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How to Choose a Home Security System (2021)

There are many factors to consider when choosing a security system for your home, from installation to monitoring and more. Read our guide below to find out all you need to know.

An ADT video doorbell on the exterior of a home. Courtesy ADT

If you want peace of mind that your home is protected when you’re out of town or asleep at night, you should consider investing in a home security system. These systems can help you rest easy with features like 24/7 professional monitoring, emergency service alerts, and more. Some even add convenience to your everyday life with smart home automation.

There are many home security systems on the market, but they can differ in terms of contract requirements, installation methods, cost, available equipment, and more. The This Old House Reviews Team created this in-depth guide on how to choose a home security system and included our top recommendations.

Common Home Security Equipment

While every home security provider offers unique packages and specialized equipment, there are many types of equipment that they all share. We’ve compiled a list of must-have home security basics below.

  • Control panel: This is the core of your security system, connecting all of your security devices and allowing you to arm and disarm your system, control your smart devices, and more.
  • Door and window sensors: These devices alert you when someone opens a door or a window.
  • Motion detectors: These motion sensors detect movement inside the home within a set radius.
  • Security cameras: Many providers offer both indoor and outdoor security cameras that can share live footage from inside of your home or outside of your door. Some even have two-way talk enabled so that you can deter intruders or speak to guests on your doorstep.
  • Doorbell camera: This camera records people arriving at your doorstep and will send you push notifications when they arrive. Some doorbell cameras let you interact with people at your door using two-way talk.
  • Glass break sensor: This device detects shattered glass and sounds a high-decibel siren to alert you to an intruder.
  • Smoke detectors: These can detect smoke and alert you to a fire inside your home.
  • Carbon monoxide detector: This detects CO inside your home.
  • Flood/leak sensors: These devices detect excess water in your home to help you avoid flood damages and costly repairs.
  • Temperature sensors: These sensors monitor your home for extreme temperature changes, from malfunctioning HVAC units to freezing pipes.
  • Panic buttons/pendants: Designed for seniors who live alone and people with medical conditions, the panic button/pendant dispatches emergency services when it’s pressed.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Home Security System

Unfortunately, choosing the best alarm system for your home isn’t as simple as going with the first option or choosing the cheapest package. From method of installation to equipment, there are many factors to consider when choosing a home security system.

Professional vs DIY Installation

Some providers will offer you the choice between professional or DIY installation, while others won’t give you an option. There are pros and cons to each type of installation.

Professional installation

Professional installation is typically performed by experienced security experts who can walk you through the process and install equipment in locations that maximize protection. However, professional installation means you have to work around someone else’s schedule, let them into your home, and typically pay for the installation cost. Fees typically range from $99 to $199, but the cost of professional installation can go even higher.

DIY installation

DIY installation means you won’t benefit from professional expertise, but luckily many DIY systems come pre-programmed so that all you have to do is set them up. Many DIY security systems also offer peel-and-stick adhesive equipment, meaning you won’t have to worry about drilling holes in your wall.

Costs

When it comes to the cost of a home security system, there are several categories to consider: equipment cost, installation cost, activation fees, and monitoring costs—as well as any hidden fees.

The cost of equipment will vary widely from provider to provider and from package to package. Keep in mind that the cheapest package doesn’t always have the best value. You should balance your budget with your priorities to find the best fit. Some providers charge an activation fee in addition to the upfront equipment cost, but not all do.

If you choose a professionally installed system, prepare to have at least $100 ready to cover the fee. Some providers offer professional monitoring services while others only operate with DIY monitoring. In general, providers offer several levels of protection with monthly monitoring plans—beginning with a starter kit and ending with a more advanced alternative.

Always be sure to read the fine print, especially when it comes to costs you might not have considered like cancellation reinstallation fees.

Contract requirements

Some home security systems require you to sign long-term contracts that can be up to a three-year commitment. Others offer short-term contracts or don’t require one at all. This can be a plus if you plan on moving or if you don’t want a long-term commitment.

Monitoring options

One key consideration is whether you want to do DIY monitoring or professional monitoring. Some providers offer both, letting you pick the one that suits your specific needs.

Professional monitoring

Professional monitoring provides round-the-clock protection from experts who are alerted as soon as an alarm is triggered. The experts can investigate the issue and contact emergency services if needed. Professional monitoring comes with a monthly fee.

DIY monitoring

Monitoring your system yourself means no professional monitoring fees, but it also requires you to be responsible for notifying the authorities when needed. With DIY monitoring, you will still receive alerts and notifications if your alarm is triggered.

Smart Home Integration

Certain home security systems can be integrated with third-party smart home devices like the Nest thermostat, Kwikset smart lock, Philips Hue smart light, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and more.

Home automation can add convenience as well as save you money. Home automation lets you customize controls to fit your routine. For example, you can set your thermostat to adjust automatically each morning when you leave for work.

Type of Equipment

Some providers allow you to lease your equipment while some only let you purchase it. Other providers will give you the choice between the two. A key factor to consider is whether or not your equipment is wired. A wireless system is a good choice if you plan to move or have pets or small children who might accidentally interfere with the equipment.

Type of Connection

If you choose professional monitoring, you’ll need a connection to the center. There are three connection options: landline, broadband, and cellular.

Landline

With a landline, the provider uses the home’s landline connection to notify the monitoring center of an alert. Connecting to a landline is the least expensive option but also the easiest to tamper with. If someone cuts the line, you no longer have a connection to the monitoring center.

Broadband

If you have high-speed internet, you can use a broadband connection to communicate with the monitoring center. Unfortunately, your connection is lost if the power goes out. Some providers offer backup batteries to make sure that your system stays functional even if the Wi-Fi cuts out.

Cellular

Cellular monitoring operates with a built-in chip that sends alerts to the monitoring center using the same signal your phone uses to make calls and send texts. It’s a reliable method because it can’t be tampered with and the signal is unlikely to cut out. However, a cellular connection is usually the most expensive option.

Our Top Recommendations for Home Security Systems

Our top three recommendations for home security systems share offerings like comprehensive packages, sophisticated equipment, and more. They also each have their own unique benefits. Read more below.

ADT: Best Overall

ADT offers one of the best home security systems in the industry. The provider has more than 140 years of experience and services millions of customers. ADT also offers a convenient six-month money-back guarantee, the largest network of professional monitoring centers in the country, and 24/7 professional monitoring.

Vivint: Best for Smartphone Integration

Vivint’s sophisticated home security systems can be integrated with smartphones and a wide variety of third-party smart home devices like the Nest thermostat, Philips Hue smart light, and Kwikset smart lock. The provider’s technologically-advanced devices include security cameras that use advanced camera analytics to notify customers of people and packages on their doorstep.

Alder: Best for Medical Alerts

Alder operates with a different format than most home security providers. Unlike its competitors, Alder doesn’t offer a series of preset packages with specific equipment. Instead, customers can create their own packages. Alder also has a 3.4-second average response time, one of the fastest in the industry.

Our Rating Methodology

The This Old House Reviews Team is committed to providing comprehensive and unbiased reviews to our readers. This means earning your trust through transparent reviews and having the data to back up our ratings and recommendations. Our rating system for home security providers is on a 100-point scale based on 10 factors:

  • Number of systems (5)
  • Special features (10)
  • Installation options (5)
  • Connectivity and smart home automation (15)
  • Pricing (15)
  • Contract period (5)
  • Warranty (15)
  • Trial period (15)
  • Usability (5)
  • Trustworthiness (10)

Our Reviews Team reviewed 32 companies and spent 744 hours researching and testing out products to help us compare home security systems on key factors such as package options, cost, reliability, and ease of use. Read more on our methodology here.

More on Home Security Systems

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I look for when buying a home security system?

There are a wide variety of factors to consider, including contract requirements, installation methods, budget, home automation, and more.

Which security system is best for my home?

We believe ADT offers the best home security system for homeowners with nearly 150 years of industry experience, the largest network of professional monitoring centers, and more.

Is Ring better than ADT?

We believe Ring is a solid option with straightforward equipment and affordable prices, but we believe ADT is a better option with its comprehensive home security plans and industry experience.

To share feedback or ask a question about this article, send a note to our Reviews Team at reviews@thisoldhousereviews.com.