is that the sensors can be installed in locations not convenient for hardwiring. As long as the sensors have a clear line of communication, they can be placed indoors or outdoors. Some wireless systems require cellular phone service for monitoring and testing. A wireless system is often easier to install and can be removed quickly if the property is sold or the renter decides to move.
Types of sensors
Different home security systems offer different levels of protection for homeowners. This largely depends on the type and number of sensors and detectors a particular alarm kit contains. The most basic systems include contact sensors that actuate whenever a door or window is physically opened. A burglar could still find other methods of entry, but the main entry and exit points would be protected.
Another popular sensor is a motion detector. A motion detector monitors an entire room and actuates if it senses any movement. A pet or child could accidentally set off a motion detector, but it generally remains passive until the system is set and an unwanted guest trips the sensor. Motion detectors are not prohibitively expensive and can be added later to an existing system.
Security cameras act as the eyes (and sometimes ears) of homeowners and provide visual coverage of areas such as doorways, porches, and entry gates. These cameras often have wireless or smart technology, and some can be combined with a doorbell system for additional protection or interaction with visitors.
Many home security systems are designed to expand as the homeowner's needs change. There are sensors that detect the sound of breaking glass, for instance. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can alert users to potential fire or environmental hazards. An environmental sensor can detect changes in temperature or the possibility of a water leak. Some users may benefit from shock detectors, especially in earthquake-prone regions.
Some basic home security systems don't require any form of professional monitoring in order to function. When a sensor is actuated, the base unit activates a loud alarm to alert occupants. However, the system doesn't automatically contact local authorities or an outside monitoring service.
For 24/7 monitoring service, users generally have to pay a monthly fee to an outside agency. Some of these companies require long-term service contracts, but others offer basic services for free. There are home security systems that also send emergency alerts to designated phones or other devices.
The cost of a home security system depends largely on whether or not professional installation is required, and the amount of the monitoring fee. A hardwired system itself can cost as little as $90, but professional installation can run $800 or more, plus monitoring. A wireless system may not require professional installation, but the kits can cost between $50 and $500, depending on the number and type of components.
Q. If I install my own home security system, am I obligated to sign up for professional monitoring services?
A. No, you can purchase home security systems that don't require a monthly monitoring fee, but there are some pros and cons to consider. Such a system might send an alarm message to your smartphone or trigger an ear-splitting alarm, but it will not automatically notify authorities if you are out of range or your smart device fails.
Q. I rent my house, and the landlord won't allow tenants to install hardwired alarm systems. Are there home security systems I can install myself and take with me when I move?
A. Yes, there are wireless home security systems that allow you to install motion sensors in rooms and electronic alarms in windows and doors. All of these sensors send signals to a centralized alarm base you control. If you decide to leave the rental property, you can easily remove these devices without violating the terms of your lease.
Home security systems we recommend
Best of the best: SimpliSafe's 9-Piece Hearth Wireless Alarm System
Our take: The SimpliSafe wireless system offers the same protection as professional-grade systems, but without the need for a long-term contract or unnecessary sensors.
What we like: Easy to set up and maintain. Carbon monoxide detector and other add-on sensors available. Wireless signal integrates well with existing home controllers.
What we dislike: Original kit does not contain an external siren. Additional monthly fees for certain features.
Best bang for your buck: Ring's 5-Piece Home Security System Kit
Our take: The Ring security system is an affordable alternative that provides basic protection of vital entry points in the home. No contract. Easy to install.
What we like: System can easily be expanded for additional coverage. Professional monitoring fee is very affordable. Sends alarm signal to phone or other wireless devices.
What we dislike: Can be challenging to disarm after triggering. Window sensors do not fit all window sizes.
Our take: The Home8's dual camera system provides a real-time view of front and back doors, and this information is shared wirelessly to the cloud. We recommend signing up for the premium monthly service.
What we like: Kit contains two cameras for better surveillance. Wireless system resists criminal tampering. No contract required, and Amazon provides free basic monitoring services.
What we dislike: Free service option may not offer enough protection for users. Sensors can fail over time.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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