How to Choose the Right Home Security Provider for You
When you begin to research home security systems, it can be helpful to start by comparing the providers themselves. Though all companies of this type offer similar products and services, the specifics of how these elements operate will vary depending on the organization. For example, one company may offer home security systems that automatically alert police whenever an intrusion is detected. A second company may offer a system that automatically alerts one of their own representatives, at which point they attempt to contact you via the information they have on file. There are many websites and services available that are specifically designed to help you compare what different providers have to offer.
Understanding the Need for a Security System
If you live in an area with statistically high rates of burglaries, for example, a home security system could detect intrusion and contact the authorities the minute a situation arises. Security and monitoring devices such as alarm systems help protect homes all over the world on a daily basis and are more than worth exploring, regardless of where you live.
Standard security systems may include things like motion detectors, which are designed to identify situations where a break-in or home invasion may be occurring. Motion detectors installed on all the windows on the lower level of your home, for example, would sound an alarm if those windows were opened during the middle of the night. More advanced systems will typically include elements like security cameras, which can be viewed from a centralized terminal or even from the internet depending on the specifics of the configuration.
Step by Step Guide for Choosing a Home Alarm System
Step 1: Survey your home to determine how many windows and doors you need protected from possible intrusion. It is recommended to write them down.
Step 2: Determine possible locations for the control panel and keypads. Close to the front door is generally a convenient location for a keypad. In your bedroom or close to your bed is also a recommended location.
Step 3: Measure how far away the windows and doors are from the control panel. This will let you know how far the wires must be routed for a wired alarm system or the distance a wireless system needs to communicate with sensors. Keep in mind: it is difficult to install a hard-wired security system in houses that have already been built. Learn more about the differences between a wireless and a hard-wired home security system
Step 4: Decide if you want a monitored security system. Monitored security systems are connected to a central monitoring station that 'watches' your home for a monthly fee. A less expensive alternative is to install a self-monitoring system that will dial your private phone and/or other preselected phone numbers if the alarm system triggers an alarm.
Step 5: Consider your family's daily habits. Do you often get up in the middle of the night for a snack or to go to the bathroom? Do you have a pet that roams the house? Do you have valuable possessions that might need more sophisticated security equipment, such as surveillance cameras, photo detectors, art protection, etc. These circumstances influence the type of motion sensors and other security devices you need and how they will be installed.
Step 6: Whether you choose a wireless or a hardwired system, it should be able to monitor your entire home. Each window, door and device integrated into the system is considered a zone. The number of zones a system can control varies from one manufacturer to another. For example, Visonic's control panels watch up to 28 wireless zones; this is more than enough to cover an average dwelling.
Step 7: Be aware that if you choose a wired system, the installer will have to drill holes in the walls. If you choose a wireless system, the transmission range must be large enough to cover your entire premises and the system must be able to cover the zone farthest from the control panel.
Step 8: It is important to choose a system that works with home safety sensors, such as carbon monoxide (CO) sensors, gas detectors, flood detectors, etc. Likewise, choose a system that can include panic and personal emergency buttons.
Step 9: The home security system you choose must be user-friendly. Verify that adding new codes or users is a simple process and one that everyone in the family can quickly learn.
TYPES OF SECURITY SYSTEMS
There is a wide variety of security systems, and each has special features that set it apart from its competitors. When differentiating between security systems, it's important to consider these three categories:
Monitoring: the means by which the system communicates with its monitoring center.
Installation: the method of installation--professional or DIY.
Home Automation: the ability to control various events in your home beyond basic security, including turning lights on and off, thermostat settings, and others.
These categories help you determine which system and company best suit your home and lifestyle.
Monitoring Landline, Cellular, or Broadband
You want to be confident that your system will be able to communicate effectively with your monitoring center 24 hours a day, in case of an emergency. Consider the three ways your system can contact the monitoring center when your alarm is triggered, and choose the one that best suits your home.
Your system uses a landline phone connection to communicate with the monitoring center when the alarm is triggered.
The system itself can be wireless, it just requires a landline for monitoring.
Your system uses a cellular uplink to communicate with the monitoring center when the alarm is triggered.
Often considered more reliable because your alarm system will not go down if the telephone lines are cut. Also, cellular monitoring is faster than a landline connection.
Your security system sends a signal to the monitoring center through your broadband internet connection when the alarm is triggered.
A broadband connection is capable of notifying the monitoring center at least four times faster than a landline connection. Though generally not as reliable as a cellular monitoring, it is less expensive.
Professional Installation vs. DIY Installation
Some companies let you choose between professional or DIY installation, while other companies only offer one or the other. Do it yourself (DIY) systems do not require professional installation, which means an installer doesn't come to your home to set up the system and show you how to use it. Instead, you are mailed the equipment and given instructions on how to set it up on your own. Typically, DIY systems are wireless, making installation fairly easy?most customers say they can install their systems in 30 or 40 minutes. The DIY installation option typically means that the customers own the equipment and can move it, so this tends to be the choice of renters or people who change addresses frequently.
A professionally installed system usually requires an installation fee. The benefit of a professionally installed system is that you don't have to worry about making a mistake during the installation process. A professional will ensure that the system is set up properly and answer any questions you have. Professionally installed systems can be either wireless or hardwired; it's important to find out beforehand because some require a landline. If you're not sure how long you'll be in your current home, it's important to note that if your system requires professional installation, it usually means there are stipulations for moving it to a new home.
Control your home from your phone
Home automation is futuristic. It lets you can control your home remotely from a smartphone or web-enabled device, and energy management solutions in addition to security protection.
With home automation, you can remotely arm and disarm your system and control your lighting, thermostat, and small appliances. You can even remotely view pre-recorded or live video surveillance, making it feel like you never left home. Each security system offers varying levels of home automation and control, so decide what you need to control remotely, then select a company and package that meet your needs.
How to Determine Which System is Right for You
1. Are you a renter or a homeowner?
If you're a renter, you should probably choose a wireless system that you can install yourself so you own the equipment and can easily move it from one location to the next. LifeShield, for example, has a package specifically tailored to renters.
Companies that offer DIY wireless systems: FrontPoint, SimpliSafe, LifeShield, Protect America
If you're a homeowner, you can install pretty much any security system you want, depending on your needs and budget. However, because you own your home, you might want to look into a landline system with a cell uplink backup, covering all eventualities and delivering total protection.
Companies that offer a landline + cell-backup option: Pinnacle, Guardian, LifeShield.
2. Do you plan to move in the next one to three years?
If you move often, then you will want to pay closer attention to the alarm company's contract and whether you'll own the equipment or not. Companies that require a long-term contract, for example, may not work for your lifestyle. However, many companies offer moving programs that will allow you to transfer your service and equipment for free. Moving programs often require that you've been a customer for a certain amount of time, and sometimes they do not guarantee that all of your equipment will be moved.
The following companies offer moving programs: Guardian, Pinnacle, Vivint
If you plan on moving within the next few years, you may want to get a system that lets you own your security system equipment, so you can take it with you when you move. Although some companies will help relocate their equipment if you move, you'll be sure to keep your system if you own it outright.
The following companies let you own your own equipment: FrontPoint, SimpliSafe, LifeShield, Protect America, Smith Monitoring
3. Do you want mobile access?
Home security mobile access
If you want total control over your home, mobile access is a must. Most security systems let you arm and disarm your system from a key fob, smartphone, or web-enabled device, but some companies also offer the ability to control lighting and thermostat settings via mobile access.
Here is a list of actions that are generally included in most home automation systems:
Arm and disarm your system
Lock and unlock doors
Monitor water and flood sensors
Receive security alerts
See which windows and doors are open
Access a complete history of your system's events
Get real-time notifications
View live video via security cameras
Adjust lights and thermostat
Set custom notifications
Get notified via text, email, and video alerts when your children come home from school or when the housekeeper arrives and leaves.
Get notified if select locations like your medicine cabinet, liquor cabinet, or garage door have been opened
4. Do you want or need security cameras?
home security cameras
Aside from catching an intruder in the act, there are quite a few instances where you might want security cameras. They come in handy when you're at home and when you're away. When you're at home, you can keep an eye on family members in other rooms or see who is at the front door from the couch. When you're away, know what's going on at home, see who set off the alarm, keep an eye on the babysitter, know when the kids get home from school, and watch the maintenance workers. The benefits of security cameras extend far beyond preventing intrusion.
Decide if a security camera is something you're interested in and then check out the options available with each company. Some systems do not offer security cameras or video monitoring.
To learn more about the basics of home security cameras, check out The Beginner's Guide to Security Cameras.
The following companies offer security cameras in at least one of their packages: Vivint, DevCon, FrontPoint, LifeShield, Pinnacle, Protect America, Protection One, Smith Monitoring, XFINITY Home
If you're new to buying a home security system, you may have come across some unfamiliar terminology on security websites, or even right here on SafeWise.com. Here's a glossary of security terms that we hope will help alleviate any confusion.
Usually a common add-on feature, 2-way Voice allows you to speak directly to a monitoring center representative through your control panel. If there's an emergency and your hands are full or you can't get to your control panel, you can talk to a representative from up to 75 feet away.
All security system companies mentioned on this site provide monitoring services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
These sensors detect this toxic gas that you cannot otherwise see, smell, or taste. If your home reaches dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, this sensor will warn you so you can get your family to safety.
Cellular security systems are 100% wireless and contact a monitoring center through a cellular uplink instead of a landline or a broadband internet connection. Cellular monitoring is fast and has no wires to cut.
DIY installation means that you set up your security equipment yourself, without an installer, though some security companies will walk you through the process over the phone. These are usually wireless systems.
Different security companies offer different equipment warranties, but most warranties stipulate that the company will repair or replace any malfunctioning equipment parts for a certain amount of time after purchase. When shopping for a home security system, make sure you understand the company's warranty before you purchase equipment or monitoring.
A flood sensor will detect water before it does a massive amount of damage or floods your home. Typically, flood sensors are put in the basement.
Flood sensors detect when your home reaches dangerously low temperatures and notifies you before your pipes freeze, saving you from costly damages.
Glass Break Sensor
Glass break sensors detect the frequency for glass breaking, so if someone breaks one of your windows, you'll know about it.
A heat sensor detects a rapid increase of temperature in your home, notifying you if you seem to be in danger of a fire. Often, a heat sensor and smoke sensor are the same device.
Home automation refers to the ways you can use a smartphone or other web-enabled device to remotely access your home's features beyond security. These include locks, small appliances, lighting, and thermostat settings.
See Remote Access.
See Personal Security Devices.
Personal Security Devices
A personal security device is usually a small pendant you can wear around your neck or place in your pocket. In the event of a medical or personal emergency (in conjunction with medical or life safety monitoring), you can push a small button to alert emergency services that you need help.
Some companies offer relocation kits or relocation guarantees that enable you to transfer your security system to a new home if you move. This is especially common when you don't own the equipment. When you own the equipment and install it yourself, you usually can relocate the equipment without any caveats and fees. If you do not own the equipment, you usually need to pay a fee or be a customer for a minimum amount of time in order to move your equipment to a new location.
Remote access refers to the ability to access your security system through a smartphone or other web-enabled device. At a minimum, most security systems that offer mobile access allow you to view your system's status and receive text or email alerts. Some security companies also let you remotely view a camera feed or control your locks, thermostat, lights, and small appliances.
Sensors are the part of your security system that detect motion, break-ins, or other emergencies such as flooding, freezing, fire, or carbon monoxide. Your security system is made up of many kinds of sensors.
A smoke sensor detects smoke particles in the air and warns you if you are in danger of a fire. Often, heat sensors and smoke sensors are the same device.
This is the amount you initially pay for your security system, monitoring, and any activation or installation fees. Upfront costs vary, depending on whether you buy the equipment, whether you get professional installation, and other factors, including what company you choose.
See Cellular Monitoring.
A window or door sensor will detect if a window or door is opened.
At Safewise, it's our job to answer all your home security and safety questions. Take some time to decide which type of security system will best suit your home and lifestyle, learn about the various features that companies offer, read our customer reviews, peruse our comparison pages, and then you'll be ready to select the system that is right for you!