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The top two reasons for purchasing a home alarm and security system are to protect your possessions and to deter crime. While these are very important reasons, they’re not the only benefits you will receive from purchasing a quality system. The best home alarm and security systems give you remote access to your home; alert you to fire, water, gas and electrical anomalies; may lower your insurance rates and can help you reduce stress to achieve peace of mind.
If you are considering purchasing a home alarm and security system, chances are, something happened that made you feel vulnerable or unsafe. In order to regain control of your life, you need to find a reliable system that gives you confidence in its performance so you can learn to relax again.
However, there are a number of elements to consider when purchasing a home alarm and security system. If this is your first time, you may be looking for a little guidance and assurance that you are focusing on the right details.
We’ll walk you through the key factors you need to think about when purchasing a home alarm and security system. We’ll also cover California-specific details, point out common mistakes made by consumers, provide home security tips and answer the most frequently asked questions about home alarm and security systems. To learn what you need to know, keep reading.
Key considerations when shopping for a home alarm and security system company
Variety of components
When shopping for a home alarm and security system, your first step will be to determine which type of components you need. This can include motion sensors, carbon monoxide detectors, indoor and outdoor cameras, thermostat controls, glass break sensors, high-decibel alarms, a control panel, a panic button and more. If the company you are interested in doesn’t have the components you need, you will want to search for a company that does.
DIY vs. professional installation
You can either purchase a home alarm and security system that you install yourself or one that needs professional installation.
DIY: A DIY installation will not cost you any additional money and it will be easier to fine tune the placement of components after they have been installed, if needed. On the downside, DIY is the best option for individuals with basic handyperson knowledge, but it’s not necessary.
Professional installation: With professional installation, you have confidence that the security system was installed correctly. Additionally, any issues that arise from improper installation should be covered by the company. The downside to hiring a professional is the added cost.
Wired, wireless or hybrid security system
There are two types of home alarm and security systems: wired and wireless. A hybrid option, however, may be available as an upgrade.
Wired: A wired home alarm and security system requires a more extensive installation process, but the payoff is having a system that is more reliable and will still work in the event of a power outage. A wired system may be more limited when it comes to the number of components you can connect and it’s harder to change the configuration after it has been installed.
Wireless: A wireless system is much more adaptable and easier to install. On the downside, the system is more vulnerable to hacks and cyberattacks, and in most instances, it will not function if you lose power.
Hybrid: A hybrid system is when you have a wired system that is upgraded with wireless components.
Who owns the equipment?
In almost all instances, it’s better to own your home security equipment than it is to lease it. If you own the equipment, when you move you can bring it with you. Additionally, if you want to change security companies, you only need to find a new monitoring service because you already own the equipment. This not only makes for a smoother changeover, but a more affordable one as well.
How long is a typical contract?
While there are some which last for 5 years, the average contract for a home alarm and security system lasts three years. On the lower side, some companies offer contracts for as little as a year while others are happy working month to month – for these shorter terms, you will need to pay off your equipment in full upfront. Before signing, read the fine print of your contract to learn what is included and if there are any hidden fees. Additionally, it’s important to find out what the penalty is for early termination of your contract as some companies will require you to pay the full term of the contract when you cancel your subscription.
Special considerations for California residents
A local company vs. a national company
Sometimes, there are clear-cut reasons to stick with a local service. However, when it comes to choosing between a local or a national home alarm and security system, it’s a matter of preference because each has its pros and cons.
Local company: In general, a local company knows your neighborhood, has a more diverse selection of equipment and you will be able to forge a more personal working relationship with the company. On the downside, prices may be higher, installation may take longer and a local company might not have as many resources as a national company.
National company: Even if a national company is service-oriented, it won’t know your neighborhood as well as a local company. A national company will also likely be more limited on brands and equipment and may place greater pressure on the consumer to purchase a system or a service that is a promotion rather than one that is best for the individual. On the plus side, these companies have a national footprint because they have wide customer loyalty and they can often offer deals that a smaller company might not be able to match.
Weather and natural disasters are a factor in California
Unfortunately, California has more than its share of undesirable occurrences such as wildfires, earthquakes and tsunamis. To protect your home, you’ll want a system that alerts you to potential flooding, fire, increased carbon monoxide levels and more. Additionally, even though the majority of earthquakes do not cause a great deal of damage, they can cause you to lose power, so purchasing a home alarm and security system that will work even if your home power and WiFi network go down may be wise. Lastly, since evacuated homes are prime targets for break-ins, you’ll want a security system that focuses on burglar detection.
Considerations for renters
One last element you may need to consider when purchasing a home alarm and security system is finding one that is renter-friendly. If you are a renter, your lease will dictate what you are allowed to do. It’s highly possible that you will not be allowed to drill holes or make any upgrades to the structure of your dwelling. If this is the case, you will need to find a security system that can be installed without making modifications to the dwelling.
Common mistakes to avoid
Mistake #1: Making an emotional purchase
Before shopping for a home alarm and security system, assess your needs and make a prioritized list of what you require. Whether it’s video surveillance, smart home compatibility or burglar detection, determine ahead of time which features are the most important to you. It’s easy to overspend when you start talking about safety. This can be especially useful in helping to avoid scams.
Mistake #2: Not taking WiFi range into account
If you are using a wireless system, all the components of that system must receive a strong WiFi signal to operate. A remote camera at the edge of its range will not deliver a reliable signal. Be aware of the limits of your equipment so you are not disappointed by inferior performance.
Mistake #3: Shopping by price alone
There are some instances when it’s prudent to make price a priority. Shopping for security equipment is not one of those times. While a lower price can mean higher value, often it translates to inferior equipment. Price should be a factor when purchasing a home alarm and security system, but it shouldn’t push you to make a decision that won’t satisfy your needs.
Mistake #4: Not considering ongoing costs
If you are purchasing a home alarm and security system that requires a subscription, make sure you know what the terms and costs of that subscription are. A monthly subscription can add thousands of dollars to the cost of your home security system. Learning details such as how long you are guaranteed the current price and whether there is an easy, fee-less exit strategy if you become dissatisfied with the service or price are two aspects you will want to fully understand before signing any contracts.
ADT is a home alarm and security system company that has customized offerings and 24/7 monitoring. Additionally, the system has security features that can be connected to your smart home system.
ADT is a reliable industry leader in home security systems. The company uses a combination of infrared motion detectors, high-decibel alarm sirens, backup batteries, wireless remotes, yard signs, window decals and a 24/7 monitoring service to protect your home. The company also offers a variety of products and three different levels of service.
While the highest tier of service costs more than other companies, ADT does offer more affordable plans. The company does charge for installation, and basic packages require a landline.
Vivint is a versatile home alarm and security system company that offers an extensive range of products and services that can be fully customized for an individual’s needs.
The equipment is the draw for consumers who favor this company. Basic packages start with a burglar alarm, a smoke detector, a water sensor and a carbon monoxide detector. However, you can add whatever equipment you desire, ranging from a glass break detector, outdoor cameras, smart locks and a medical pendant to a control panel that features a backup battery, thermostat controls and a panic button.
This is the most expensive option on our shortlist. Customers can easily pay several hundred dollars just for equipment and installation. The equipment must be paid in full upfront to receive the no contract or month-to-month options.
Frontpoint offers customers a wireless DIY home security system that integrates smart home technology for versatility and ease of use. The system features a hub and keypad that serve as the command center and it includes cellular connection so homeowners can have peace of mind with 24/7 professional monitoring.
Frontpoint gives customers the luxury of choosing one of the company’s home security packages or designing their own custom system that includes add-on cameras and sensors. The wide range of prices is designed to fit every budget. Frontpoint’s system can be remotely controlled using the company’s app, Google Home, or Alexa. For individuals who are not sure if Frontpoint is the best service for their needs, the company offers a 30-day, risk-free trial, and month-to-month service is an option.
While many people appreciate the DIY aspect of installing the Frontpoint system, if you run into difficulty or lack confidence, there are no professional installation options offered by the company. Additionally, you must purchase the Frontpoint monitoring contract to use the equipment, so you will need to purchase new equipment if you decide to switch companies.
10 home security tips
Along with purchasing a home alarm and security system, there are a number of other steps you can take to help secure your home from break-ins and theft. Here are 10 simple tips that can help keep your home more secure.
- Lock all entry points: This doesn’t just apply to doors and windows, also lock your garage, cellar doors and shed.
- Add security signs and notices to your home or apartment: Some studies conclude that simply placing a sign on your lawn can reduce the potential for break-ins by as much as 60 percent.
- Get a dog: A large or a loud dog is an effective deterrent for many burglars.
- Eliminate hiding places: Areas on your property, such as large bushes or shrubbery by your door, provide burglars with cover and can bolster their confidence.
- Change the locks after moving in: You have no way of knowing how many keys have been made for existing locks and how many are still circulating. Always change the locks after moving in.
- Become friends with your neighbors: Besides having someone who can bring your mail in while you are away, neighbors can keep an eye out for suspicious individuals and behavior to keep your whole community safe.
- Remove fans and air conditioning units from first floor windows: If you have fans or air conditioning units in your windows, it’s important to realize they allow for an easy unauthorized entry.
- Turn lights on and off remotely: When you are away, it’s important to make it appear as if there is activity in your home. Operating lights remotely, not to a schedule, is a great way to create the illusion that someone is home.
- Get motion sensor lights: Lights that turn on when someone approaches can be a simple way to keep unwanted individuals from approaching your home at night.
- Consider additional security measures: Invest in additional items such as door bars, security hinge pins, a safe and more to help fortify your home and protect your valuables.
Q: How much does a home alarm and security system cost?
A: The cost of a home alarm and security system can range from a few hundred dollars or less for DIY equipment to several thousand dollars for professional installation and a subscription plan. The amount and type of equipment you desire as well as the level of service you need to achieve peace of mind will ultimately determine the final cost of a home alarm and security system.
Q: Can I install a home alarm and security system in my apartment?
A: You can install a home alarm and security system anywhere you’d like: your home, your rental property, your apartment, your business and more. Most apartments will have some type of built-in security features, but they might not be enough to provide the level of comfort you seek. Just remember to consult your lease or your landlord to learn what type of installation can be performed. A wireless system that does not require drilling is often the best option.
Q: Will my pet cause my home alarm to go off?
A: Depending on the type of equipment you have installed, a pet may trigger an alarm via movement or barking. Most home alarm and security systems, however, feature parameters that allow them to ignore pets — some are very successful in this endeavor while others may occasionally stumble. Discuss concerns with a knowledgeable company representative before making any purchasing decisions.
Q: Will my home alarm and security system work if my power goes out?
A: While some systems are wired and feature a battery backup that can function for as long as 24 hours without power, there are other systems which will immediately cease to function if the power goes out. For example, if you lose your home network, you will also lose any wireless components that are connected to that network. Do your research to find out how long your home alarm and security system will last without power and which, if any, features will be lost during that time.
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.