How to Pick a Home Security System (GUIDE)

Previously, purchasing a home security system required a specialist to enter your home and put cables through your walls, but today’s systems are wireless—and far simpler to install.

Traditional security firms have had to adjust in response to a flood of younger, more tech-savvy rivals, including Abode, Amazon-owned Ring, Cove, Eufy, SimpliSafe, Vivint, and Wyze. For instance, ADT purchased DIY security firm LifeShield in early 2019 and rebranded it as its own DIY solution, Blue by ADT. In 2020, the firm joined with Google to connect its security capabilities with Google’s smart home devices, Nest. Later that year, Google announced the discontinuation of its own Nest Secure do-it-yourself solution.

What does all of this industry turmoil imply for you? Reduced pricing and more selection as manufacturers compete for market share. According to a Mintel analysis from 2021, 29% of US customers are interested in purchasing a smart security system. That compares to 21% who are interested in smart speakers, one of the most popular categories of smart home goods at the moment.

Numerous home security systems now serve as smart home hubs, allowing you to manage lights, thermostats, locks, and more from a single smartphone app.

Additionally, many of the systems available today are DIY, which means you can install them — and even monitor your house — on your own.

Because DIY security systems are supplied as beginning kits to which additional components and sensors may be added a la carte, comparative shopping can be challenging. Consumer Reports will break down everything you need to know when selecting a wireless security system for your house, regardless of whether you go for professionally installed or do-it-yourself installation.

How We Evaluate Do-It-Yourself Home Security Systems

Consumer Reports’ test engineers spent considerable effort fine-tuning our test technique due to the complexity of DIY home security systems. We evaluate each system on the basis of its security core features, security add-ons, smart home integration features, convenience of use, ease of setup, and motion detection. Additionally, our evaluations take into account the flexibility of professional monitoring alternatives (in which an alarm center dispatcher reacts to triggered alarms 24 hours a day, 365 days a year), as well as whether systems have two-factor authentication to prevent illegal access.

For security fundamentals, our test engineers analyze each system against the features and functionality that Consumer Reports feels should be included in every system. This includes motion sensors, door and window touch sensors, key fobs, keypads, remote sirens, and smartphone applications.

Following that, our testers evaluate security add-ons. These are additional layers of safety, such as panic buttons or pendants, as well as security cameras that activate the alarm in response to motion detection.

Due to the fact that many security systems now double as smart home systems, we assess their add-on smart home capabilities as well—specifically, their ability to incorporate compatible smoke/CO detectors, water and temperature sensors, thermostats, and lights.

Our ease-of-use test evaluates how simple it is to interact with systems through applications and keypads. The review will look for features such as the option to modify the sensitivity of motion sensors and the ability to activate and disarm the system automatically using geofencing (the ability to determine when you leave and return home using your phone’s location data). Additionally, we assess the difficulty of setting up each system.

Finally, for motion detection, our test engineers put the sensors to the test by crawling or gently strolling by them.

Our test engineers use the results of these different tests to get an Overall Score for each system that enters our laboratories.

Recent Trends

The market for do-it-yourself home security systems has experienced a surge of new players in recent years, including Cove, Eufy, Kangaroo, Ring, and Wyze. Even two new products came and went—Google Nest and Samsung SmartThings systems.

The ones who have survived have one trait: they are all fiercely competitive on pricing. Cove, Eufy, and Ring all provide beginner sets for around $200. Kangaroo offers a $100 beginner kit, whereas Wyze offers a $50 starter kit.

Additionally, the majority of these organizations provide very affordable expert monitoring options. Eufy and Kangaroo, for example, charge $100 annually for expert monitoring, while Wyze costs $60 annually, or $5 each month.

However, Ring is resisting the trend toward professional surveillance. It had charged $100 per year for monitoring, but increased that fee in late 2021 in return for more features—including backup home internet service—for its new Ring Alarm Pro system. (Notably, the system is one of the first to include a mesh WiFi router.) However, it is too early to say if Ring’s actions will prompt rivals to raise their rates or provide comparable services.

Apart from more choice and typically reduced pricing, another significant development in this market is closer connectivity with other smart home devices. For instance, Amazon now provides a function called Alexa Guard for its smart speakers that utilizes the devices’ microphones to listen for smoke alarms, as well as glass shattering and other indicators of a probable break-in. Alexa Guard integrates with security systems like Abode, ADT, Ring, and Scout Alarm, allowing you to send warnings to professional monitoring dispatchers.

Additional Alexa Guard-like integrations are anticipated to become feasible if the smart home market embraces a new communication standard called Matter. This standard will enable smart home gadgets from many manufacturers to communicate with one another without the requirement for special collaborations between firms.

Over 170 firms, including ADT, Amazon, Apple, Google, Resideo (manufacturer of Honeywell Home), Samsung, SimpliSafe, Vivint, and Wyze, have already endorsed the standard. In 2022, matter-certified items are projected to reach the market.

Home Security System Types

Compare a do-it-yourself home security system to a professionally installed system to see which one best meets your requirements.

Wireless Home Security Systems – DIY

These security systems are sold in pre-assembled packages for self-installation. While the majority allow you to self-monitor your system for free using a smartphone app, a few require you to pay for expert monitoring. Numerous self-monitored systems provide an optional professional monitoring service that you may activate (and deactivate) at any time, such as when you are on vacation.

Pros: Professionally monitored systems provide more flexibility and often have cheaper monthly monitoring rates than professionally installed systems. The majority do not demand you to sign a long-term contract. Additionally, DIY systems can be customized and expanded over time with the addition of new sensors and accessories.

The disadvantage is that you must install the system yourself. If you do not sign a contract, your equipment expenses may be greater. Additionally, self-maintained systems are not monitored 24 hours a day by skilled professionals—missing a smartphone warning at a vital moment may allow a burglar time to access your house.

Home Security Systems Installed by Professionals

These security systems, which are professionally installed, provide 24-hour professional monitoring. This implies that trained dispatchers at alarm monitoring centers check and notify authorities about activated alarms. While many systems include a smartphone app for remote control and monitoring, some providers demand an additional monthly fee for its usage. Typically, there is an up-front expense for equipment and installation, as well as a multiyear contract with recurrent monitoring costs. (Consumer Reports does not conduct independent testing of these systems.)

Pros: Multiyear contracts may result in large equipment discounts. A specialist will install and configure the system for you. Your system is constantly under the watchful eye of a professional.

Cons: Monthly costs are typically in the range of $40 to $50. You’re bound to a contract for an extended period of time.

Sensors and Components of a Basic Security System

Individual sensors—battery-powered devices varying in size from a pack of gum to a huge box of matches—and other components such as keypads and alarm sirens comprise home security systems.

The following sections outline the components that are often found in basic home security systems, in order of their relevance to the entire system. Typical components of do-it-yourself security system kits include a base station, a keypad (or touch-screen control panel), contact sensors, motion sensors, and key fobs.

  • Base station: This serves as the security system’s brain, wirelessly linking all sensors and components and serving as a connection point between the individual components and the internet. This gadget often contains an integrated siren and backup batteries as well as backup cellular connection in the event of power and/or internet disruptions.
  • Contact sensors: These sensors are attached to doors and windows and notify you (and/or authorities, if your home is monitored professionally) when they are opened or closed.
  • Motion sensors: These sensors are ideal for spaces with several entrances or windows since they detect human movement. Some are adjusted to avoid being triggered by pets.
  • Keypad: With certain systems, you’ll input access codes to activate and disable the alarm through a 10-digit keypad.
  • Touch-screen control panels: This kind of panel, similar to a tiny tablet, might be used in lieu of a keypad. You can activate and disable the system from the panel, as well as input access codes and operate other smart home devices.
  • Key fobs and tags: Similar to a vehicle key fob, these fobs include arm and disarm buttons and some have RF (radio frequency) tags that enable you to arm or disarm the system by tapping the fob on the keypad or base station.
  • Range extenders: The majority of base stations have a few hundred feet of range. For bigger houses, some systems employ extenders to expand the base station’s wireless range and link to additional distant sensors. In certain systems, wireless components (together with range extenders) operate as signal repeaters, extending the range of the base station.

Sensors and Components Optional

Most security systems also have a choice of add-on sensors and components for monitoring other sorts of events, such as personal safety, fire, and carbon monoxide, for an extra cost. The following are the most often seen add-on components when shopping.

  • Security cameras: While they are not essential, the majority of systems include wireless security cameras and video doorbells, which enable you to monitor activity at all times. Typically, they capture video when the alarm is activated.
  • Environmental sensors and alarms: The majority of systems include environmental sensors and alarms that monitor your house for fires, water leaks, and excessive temperatures, among other things. These devices include smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, listeners for the sound of those alarms, as well as leak and freeze sensors.
  • Sirens: Individual sirens may be deployed independently of the base station. If your house is bigger, you may want to consider putting numerous sirens.
  • Glass-break sensors: These sensors may detect when an attacker destroys a window in order to gain access.
  • Garage-door tilt sensors: When mounted on the inner side of a garage door, these sensors determine whether the door is open or closed depending on its horizontal or vertical position.
  • Physical panic buttons and pendants: Physical panic buttons and pendants are a convenient and fast method to tell a monitoring service that you need assistance. Panic pendants function similarly, except that they may be worn by the user, which makes them beneficial for those at danger of falling.

Contracts for the Installation of Professionally Installed Systems

Professionally installed security systems often need you to sign a two- to five-year contract. While contracts bind you to a single security provider and require you to pay a regular monthly cost, they do offer certain advantages.

“A three-year contract is an excellent method to ensure that monthly prices do not rise,” says Kirk MacDowell, owner of MacGuard Security Advisors, a home security consulting service. He continues by stating that having a contract helps guarantee that your system is maintained and updated with the newest software.

Consider the Following When Installing Self-Installed Security Systems

Monitoring by a Professional vs. Self-Monitoring

Professional monitoring is a significant aspect in your purchase — and the long-term expense of your system. With professional monitoring, a team of expert dispatchers monitors your system 24 hours a day and notifies the appropriate authorities if required.

While self-monitoring eliminates the need for monthly costs, it also means that ignoring a notice on your smartphone might be the difference between getting robbed and preventing a possible thief.

Numerous self-monitored systems have an option for professional monitoring, which is frequently referred to as on-demand monitoring. You may sign up for professional monitoring forever or temporarily, even for as little as one month, using these systems.

A few do-it-yourself security systems do need expert monitoring and a multiyear contract, but they are the exception. Alternatively, some systems may offer multiyear contracts in return for cheaper monthly monitoring prices.

Costs of Additional Components

Companies that sell security systems sometimes promote that their systems start at around $200, $300, or $400. However, the truth is that you may easily spend more than $1,000 when other components are included.

Typically, this basic pricing comprises just a few touch and motion sensors. For example, a touch sensor for a do-it-yourself system may cost between $15 and $50. A security camera may cost between $35 to $200, depending on the type.

Additional Considerations While Shopping

What Are Your Monitoring Objectives?

While all home security systems provide some level of protection against burglary, you may want to consider adding extra layers of protection. You may install a security system that will notify you to fires, excessive levels of carbon monoxide, leaks and floods, and extreme temperatures by using some of the sensors described above. Certain systems include panic pendants that may be worn and activated in the case of bodily damage. Bear in mind that if you pay for expert monitoring, certain companies may charge you a premium for these extra capabilities.

Integrations with Smart Homes

Numerous home security systems now double as smart home hubs, enabling you to automate and manage linked locks, lights, and thermostats from a single smartphone app. Additionally, if you own other smart gadgets, the integrations might be beneficial.

For instance, many systems will activate and disable your alarm system automatically when you lock and open a smart lock. Others will automate the lights in your house to create the illusion that you are there while you are not.

Permits for Alarms

Certain towns require individuals who operate their own security system with professional monitoring to get a permit in order for authorities to keep track of all alarm systems operating within their boundaries.

Consult your local police agency to see if alarm permits are required and whether there is a price related with them. (Some payments are assessed at the time the permit is obtained, while others are assessed yearly.) Consumer Reports’ headquarters in Yonkers, New York, needs permissions but does not tax locals. On the other hand, Dallas compels households to pay a $50 yearly cost for alarm permits.

When is the Best Time to Purchase a Security System?

If you’re looking for a good bargain on a new security system, particularly a do-it-yourself system, the ideal time of year to purchase is around the Christmas shopping season. That is often when the greatest reductions occur. Following that, your greatest opportunity for snagging a discount is around Amazon Prime Day, which occurs often throughout the summer.

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