Seven people; 600 hours; several afternoons’ worth of calls with sales reps; interviews with law enforcement; lots of coffee – that’s what it took to formulate our home security system reviews and find the best options.
Right off the bat, we learned that many folks feel like their homes and belongings are safe from break-ins. You know the feeling: You don’t own anything worth stealing, so who would bother? But take a quick peek at the U.S. Department of Justice’s household burglary report and one thing becomes utterly apparent: Anyone living under a roof is susceptible to break-ins – not to mention fires, floods, and other disasters.
Contrary to what’s portrayed in the movies, thieves generally act out of opportunity. They’re looking for an easy job with a big payoff, which means that small, expensive items like smartphones, tools, jewelry, and appliances are at the top of their list. Unsurprisingly, those items are commonly found in households across income levels, not just the mansions of the rich. Regardless of your ethnicity, income, or location, your home and safety are at risk from potential invasions.
Just four years ago, the average dollar value of stolen goods during completed burglaries was around $2,000. The perils of burglary aren’t limited to monetary loss, though. Home invasions are scary, and the emotional toll can be devastating – especially for children. Factor in the possibility of losing a precious family heirloom, like great grandma’s engagement ring or a baseball signed by the original Braves, and the situation can grow exponentially worse.
People should feel more secure in their own home than any other place on the planet.Charlie RoseChief Deputy of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina
There’s no arguing home security systems are a viable deterrent (prevention is the best course of action, after all) but it’s also important to remember that if someone manages to slip into your home uninvited, visible and audible signs of alarm systems often halt crimes-in-progress before any irreparable damage is done. Secondly, some home insurance providers grant discounts to those who install them. And if you work from home, you might even qualify for a slight tax break.
There’s also the benefit of home automation. Left the front door open by accident? Lock it from your phone. Wondering how the pipes in your basement are faring? Inspect the status of your freeze sensor on the commute home. Need to check in on the nanny? Pull up a live video feed of your living room in a web browser. You get the picture.
In just a couple of years, home automation devices like the Nest thermostat and August smart lock have commanded the attention of both consumers and the competition with overwhelming sales. Home security providers know that customers want more out of their systems, which is why they’ve incorporated every breed available into their lineup.
The stats below outline crime rate by city in the United States. Select a city to explore data particular to each city and see how they stack up nationally.
The map below outlines crime rate by city in the United States. The yellow circles show the property crime rate. Click the circles to explore data particular to each city and see how they stack up nationally.
High-risk windows (basement, garage, ground-level, partially or totally secluded, latched, etc.) should be secured sufficiently enough to discourage or impede possible intrusion.Seattle Police Department
Advertising differs greatly from brand to brand, but when it all boils down, there are four fundamental levels of protection: intrusion, environmental, surveillance, and life safety. Being familiar with these terms will help you understand your needs and expedite the shopping process.
Below are a few examples of devices found in each category:
These devices are the core of a security system, and final barrier of safety for you and your family during a home invasion.
Environmental devices, like smoke alarms and carbon monoxide sensors, provide security against non-human threats.
Whether you’re in the kitchen or another country, security cameras allow you to keep an eagle eye on your property, children, and belongings.
Life safety is an additional layer of protection that’s focused on elderly individuals and people with serious medical needs.
At the very least, all home security systems are composed of a control panel, wireless sensors, audible alarm, and a 24/7 professional monitoring service (check out our DIY home security review for recommendations). Once a sensor has been triggered, the control panel will relay that info to the monitoring station via either a broadband, cellular, or landline connection.
How much is it going to cost you? Owning a security system means that you’ll need to pay a monthly monitoring subscription, which is separate from the startup expense. And unfortunately, most home security providers require a minimum 36-month contract. Worst case scenario, you should expect to pay for equipment upfront (some companies lease hardware instead) and sign a three-year monitoring commitment.
Here’s the deal: All the top brands offer practically equivalent devices and features. In fact, many of them use the same equipment manufacturer (like GE, Honeywell, and 2GIG). The point is, technologies that power the home security industry are becoming ubiquitous. And for shoppers, the only influential difference between brands is the way their offerings are packaged and priced.
For instance, SimpliSafe customers must choose from one of five hardware bundles, then equip it with a monitoring service. Companies like ADT, on the other hand, offer a single monitoring package that doesn’t come with a standard set of equipment. And even when companies don’t offer custom-tailored packages, they do – home automation services (like ADT Pulse) and extra sensors are generally available as add-ons.
Just under 50% of the people we surveyed felt that a brand’s reputation is the most important factor when choosing a home security system. We made the phone calls. We labored over spreadsheets. We did the dirty work. And do you know what we discovered? They’re right.
Home security is a notoriously unstandardized industry. Unexpected costs (especially for renters), cryptic contractual stipulations, and inconsistent service packages make it hard for shoppers to gauge and compare prices. That’s why a brand’s reputation – the level at which it bothers to cater to customers – is at the top of our priority list.
Shopping for home security is all about the quote, but be warned: getting your hands on one is unnecessarily tedious. Conversations with salespeople can take upwards of 20 minutes, and offer little to no information that isn’t already displayed on the website. (You’ll end up on the line with at least two different company representatives anyway, so we’d advise skipping live chats altogether.) For example, here’s a tidbit from one of our researcher’s live chats:
“Hi, I’ve got a quick question: Is there any cost associated with relocation for existing customers?”
“Hello. For relocation you would need to speak to our relocation department via phone there are no moving fees that i’m aware of.”
During the call, you’ll schedule an appointment with a specialist who’ll walk you through a full-blown consultation. It might be same-day, or it might not, and sometimes it requires a home visit, so be prepared to block out some time.
Then, and only then, will you get your quote.
It’s understandable that providers who build systems on a case-by-case basis would hesitate to dole out generic quotes. But in today’s world, transparency of cost is key, and the ability to quickly provide would-be customers with a ballpark figure would surely give one company an edge over the others.
While we’re on the topic of transparency, it’s worth noting just how obfuscated many of the websites are. Seriously, this industry has some catching up to do. We gathered the lowest monthly monitoring costs from figures displayed online and compared them with those we were quoted on the phone. Outside of SimpliSafe (who remained a consistent $14.99), we ran into some pretty significant discrepancies. For example, Live Watch touts $19.95 per month online, but by the time our call was over, it had jumped to $35.90.
Before we dive in, it’s imperative that we make note of two common criteria that didn’t factor into our review methodology:
We aren’t a team of security and software professionals, nor do we claim to be. However, we consulted with home security experts and built our methodology around the factors that wound up carrying the most weight for shoppers. Remember: Many home security providers slap their label on devices from the same equipment manufacturer.
The quote process is far from straightforward, and it would be misleading for us to simply recommend certain brands or packages based upon a listed price.
Now, on to the methodology. Our first line of defense involved five criteria centered around features and availability.
To begin, we eliminated brands that were no longer or business, or weren’t actually home security providers (software platforms, resellers, et cetera).
Next, any company without a national presence was cut. National availability is a great indication of quality and stability, but we also wanted to ensure our recommendations would remain accessible to readers across the country.
Third, we chose only to include brands that offered professional 24/7 monitoring. Yes, DIY monitoring is a growing trend (check out our DIY home security review for more info), but our recommendations needed to at least have the option for that additional layer of protection.
Fourthly, only brands that offer wireless hardware and cellular monitoring connectivity passed through round three. Cellular systems are much more reliable than landline or broadband systems and aren’t restricted to certain locations or ISPs.
Then we let go of any brands that didn’t offer home automation add-ons (wireless locks, connected thermostats, et cetera). Home security isn’t just about protection, you know; it’s about your peace of mind.
And finally, we cut any brands that require you to either A) be an existing customer of their parent company, or B) subscribe to an additional service.
So, after pitching our catalogue of brands against those five filters, we were left with 10 semi-finalists:
Remember when we said that the industry is largely unstandardized, and shopping for a home security system is tedious? That’s why we chose to go even further and make another round of eliminations based upon what we’re calling the “headache factor.” To do that, we sliced the concept of brand reputability into three observable factors, crafted a weighted test, and handed out scores. Here’s how it worked:
We compared the number of Angie’s List reviews with the number of Better Business Bureau complaints from past 12 months.
We made a judgement call regarding things like: Does the website offer enough information to make an educated purchase? How many clicks does it take to get there? And are you required to read any fine print?
We gathered each brand’s cheapest cellular package, added all fees and equipment costs, and determined the total 12-month cost. Any brand who priced higher than average was scored negatively.
That left us with five Reviews.com-recommended brands. And to help you get started, we’ve listed each one’s cheapest offering that includes cellular monitoring.
LiveWatch offers two easy-to-install equipment bundles that can be equipped with several different monitoring plans. Add-on options are plenty, and customers are only required to sign a 12-month monitoring contract.
Downside: Exceedingly expensive hardware Vivint's home automation technology is undoubtably the best, but it's also the most expensive. For example its $900 iPanel is $500 more than the average touchscreen control panel. If you have the money, though Vivint won't disappoint.
Downside: Conflicting public opinion ADT is tricky. it's obviously the most popular home security provider (over sixty percent of our surveyed consumers were ADT customers)., but it also has the highest number of complaints - a fact that could simply be related to its enormous customer base. However, there are other reasons for the cut, as well - ADT offers minimal up-front information and requires a professional installation, which can add extra costs and inconvenience.
No matter how we sliced it, Monitronics failed to stand out over the competition. Another downside is that it won’t allow renters to purchase and setup a system – the actual homeowner is required to do the dirty work.
It was fairly difficult to obtain clear information about the company, its packages, and the overall cost.
Alarm Grid offers a la carte equipment and the lowest monitoring fee in the business; however, its online presence is too nonexistent for us to recommend it over the competition. It also requires a working knowledge of standard security equipment to get started.