How to Choose a Home Security System

home security2017 Update: We still stand by these tips on home security for women, but you may also want to check out our more recent discussions on safety for professional women, including the best personal safety apps for women who live alone

We haven’t talked about home security systems before, and a recent comment thread spurred us to give the topic its own post. While you may find it hard to name many companies beyond ADT (the country’s biggest security company), new technology has opened the market to lots of competitors. Some of those, like SimpliSafe (which a few readers have recommended) even let you install a home security system yourself.

If you’re not interested in a full home security system, one reader pointed out that you can find many home-safety items online. She found security company stickers (pros and cons here), a special light that makes it look like someone’s at home watching TV, and a barking dog alarm. It’s also easy to find online tips for making your home safer, from displaying fake security cameras to using motion sensor lights outside — but if you want to install the real thing, which will not only help keep your home safe but reduce your insurance premiums as well, we’ve got many tips to share today.

Looking at the lengthy list of home security companies can be overwhelming, but we’ve gathered some reviews, ratings, and other information to help you sort out the choices:

(Pictured: P is for Protect, originally uploaded to Flickr by Angelia Sims.)  

Ratings for Home Security Systems

A Secure Life, which specializes in reviewing home and online security resources, ranked the top five home security systems for 2016 as Frontpoint, Protect America, LiveWatch, Link Interactive, and Scout Review. Brands that you’re more likely to have heard of show up lower on the list, like SimpliSafe at#6, ADT at #9, and AT&T Digital Life at #10. (Neither Time Warner nor Xfinity made it into the top 10.) The reviews looked at several factors: customer service and reputation, price, equipment, and technology.

PC Mag compiled a list of the “best smart home security systems” — i.e., devices that allow you to remotely control lights, thermostats, etc. — for 2016. They included (in descending order) the iSmartAlarm Premium Package, SimpliSafe, Vivint Sky, and SkylinkNet Alarm System Starter Kit. (All except Vivint allow DIY installation.) The article shares some information on smart system components and their integration, as well as installation and mobile apps. It also recommends a couple of products that are adequate for small apartments.

As usual, The Sweethome was very thorough in its evaluations, which looked at six systems that allow DIY installation. After research and home testing, its writer named LiveWatch Plug&Protect IQ with Total Home + Video Plan the best overall. SimpliSafe with Interactive plan is the budget pick. The article includes a detailed guide about the review process and research, and provides some general tips. (One is a warning not to buy a home security system from a door-to-door salesperson.) It also reviews Frontpoint, Link Interactive, Protect America (in “The competition” section), and Scout and SwannOne (in “The no-contract competition“). (Remember, these rankings only include companies that don’t require professional installation.)

Options for Home Security Systems

When you browse these ratings, keep in mind that you have a few things to think about when you pick a home security system:

  • Are you willing to pay for for monthly monitoring? Such a system will notify you first of unexpected activity and will contact emergency services if you can’t be reached. With a self-monitored system, only you will be notified.
  • Do you want the system to be professionally installed? Would you rather do it yourself?
  • Are you hoping to include video surveillance, like a doorbell camera?
  • How important is it to you to have a smart system — one that allows you to control the alarm system and other home systems from an app on your phone?
  • What length of contract is acceptable? These may be as short as three days (SwannOne) or as long as three years (Frontpoint).

In terms of the features available with home security systems, A Secure Life put together some very helpful charts that compare various security companies and plans along different price points. (To see them, just scroll down past the section for their top pick, Frontpoint.) Typical security features include motion detectors, door and window sensors (to detect when they’re opened or broken), glass-breakage sensors, wireless cameras (some with remote controls), home automation features (to control things like lights and locks from an app), and sensors for smoke, heat, and water (e.g., basement flooding).

Home Security Tips for Apartments

  • A door jammer can be an inexpensive way to secure your door, whether you live alone, have a roommate who brings people home, or just want to feel safer in general. This Master Lock one is a bestseller on Amazon.
  • If you feel exposed by your apartment windows but don’t want to block the light, you can get removable window film for additional privacy.
  • This Apartment Therapy post offers a few more options, including emergency all-in-one systems like the Canary, and home cameras. (Kat’s written before about her Foscam cameras.) And just last week they looked into smart-home technology for apartments, including home security features.

Look Into Deductions on Your Home Insurance Bill

Whether you’re setting up something new or augmenting an existing system or plan, don’t forget to call your insurance company. Safewise notes that if you have a home security system, companies will often reduce your premium for renters or homeowners insurance by up to 20%.

Do you have a home security system? (Does it have four legs?) How much safer does it make you feel? Are you happy with the company you chose? Have you had any problems with false alarms? Feel free to share specific recommendations in the comments. Also, check out our self-defense tips for women

 Further reading:   

  • Safe & Sound: Great Home Security Options for Renters [Apartment Therapy]
  • Your Ultimate Home Security Cheat Sheet [Realtor.com]
  • Popular Home Security System SimpliSafe Can Be Easily Disabled by Burglars [PC World]
  • Comcast Xfinity Home Security System Leaves Home-Owners Unsecured [Slate]
  • This Startup’s Home Sensor Could Save America $8 Billion in Insurance Claims [Inc.]

Comments

  1. I like my Vivint system. Also, a minor note- Vivint may not allow DIY installation by the terms of its service (to be honest, I haven’t checked), but it is very easy to do DIY installation on the Vivint system if you do just a little bit of googling (tip- you have to change the installer code within 48 hours of installation to do DIY).

  2. Gail the Goldfish :

    With door jammers–does anyone know if it’s still easy enough for people who really need to get in to your apartment (say, the fire department) to bust down the door if it has a door jammer? I assume they could still bust it in on the hinges side, but I’m not totally sure how “we need to break down this door” actually works. I once had the fire department bust down my apartment door due to a gas leak in the adjacent building to make sure no one was inside, which made me realize that sometimes I may *want* people to break down the door.

  3. We have two, 120-pound rescue dogs. One of them really dislikes strangers and serves as a great security system (and doubles as a great companion!).

    • This is what I thought. When I was a young girl, we had a big German Wolfhound, and whenever a stranger approached the house, he would bark and bark. It was only when we told him to “schtum” (German for be quiet), that he stopped. If we weren’t there, the barking I am sure would continue. One time, there was this stranger on the property, reading the meter he said, and the dog got loose and ripped the seat of his pants right off. We laughed as the guy did not belong on the property, and was not with the power company. I only shudder to think what would have happened if he got the front of the guy’s pants. He probably would be singing soprano now!

    • Anonymous :

      +1000. No alarm system with monthly bills, etc., could be as effective at deterring burglars as my lab. She’s sweet as can be if she knows and accepts you, but she’s a snarling, snapping, vicious attack dog to strangers. The main entrances to my house are the front door, where she will be launching herself at the window next to it, and the glass door in the backyard, where an intruder would get to see how large she is and how much saliva is dripping from her jaws as she prepares to attack the intruder. Only an idiot would try to get past her.

  4. I have your standard ADT-like system (doors and motion on first floor). I do not have a monthly monitoring service because I live in a row house and trust that if my alarm is going off forever, one of my neighbors will text me to tell me to turn it the he11 off or call 911.

    I only cared about the noise because (1) that generally scares people away and (2) it would wake me up on the third floor if I was sleeping.

  5. We got a security system this year, following an attempted break-in at our old apartment. We now rent a single family home and have been very happy with Frontpoint thus far. Yes, they require you to sign a contract but installation is all exterior/stick-on type sensors and the system works via wifi, so we can easily move our equipment to our next place. I also love that I can access the security system via an app on my phone, so I can investigate weird noises in the middle of the night without leaving my bed and keep tabs on things when I’m traveling.

  6. I’m a big fan of Simply Safe.

    • Wildkitten :

      I bought it at your recommendation and am also a big fan. I also have a pit bull. She’s little and friendly but she sounds BIG and SCARY when people come to the door.

  7. Anonymous :

    We have ADT and have been happy with it.

    My husband is a bit obsessed with security in general, so we also have cameras installed in key areas around the exterior of the house. One thing that we particularly like is the Ring doorbell – it serves as a doorbell and camera, and will notify your phone when there’s motion or a ring at the door. The video quality is really great, and it’s nice to be able to see when people deliver packages, etc. to the door. Plus, you can “answer” the door remotely (through your phone) and speak to the person at the door – to let them know you’ll be right there, etc. Just thought I’d put this recommendation out there – it’s relatively inexpensive (about $200) and gives us serious peace of mind because we have video of everyone who comes to our door, and they also know they’re being watched.

  8. I use Monitronics, which I see shows up 8th on the list. I continued it on from the former homeowner and have had a good experience with them. I don’t really think it’s a huge deterrent to potential intruders, and obviously it won’t prevent a crime, but I pay for it for the knowledge that if something does happen, police will be on the way. I also do a fair amount of traveling, and feel like I have peace of mind about security and fire. I’ve never needed to use it, but as a single woman, I do appreciate the availability of silent alarm feature – say someone were armed, forced you into your home and told you to turn off the alarm, it silences the alarm but puts the alert straight through to the police. That being said, I typically set my own alarm off by accidentally hitting the wrong button on the remote or dropping a water bottle and triggering the glass-breaking sensor…

  9. Thanks for the reminder about the insurance discount. Need to do that.

  10. Anonymous :

    Instead of paying $20 for a door jammer for a sliding door or window, go to Home Depot and buy a large dowel for $2-$3. They will cut it to length at the store. It’ll last forever and never fail.

    Anyone else have a condo with an HOA that limits what you can do with your front door? The HOA approved a second deadbolt but we can’t install cameras or anything visible to the hallway.

  11. ManagementConsultant :

    I have a Ring video doorbell and also a Piper NV security system (it’s a competitor to the Canary). Because they’re not monitored, there are no monthly fees, but it makes me feel secure. I love that when I’m traveling I can just peek at the video feed to be reassured that all is well.

    When deciding on a security system, I think it’s important to decide whether you want a security system more for peace-of-mind (if you live in a really safe neighborhood) or because you want a quick response.

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