The Best Home Security System
We tested eight of the biggest home security systems for eight months to experience the process of ordering, installing and using them in our own homes. All have the same basic security features, but our top picks rose above the rest with their cutting-edge technology, user-friendly equipment and helpful customer service.
The 5 best home security systems
- ADT - Most trusted provider
- Frontpoint - Outstanding customer support
- Vivint - Best for home automation
- SimpliSafe - Lowest price
- GetSafe - No contract option
How we chose the best home security systems
Standard level of protection
We started with the eight most popular home security systems with professional monitoring: ADT, Vivint, Frontpoint, GetSafe, SimpliSafe, Link Interactive, Protect America and LiveWatch. All offer four fundamental levels of protection:
- Intrusion (door, window and glass-break sensors)
- Environmental (carbon monoxide, fire and flood sensors)
- Surveillance (indoor, outdoor and doorbell cameras)
- Safety (life alert and panic buttons)
The majority of home security companies recommend or require you to call when ordering your service. We recommend this too, as you can often get a lower price by discussing your quote with a salesperson. Sometimes home security systems require an installation fee, equipment fees, or an activation fee. It’s quite common that special deals can waive or lower those. In fact, sales reps from all eight providers offered us a discount over the phone — we didn’t even have to ask.
Most testers were pleasantly surprised with the sales reps they spoke to. The phone calls felt informative but casual — more of a conversation than a sales pitch. Our Vivint tester felt like the sales rep was a friend looking out for his needs. Our Frontpoint tester called twice. The first time, she had a good idea of what she wanted system-wise but said she was still shopping around for a provider. The second time, she pretended to be an easy sell who just wanted a system but hadn’t done any research. Her initial call was much more informative and detailed. The sales rep walked her through each room in her house, asking her to describe where the windows and doors were in each room, recommending the right pieces of equipment for each space — likely because they knew she had done her research.
We also considered home automation options, which allow you to remotely control features of your home such as lights and door locks. Vivint really impressed us with its seamless automation integration. Our tester loved being able to see who was at the front door directly from his app. The more barebones SimpliSafe doesn’t offer home automation at all. But we wanted to figure out what these differences meant on a day-to-day basis: Which features were necessary for improved peace of mind? Which would be easiest to integrate into our daily routines?
If you’ve signed a years-long contract with a provider, you need to know the equipment will integrate easily into your daily life. To see if our testers had any regrets after prolonged use of their systems, we checked back in with them at the eight-month mark.
Most had positive things to say, reporting that their systems improved their overall peace of mind. If you’re prone to fretting late at night or while away on vacation, home security systems deliver on their promise of reassurance. That’s not to say there weren’t annoyances — which can become major sore points if you’re interacting with your system every time you leave the house. LiveWatch’s piercing, impossible-to-mute beeps drew complaints from one tester, as did Link Interactive’s constantly inaccurate digital display. Others, like ADT, were easier to incorporate unobtrusively into our daily routines.
Why we chose it
Trusted by millions
Founded in 1874, ADT has been around for decades longer than any other security company. It has over six million subscribers and is synonymous with home security — even its logo is a clear warning to would-be burglars. When it comes to deterring potential break-ins, we think brand recognition has significant value. An ADT sign in your front yard is a good bet if you want to know you’re protected (and you want other people to know it too).
Range of equipment options
We were impressed by ADT’s range of equipment options. For your system’s hub, you can choose a tablet-like touchscreen control panel or a classic keypad command center. ADT also offers sophisticated video tech, from cameras that begin recording as soon as a door is opened, to live feeds that can be viewed remotely from your phone at any time. These features ensure that, if your alarm does go off, you can assess the situation remotely before deciding whether to cancel the alarm. When we checked back in with our testers, most of them stressed the importance of this feature.
Customizable home automation packages
Many of ADT’s higher-end home automation offerings are customizable (although you should expect this to affect your final price). There’s a vacation mode you can activate that will arm the system, keep a steady temperature and turn lights on and off to suggest that someone’s home. You can also set up situational operations — for example, if the sensor detects a fire, you can automate doors to unlock and the A/C to shut off (slowing the circulation of smoke).
Points to Consider
ADT doesn’t have the strongest customer service reputation among the companies we considered, racking up more than three thousand complaints on its Better Business Bureau page. While we chalked most of this discrepancy up to the fact that ADT has several million more customers than its competitors, our tester began his call with low expectations. But he was pleasantly surprised. “My needs drove the conversation. And once I finally had the quote, he explained the purpose behind each device I was receiving and what the installation might entail. He took extra time to help me weigh whether I needed home automation or not — and I’m almost positive it wasn’t scripted.”
Our experience with professional installation was mixed. Our tester said the technician provided solid customer service: “He dropped a few unnecessary window sensors from my bill after deciding that the motion detector was sufficient for the entire front half of my home.” However, there were some issues with connecting the command hub to our tester’s network. The technician explained that ADT’s broadband systems have trouble connecting to Suddenlink routers, which our tester had, so he tried a different kind of command hub. After he left, our tester noticed he was charged $190 more than his original quote. The new equipment was significantly more expensive because it worked on cellular signals instead of Wi-Fi. We wish we had known about that extra charge upfront.
Why we chose it
Frontpoint’s commitment to customer satisfaction was clear at every stage, starting with our initial phone call. We were impressed with the sales rep’s attention to detail. She asked our tester to describe the layout of each room in her home, listened to her safety concerns and answered questions about all kinds of package options. When our tester told her she needed more time to shop around, the rep was understanding and didn’t press the issue.
Easy DIY installation
We found Frontpoint’s DIY installation process surprisingly user-friendly. A personalized website walks you through how to get the control panel connected and online, how and where to place your door sensors and more. If you stop halfway through installation and come back to it later, the site remembers where you left off. If you’re stalled at a particular stage for longer than you should be, a help window pops up on your device with a phone number to call. When you’re ready to activate the system, you call the customer service line, and a rep confirms that your system is online and fully functional. The entire process takes about 30 minutes.
Variety of packages
All plans include professional monitoring, but there are different package tiers: Protection, Interactive, and Ultimate. Protection offers basic monitoring, while Interactive unlocks home automation features and remote access from the Frontpoint app. For extra surveillance options like live video streaming, motion-triggered photos, and night vision, spring for the Ultimate plan.
Points to Consider
A few minutes into the DIY installation, our tester got stuck getting her control panel up and online — it just wouldn’t connect. A help window popped up with a number to call, and a Frontpoint rep helped her troubleshoot the connection. After about 10 minutes, he could tell there was an issue with the circuit board. Certainly not ideal — but the rep apologized and shipped her replacement control panel overnight.
Only one package comes with video
Our tester opted for the Interactive plan but ended up dissatisfied with its lack of video surveillance. When she received an alarm notification while on vacation, she had no way of gauging whether her home had been broken into or if her cat had managed to trip the sensor. (It turned out to be a false alarm — one she paid the local authorities $150 for.) If you opt for a package that doesn’t include video surveillance, consider supplementing it with a standalone security camera. There are some great options on the market for about $200.
Why we chose it
Advanced home automation features
Vivint has been around since 1999 and is known for its cutting-edge technology. We like the company’s automation features in particular. All the systems we considered offer some basic features, but Vivint’s were the easiest to use. With the SkyControl panel, Glance display, or mobile app, you can change the temperature on your thermostat, turn your lights on or off and even have two-way conversations through your security cameras.
Full-featured mobile app
Vivint’s mobile app allows you to arm and disarm your system, view and record camera footage and everything in between. Our tester praised Vivint’s mobile alerts, noting that they come in handy for anyone prone to absent-mindedness: “The notifications for the door sensors are nice in case I open my basement sliding door and leave it open. It continues to check-in and provide a notification that the "sliding door is still open.’”
Our tester felt like the installation technician was a guest in his home — he even came prepared with protective shoe covers and asked to borrow the vacuum to clean up the drill debris. The Vivint tech was also upfront after he noticed our tester had ordered more equipment than he needed. As our tester explained, “I originally asked for an outdoor camera, but after reviewing the house, the tech felt the doorbell camera was sufficient. Turns out, he was right.” That ended up lowering our tester’s expected price too.
Points to Consider
Upfront equipment costs for no-contract option
Vivint offers a month-to-month contract, but you’ll need to purchase all your equipment upfront to open up that option. Like most home security providers, Vivint’s equipment can be costly, and paying upfront might not fit into your budget. If you can swing it, however, month-to-month service is more flexible than a long-term contract — and helps you avoid potential termination fees.
If you don’t buy the equipment outright, Vivint requires either a four- or five-year contract — a long time to commit, especially given that you only have three days from the date of install to cancel. Vivint will waive any cancellation fees for extenuating circumstances like death, bankruptcy or a move to assisted living. Still, it’s best to be intentional if you decide on Vivint.
Why we chose it
Budget-friendly plan options
SimpliSafe features the lowest professional monitoring prices on our list. The company recently released sleeker, more advanced equipment — but it also gives you the option to purchase its original monitoring system at a 15 percent discount or a refurbished system for 25-30 percent less than the newer model. If you’re interested in DIY monitoring, SimpliSafe lets you do so for free; all you need to do is purchase the equipment.
Unlike some systems which require a hookup to a landline phone, SimpliSafe is mostly wireless. All you need to do is plug in the base. Additional equipment, like the keypad and sensors, are completely wireless and mounted with sticky pads, making them easy to install with no drilling required. Another perk is that SimpliSafe’s base is backed by a 24-hour battery, so if the power goes out you’re still secure.
Pet-friendly motion sensors
SimpliSafe’s motion sensors are built to detect humans. Not pets. While a larger pet can trip other providers’ sensors, SimpliSafe’s sensors detect “the unique heat signature of humans” to limit the number of false alarms your pet may trigger.
Points to Consider
No home automation
Our testers unanimously agreed that home automation was the best part of their respective security systems. At this time, SimpliSafe equipment does not pair with or offer electronic door locks, garage door operations, outdoor cameras or temperature-control features. There’s also no voice control option, which makes it impossible to access your system through a smart assistant. Even though you can monitor your home and arm/disarm your system from SimpliSafe’s mobile app, this doesn’t quite measure up to the true automation features other providers offer.
Limited security camera options
While most providers give you the option to add both indoor and outdoor cameras to your security package, SimpliSafe’s selection is limited to one indoor surveillance camera. The camera includes features like free steamable HD video and audio, 30-day storage and night vision, but it doesn’t take snapshots of activity and can’t pan or move — basic features found on most surveillance cameras.
Upfront cost for equipment
Regardless of if you choose a month-to-month professional monitoring plan or opt to self-monitor your home, SimpliSafe requires you to purchase its equipment upfront. Though it’s less expensive than our other picks, packages start at a couple hundred dollars and go up from there.
Why we chose it
GetSafe’s no-contract option offers all of the security with none of the commitment at the same monitoring price as its contract plans. Going with its month-to-month option instead of its one- or three-year contracts doesn’t mean skimping on service, either. You still get helpful features like push and email notifications, system updates and a homeowners insurance discount. (Note: If you choose a no-contract plan, you’ll have to buy your equipment outright. GetSafe’s one- and three-year plans come with a starter kit and a hardware credit for additional equipment.)
GetSafe offers excellent customer support both during and after the purchasing process. Customer reviews note that customer service reps are helpful when explaining products and packages, as well as quick to troubleshoot equipment issues. Along with great service, SimpliSafe also includes regular software updates and enhancements, so you can rest easy knowing your equipment is up-to-date.
AT&T cellular backup
Most security systems have a backup method to contact the dispatch center in case your main connection is comprised. All GetSafe systems include an AT&T cellular 3G SIM card. If your control panel loses its Wi-Fi connection or if its wires are cut, your system will still be able to call for help.
Points to Consider
Difficulty syncing with smart home products
Though GetSafe security systems integrate with home automation products like smart light bulbs, thermostats and garage door openers, some customer reviews indicate it can be difficult pairing GetSafe with these products. Syncing tech can always be a challenge. Fortunately, GetSafe includes a library of video tutorials to walk you through pairing your products.
Upfront cost for starter kit
One of the drawbacks to opting for GetSafe’s month-to-month contract is that you have to pay for equipment upfront. GetSafe’s one- and three-year contracts include the starter kit for free, and its three-year contract also includes a bonus hardware credit of $250. The starter kit costs $249 and, even though it’s less expensive than other providers’ equipment packages, could be too pricey if you’re on a tight budget.
Guide to home security systems
How to find the right home security system for you
Research plans before you call
We recommend you get a good idea of what features and packages you want before calling (but be open to the advice from the sales rep). Our Frontpoint tester called the sales line twice. The first time, she had a good idea of what she wanted system-wise but said she was still shopping around for a provider. The second time, she pretended to be an easy sell who just wanted a system but hadn’t done any research. Her initial call was much more informative and detailed, likely because the sales rep knew she had done her research.
Check for equipment warranties and updates
Keeping your equipment up-to-date is an important part of ensuring you and your home are safe. Out-of-date equipment may not function properly and could leave you vulnerable. Choose a home security provider that offers reasonable equipment warranties and regular system updates.
Consider DIY vs. professional installation
Some providers allow you to install your system yourself. Others, like ADT and Vivint, require professional installation. Professional installation allows for a home security expert to evaluate your home’s security needs and educate you on how to best utilize your system. The drawback is professional installation often involves an additional fee.
Check contract length
The average contract length for a home security provider is around 36 months. Some providers, like GetSafe, Vivint and SimpliSafe, offer no-contract options. However, Vivint offers this with the stipulation that you must purchase equipment up front. If you don’t, you’re locked in for five years. Check with a sales rep before purchasing if you’re worried about a lengthy contract.
Consider security cameras
The best location for your cameras depends on the exact layout of your home, but we spoke with four industry professionals — a former FBI agent with experience testing home security systems, a criminal defense attorney, an ADT spokesman, and the president of a home security company — about video camera placement, and they offered a few general tips:
First priority: Entryways
All our experts agreed that having cameras record the space in front of your house or leading to your door is a smart option. Liu advised having a camera that can cover the entire approach to your home and told us “you want two cameras to cover a long driveway.”
Back doors are another common target. After all, the less attention an intruder draws, the better. Having a camera film any back entrances (or side doors and windows if you lack a backdoor) will help to verify whether someone has broken in. As for placement, somewhere up high where wires can’t be clipped — or by the doorbell, where burglars won’t want to do anything suspicious — is our experts’ advice.
Second priority: Master bedroom
Glenn Kurtzrock, a criminal defense attorney and former homicide prosecutor, told us that based on his experience, most burglars “go for the master bedroom, and won’t waste time in rooms like a kid’s room.” He explained, “burglars don’t like to spend a lot of time in a house regardless of whether there’s a security system” so will prioritize the rooms most likely to have cash, jewelry, or small electronics. Having a video camera that films the entrance to your master bedroom can help provide video evidence for the police should a crime occur.
Third priority: Other high-traffic areas
After that, the best areas for placement are any high traffic rooms, such as a living area or main hallway, that a burglar is likely to pass through multiple times on their way in or out. This helps you track where the intruder has been and increases your likelihood of capturing images that can be used as evidence for the authorities.
Home security system FAQs
What is home automation?
Home automation allows you to remotely control features of your home such as lights and door locks. Most providers even include a mobile app which lets you adjust on the go. With your app or control panel, you can open and close garage doors, control thermostats, turn on lights and more.
What’s the difference between a wired and wireless home security system?
If you have a wired home security system, your control panel is hardwired into your home and connected to a landline. If a burglar cuts the telephone line, your system may not be able to connect to the monitoring station. Wireless systems are generally considered safer, since they can’t be physically cut by potential burglars. Wireless connections aren’t always foolproof, but many systems have algorithms built in to alert you and the monitoring center of any wireless signal interference.
How long does it take for a security system to notify police?
There are two elements at play in an alarm response: the monitoring center’s response time and your local police department’s. The monitoring center associated with your home security system should be notified within seconds of an alarm (and contact you soon after to verify the cause). Police response time may vary, depending on your home’s location and local officials’ availability.
How do I prevent false alarms?
Estimates for home security false alarm rates range from 98 percent to 99.8 percent. Joe Liu, president of Home8alarm, suggests adding video cameras to your system if you’re serious about preventing false alarms: “With [cameras], you can verify every alarm and reduce false alarm rates to zero. You also get more priority with first responders if you have video evidence.”
What is DIY home security monitoring?
DIY monitoring or self-monitoring means that when a sensor is tripped, it’s your responsibility to gauge the alert’s importance and contact the authorities. This could be potentially dangerous if you sleep through an alert that turns out to be a serious threat, but it’s generally less expensive than professional monitoring. Some home security companies like SimpliSafe offer both professional and DIY monitoring plans. If you’re interested in DIY home security, check out our favorite DIY home security systems.
What is professional home security monitoring?
With professional monitoring, a monitoring service keeps an eye on the status of your alarm system and will contact you within minutes of an alarm to confirm if it’s a true emergency. If so, they’ll dispatch the police or other services for you. If you don’t pick up, most companies will call whoever you’ve designated as your emergency contact. If there’s still no response, they’ll typically dispatch the police.
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Local home security reviews
We reviewed home security providers in various cities and states around the country to see how they stack up against our nationwide picks.
Our other home security reviews
We’ve reviewed the entire home security market, we’ve looked at the popular security companies in local markets, and we also took a dive into even more reviews.
Check out our other reviews here if you’re interested in digging deeper into home security: