An average of 2.5 million burglaries occur annually and two-thirds of these are residences. A security system can be a major deterrent to criminals. If you are a homeowner and concerned about the safety of your property, consider adding one to your residence.
How Security Systems Connect to Monitoring
The type of connection for your system is critical to how well and quickly your system will work. Regardless of whether a system is monitored or unmonitored, it will use one of the following connections, or a combination of them so there is a backup method in case one fails. Many services will give you a choice of connection options depending on what works best for your location and your budget.
Wired Phone Line
For many years this was the traditional way that alarms were connected to a monitoring service. As broadband and cellular options have grown with expanded technology, phone lines are being used less for alarm systems. It's easier for a potential thief to tamper with your landline and disable your alarm than if you are using newer technology. On the other hand, if you live in a remote area that doesn't have good broadband or cellular access, then a landline may be your only option.
A broadband connection uses your internet connection to contact your monitoring service or yourself. It makes use of a DSL or cable internet connection and therefore is faster and more secure than a landline. Broadband does have a drawback in that it may fail if your internet service has connection issues.
This method uses cellular technology to contact you or the monitoring service if your alarm is tripped. The benefits of using cellular is nearly impossible for a thief to disable it and it's the fastest option of the three methods. It can be more pricey than broadband and phone lines though, and like broadband, if you live in an area with poor cell service, you may find the system is not 100% reliable.
Professionally Monitored Systems
Professional monitoring means that when your alarm is tripped, a staffed service is notified and handles the call. This is often a 24-hour, seven day a week monitoring system.
While these systems have different features and manufacturers, the professional monitoring service is basically the same. When your alarm is triggered, the system will contact the monitoring service via the connection you have (hard-wired, broadband, or cellular) and alert them. The staff will then call you on the contact numbers that you have provided. If they cannot reach you, they will contact the local police.
Where you will see differences may be in how their staff is trained, the number of centers they have around the country, any times that the call center is not staffed, and the monthly monitoring fees and contract stipulations. Some systems also allow for a two-way voice option which lets you talk to the center staff via the system control panel from a certain distance away. This can be useful in a case where you can't make it to the phone such as injuring yourself from a bad fall.
The types of sensors that your package will include varies by the company and the level of service you purchase. Most professionally monitored services have tiered packages with different pricing and features to meet most budgets. Some typical sensors you will find in a basic package are glass break sensors, motion sensors, and sensors that are placed on doors and windows. Some other types that are found in full-featured packages include temperature sensors designed to detect fires or freezing pipes, and flood, fire, smoke, and carbon monoxide sensors. A feature you may find included on some systems is a personal security device which you wear on your person and can activate in case of a medical emergency.
Surveillance for most basic packages is limited to the types of sensors listed above. Higher end service packages can include integration of security cameras and CCTV systems. Some of these work by continuously recording what is within their sight area while others are motion-activated and only record for a period of time after they have been activated. Another option that is available on higher priced packages is live streaming video so you can watch what is going on outside your house (or inside) from anywhere in the world.
Home Automation and Controls
A feature that tends to be found in mid-range and higher end packages includes automation of your home. Using a smartphone or tablet, you can manipulate areas of your house while you are away, such as opening and closing your garage door, changing the temperature on your thermostat, and turning lights on and off. You can also access the control panel of your alarm system and depending on the type of surveillance you have, you may also be able to log in to your security camera system and watch the video live.
Installation of monitored systems can be either professionally done or "do-it-yourself." The benefits to having it professionally installed is knowing that the system will be set up in the most optimal way around your house. If you're not technically inclined, you may prefer having a professional do the work for you. The downside of professional installation is that it costs more than doing it yourself. You also want to find out who is doing the install. Some companies have specially trained technicians do the work whereas others hire out third-party local contractors who may have minimal training on that specific system. It's important to ask the company representatives who will be doing the service and what their experience is.
Depending on the company you go with, you may find the DIY route easier than you imagined. With completely wireless systems, you don't need any technical or handyman know-how to set it up successfully. If you are paying for a monthly monitoring fee, most companies offer technical support assistance as well so you have somewhere to go if you're stuck finishing the install.
Customer Support Services
In addition to the staff who monitor the alarm calls, you should research the customer support side of a monitoring company. Most companies offer a toll-free number you can call for assistance, as well as online forums and technical support via email and live chat. Some of the larger companies contract out their alarm systems to local contractors, so support can vary widely depending on who your service provider is.
There are several costs involved when pricing out a professionally monitored alarm system. A comprehensive list of fees is:
- The initial activation fee at the time of signing the contract.
- The installation fee as well as extra fees for installing additional types of sensors based on your service package. For example, if you intend to have a fully automated home system installed, this can easily cost $5,000 and up. Expect to pay around $200 for a regular system, although some companies may give you a discount on the cost of installation when you sign up for an extended contract.
- Equipment costs which may or may not be included in the monthly service fee price. Equipment can range from as low as $250 and as high as $700.
- The monthly service fee for the monitoring service which varies from $10 to $60 per month.
- False alarm fees may be charged to you by your local city, county, or police department if you go beyond a certain allowed number.
- Relocation fees can be charged to you if you move the service during the contract period.
- Contract cancellation fees will often apply if you decide to cancel before the agreed upon termination date.
Contact your home insurance company when purchasing a home security system as many companies will offer a discount on your annual premium which can help defray some of the cost of the system over time.
Additional Pro and Cons
The key benefit of a professionally monitored system is the peace of mind knowing that someone is available 24/7 to monitor your home. Another benefit may be a discount on your homeowner's insurance depending on your provider.
On the con side, they are more expensive than a complete DIY self-monitored option. You will most likely have to sign a long-term contract so they are not necessarily the best options for renters or homeowners looking to move.
Examples of Professionally Monitored Systems
ADT is one of the oldest and most well-known home security companies. Systems are professionally installed and you can use a landline or cellular connection. You can choose the full range of options from home automation, remote access, and video surveillance. Integration with Amazon Echo is also available. Pricing for monthly service fees start at around $29 per month. If you have an existing alarm system, you can contract with ADT for monitoring services which starts at $20 per month. You will be required to sign a long-term contract with additional fees for activation, installation and relocation if you move during the contract period.
Frontpoint gets high reviews for their customer service and interactive online resource center. You can install the system on your own and their support staff and website will walk you through the process. Packages range from basic home security to all the commonly desired home automation features. You need to pay for the equipment but discounts are offered if you sign a three-year contract; a $99 activation fee also applies. Monthly packages start at $35. The system is completely cellular and does not have a landline or broadband option so this isn't the solution for all homes though.
SimpliSafe is another popular home security option on the market. You can install the system by yourself in about an hour and it's entirely wireless. You pay for the equipment, which is arranged in packages based on the size and needs of your home and then for the monthly monitoring fee. The lowest package retails for about $230 and the highest at around $540. You also have the option of building your own package for a custom price. Unlike other companies, you are not required to sign a contract and the monthly service fee is $14.99 a month. There is no landline option so it's not the best service for a rural home.
Systems You Monitor Yourself
A self-monitored system is one where the alarm system will notify you directly, such as through your smartphone or tablet. These systems will use either landline, broadband or cellular technology for the connection to monitoring. Self-monitored systems offer many of the same features as a professionally monitored system but the onus of handling alarms is placed on you.
If your alarm is triggered, these systems work by sending a text or email to your smartphone. Most of these systems also allow you to check in on them remotely and view the status of your home. This service may work well for you if you are easily reachable by phone and would rather call the police or a friend or neighbor to check in on your house without a third-party service involved.
Check with your local police department to find out their policy on handling alarm calls. Some departments will not respond to calls due to the high number of false alarms or the need to prioritize using officers for other crimes. If this is the case in your area, you may find it more cost-effective to handle the calls yourself.
Most DIY systems have a modular set up that allows you to pick and choose what works best for your home. You can choose from the usual types of sensors including for doors and windows, glass breakage, motion detection, smoke, carbon monoxide, floods, and temperature.
There are many options in a DIY system to set up additional surveillance with security cameras, live video streaming, DVR recording, and even two-way video communication via doorbell cameras. You can log into them from virtually anywhere and easily view what's going on outside your home. Many owners of DIY systems have indoor camera set ups as well so you can monitor what your children or pets are doing.
Homeowner Automation and Controls
If you are interested in doing more than just security for your home, you can purchase a DIY system that allows you to control other aspects of your house. Depending on your needs, you can add temperature, lighting, and other controls that are also available with a professionally monitored system. Many systems also now integrate with voice control systems such as Alexa and Siri.
Most DIY options are wireless installations and work with cellular technology, so if you are someone who can only make use of a landline or have poor cellular service, you may find this isn't the best option for you although those both are still available options. As far as installation, they are generally easy to set up out of the box and do not require any drilling of holes or wiring, so even the most technophobic homeowner should be able to install them within a few hours.
Customer Support Services
Most DIY systems have a customer support line and information on installation on their websites. If you require more assistance, there aren't many options for having a professional installer come to your home. If you are not technically inclined, this could become an issue.
Because DIY systems do not involve hiring an installer, contract fees or monthly monitoring, they are generally a much cheaper option than professional monitored systems. You pay for the equipment and buy as many features or as little as fits your needs and budget. Equipment can start at $200 and up, depending on what you need, with the average price around $400.
Additional Pro and Cons
There are several benefits of a DIY self-monitored system:
- They are easy to set up and do not require any modifications to your home, so they are a good choice for renters or homeowners who intend to move.
- You do not need to worry about being locked into a long-term contract.
- The majority of systems are entirely modular which lets you create something truly specialized to your home rather than a generic out-of-the-box solution. It is also easy to add more features or make changes to existing ones in the future.
The main downside to a DIY system is the lack of professional monitoring. If you are difficult to reach via phone, dealing with handling alarms triggered at your home may be a burden that's difficult to keep up with. Other concerns include:
- They also are not a good option if you live in an area that has poor WiFi capability.
- While they are described as "easy to install," if you find dealing with all things technical daunting, you may have a harder time with the set up and customer support varies widely by company.
- If the system runs entirely on WiFi, a power outage can cause the system to fail. Some systems do have the ability for you to set up a backup battery in case this happens.
- Another downside to DIY system is that they are designed to work with the average size home. If you have a very large house, it may not work out as well as a professionally installed and monitored system.
Examples of Self-Monitored DIY Systems
adobe is a highly rated choice for people who want the flexibility of deciding when they want professionally monitoring. You can set it up to be entirely self-monitored but pay for professional care when you are traveling. Customer support comes in the form of phone, live chat and email. The system retails for about $320 and includes motion-sensing cameras, home automation tools, and window and door sensors.
The Piper system is a very good choice for DIY self-monitored systems. The basic package starts at $100 and their largest package, the Piper Ultimate, is around $980. You can also purchase additional options such as dimmers, sensors and switches on an a la carte basis to add to your chosen package. You can receive alarm notices via phone, text or email on your smartphone. Customer support is available via online forums and email. The Piper system offers the full range of home automation options but does not have fire, smoke or carbon monoxide sensors.
Local Alarm Systems Without Monitoring
With an unmonitored local alarm system, the main benefit is that it calls attention to your house which may encourage thieves to stop breaking in and leave. This type of alarm plays a loud noise that may also include flashing lights when the window and door sensors are tripped. If you have neighbors, they may notice the noise and lights and can call the police for you.
Pros and Cons
The advantage of this type of system is that it's quite cheap compared to the monitored options. You can buy them for under $100 and you can take them with you if you move. With the advent of wireless technology for home security systems, it's become harder to find home systems that do not involve some type of monitoring via your smartphone. If you want to save money and go with something simple, installing an alarm siren is a good option if you live in an area where the siren will be noticed and you believe your neighbors will call the police.
Keep in mind too that if thieves know the system is unmonitored, they may ignore the noise and continue to break in and take the time to steal valuables before fleeing the area. It's also very easy for a burglar to disable these systems quickly. Most of these systems also operate on batteries so it's important to have a system in place to change the batteries.
Examples of Unmonitored Security Alarm Sirens
For about $27, the UniquExceptional Strobe Motion Activated Alarm and Door Chime is one you can install yourself. This self-contained system is completely wireless. The system is installed outside by a door or window and can sense motion from up to 30 feet away. It will turn on a loud siren and strobe light when triggered. This would be a good option for someone on a very small budget or a renter who needs some light security.
The DSC Wireless PowerG Indoor Siren retails for about $100 and is also fully wireless. When activated, the system has different sounds to alert you to break-ins as well as fires, floods, and carbon monoxide. The strobe light activates for burglaries along with the siren. Like the UniquExceptional, this model works well for people who are on a budget or who rent and cannot make any modifications to the walls and wiring.
What Security System Is Best for You?
Consider your connection, monitoring options, and size of your home before making a selection. Additionally, look at your budget and remember to add in all the possible fees that can be involved and how extensive you need the system to be as far as security only through the gamut of home automation options. Choosing a home security system requires careful consideration and research to make the best choice to secure your family and property.