A man’s home is indeed his castle, and a high-quality security system can be his castle’s best defense against unwanted visitors.
It takes just one burglary or break-in attempt to convince most homeowners that the threat of a security breach is real. But how does a conscientious homeowner or renter find the right alarm and security service for the job?
If you’re looking to add a home alarm or security system to your dwelling place — or upgrade the system you already have — we at BestReviews stand ready to help. We’ve researched the home security space to determine what steps you should take before hiring a provider and what to expect from your provider one you’ve signed on.
In this guide, you’ll also find helpful tips on how to enhance your current security system and how to protect yourself from scam artists who want to take advantage of you. We’ll also walk you through the different benefits you can get from various home security companies.
So before you sign on the dotted line with a company that provides home security, we recommend that you read our helpful shopping guide.
Installing a new home alarm system can be a daunting process for a DIYer and an invasive one if you opt for professional installation. Before you make the decision to install or upgrade a home security system, there are several steps you can take to improve your current level of security.
Many people do not realize how vulnerable their property is to professional burglars. For example, a bush next to the porch could serve as an excellent cover for a thief. It pays to walk around your entire property while thinking like a criminal.
Survey your property with a critical eye. Are there simple steps you could take to enhance your safety? Is that window secure enough? Can the roof be reached without a ladder? Is there enough outside lighting in the backyard?
If you are new to the neighborhood and considering a professional home security service, it may help to speak with your neighbors first.
Have they ever been the victims of a burglary, break-in, or home invasion themselves? What is the average response time for emergency responders? How safe is the neighborhood in general? What security system provider do they use or would recommend?
Many hardware and home improvement stores offer security-enhancing devices that can be installed without professional assistance.
Doors can be reinforced with strong deadbolt locks. Windows can be protected with metal bars. Multipurpose “smart” alarms can be installed to detect the presence of flames, smoke, and carbon monoxide. Motion-sensitive lights can be stationed to illuminate doorways and other entry points.
Going on vacation? A pile of newspapers on your porch and an overflowing mailbox let criminals know you’re away from home.
When it comes to setting up a new home security system, you have two basic options: you could hire a company and then install the equipment yourself, or you could pay the company to perform a professional installation of the security equipment. Notably, not all companies offer both options.
If you choose this option, the home security company will provide an equipment kit for you to install. The company will then set up a monitoring service with a monthly subscription fee.
These kits usually include wireless or self-contained sensors and a mountable wireless control panel. You, the consumer, select the best locations for the sensors and install them with basic tools or special mounts provided in the kit. The control panel can be linked wirelessly to an existing cellular service or attached to a landline with a splitter box.
After you install the equipment, the home security service will monitor your sensors remotely and notify you of any suspicious activity.
Innocent online activity activity can threaten your home security. For example, simply posting a message on social media about an out-of-town event can be a green light for burglars.
The other option for setting up a home security system is professional installation. In this scenario, an account representative will send out a professional installation crew to install alarm sensors and a centralized control panel at your home.
Sometimes, the pros will be installing the same wireless equipment that DIY customers use. Other times, the professionally installed equipment will be specialized to require hardwiring or synchronization. The installers will determine the best locations for each remote sensor and tie all of their data to the control panel.
The cost of professional installation may be included in your upfront estimate or added to your monthly subscription bill. Some companies routinely waive any installation fees as an incentive for new customers, so it pays to ask about these fees during first contact.
Who owns the security equipment that’s installed in your home? This may not sound like an important question when you’re first installing a system, but it can become a very important consideration if something goes wrong with a sensor or other component.
In some situations, the home security company rents or leases the equipment to the client. This commonly occurs with home medical alert systems. If the batteries in a wireless control panel expire or an alarm button quits working, the client must send the unit back to the company for a replacement.
Because the client does not legally own the equipment, repairs or replacements can only be made by the company itself. Notably, there can be some lag time before a repair is made or a new, company-owned replacement arrives. Nevertheless, some people prefer this rental arrangement over investing in a system of their own.
Before you sign on with a security company, take the time to understand who owns the equipment and who is liable for repairs if something malfunctions.
Other companies either sell the alarm equipment to the customer directly or recommend a third-party seller that makes equipment compatible with their system. The client absorbs the cost of this equipment, but the company often provides a lower price for the monthly monitoring service.
If you’re the legal owner of the equipment, you are free to make minor repairs, replace batteries, and initiate upgrades without having to surrender the unit to the company. And if you move or change security monitoring providers, you don’t have to worry about returning the company’s property. For many customers, these advantages are persuasive selling points.
For ultimate peace of mind, consider supplementing your consumer-grade smoke alarms and fire detectors with 24/7 fire and smoke detection services from a security company.
For many people, a home security system is all about anti-theft benefits. Sensors placed near vulnerable entry points such as doors and windows detect any breaches in security. Motion detectors report any movement in the home’s interior.
But some home security companies provide additional services that you may find useful. Here are several types of monitoring services to consider.
Multipurpose sensors can use electrochemical or thermal technology to detect fire and thick smoke in the home. This information is sent directly to the monitoring service and the client.
Better home security companies routinely discuss any upgrades in service with the client. We recommend asking a company’s account representative about any additional services it offers and how pricing for those services is determined.
Yes, a home security system can even measure the home’s temperature. A smart thermostat with an ambient temperature sensor can report any drastic changes in heating or cooling.
An exceptionally high room temperature reading could mean a failure in the home’s heating and cooling system, while an extremely low temperature reading raises the possibility of frozen pipes.
Certainly there are dedicated monitoring companies that specialize in home medical assistance (think LifeLine and MedAlert). But a number of home security companies now offer emergency call buttons themselves.
The client receives a wristband or pendant containing a panic button. When pressed, the company contacts the appropriate authorities for emergency assistance.
Some home alarm/security companies now offer home medical assistance. This is a great option for the elderly, the handicapped, the medically fragile, and those who live alone.
Some providers install special sensors in the client’s basement, kitchen, or bathroom that detect moisture build-up.
If a pipe bursts in the wall or flood waters breach the basement window, a monitor notifies the homeowner immediately.
Left undetected, flooding can cause a significant amount of property damage. Some home security systems monitor the level of moisture in the home.
While the hazards of open flame and smoke are readily apparent, there is another silent danger lurking in many homes. Carbon monoxide can reach a lethal level within hours, especially around gas-powered appliances and heating systems.
A carbon monoxide sensor can chemically “sniff” the air and activate an alert if the level becomes toxic.
Before hiring any home alarm or security company, you should be able to read the fine print on a service contract. Exactly what services the company will or will not perform should be spelled out in writing.
It’s important for clients to ask about contractual obligations before signing any paperwork, too. Many companies lock customers into yearly service contracts, but some offer month-to-month service without a contract.
And sometimes, a homeowner’s security needs change. Finding a home alarm company that provides upgrades or additional services as needed can be beneficial. For example, if you live in a colder climate, you may eventually decide that you want to install temperature sensors. If you live in a flood zone, you may decide down the road that you want to add a moisture detector.
Before you sign a contract, read the fine print so you know what the company’s provisions are. For example, a home monitoring provider may not be liable for any damage it reports, while a full-service alarm company may provide restoration services.
Unfortunately, the home alarm and security system industry is currently plagued by telemarketing scammers and fly-by-night operations. One of their main goals is to persuade vulnerable customers to sign long-term contracts for exorbitant monthly rates.
Still other shady companies benefit from the sale of sub-par security equipment installed by unlicensed and untrained door-to-door salesmen.
Here are some signs of a home security system scam in progress —
A person falsely claims to represent your current service provider: Many homeowners display a yard sign bearing the name of their present home security service. A scam artist may claim to represent that company, offering special deals on upgrades or new services. The victim may agree to these contractual obligations without contacting the actual provider first.
A scammer claims to be taking over accounts from a provider that’s “going out of business”: This type of scam often happens in smaller markets. The scammer might claim to be from “ABC Home Alarm Services,” a company that recently bought the victim’s current service provider. His job is to redirect fee payments to another corporate address which turns out to be a front for the scammers.