Complete Guide to Home Security Systems

New to home security? Our guide will tell you everything you need to know, from our home security experts.

Aliza Vigderman Gabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on May 21, 2020

Owning a home security system is no longer an option. The world is getting more and more dangerous every day and the way’s crime can affect, change, and potentially devastate your life is becoming broader. In the same respect, the different ways to protect yourself is also growing and becoming more affordable than you ever thought possible. Here are a few of the reasons why having a home security system just makes good sense. Or, skip ahead and check out our favorite home security systems for 2020.

Homeowners Insurance Discount

Some insurance companies offer a 15 to 20 percent discount on their premiums for homeowners who install a home security system. So, over time, this alone could pay for your entire security system. Not to mention it will keep your home safer while reducing the chances of it being burglarized in the first place.

Additionally, if you have other safety features installed with your security system such as environmental protections like smoke and fire detection, water intrusion, and other similar sensors, you could receive an additional discount that would lower your premiums even more.

Crime Protection

Home Invasions

Having a home security system installed is a great crime deterrent. It could also help you react proactively should a criminal attempt to break into your home. Most of today’s home security systems provide a mobile app that can be used to monitor your home in real-time. It will also send you an alert if activity is detected. Having immediate notification of an incident will enable you to contact the authorities, sometimes before a crime actually occurs.


A home security system also helps prevent vandalism because if vandals spot a security camera, they will usually go somewhere else. Additionally, if your property is vandalized and you have a home security camera, the acts of vandalism will be caught on tape which can be submitted to the authorities who can then look for the vandals and have the proof they need to prosecute them once they are found. Also, as we mentioned above, most home security systems come with an associated mobile app that will send you an alert if activity is detected. This allows you to react immediately and respond accordingly, which in some cases will help prevent the act from happening altogether.


Theft can occur inside or outside of your home. Property crimes are one of the most commonly reported crimes in the country. However, having a home security system will serve several purposes when it comes to crime prevention. It can be a deterrent, allow you to react quickly if a crime is occurring, and it will provide you not only with a recording of the crime and the criminal, but it will also provide you with a recording of exactly what was stolen if the crime wasn’t able to be circumvented to begin with. That means you will have the proof you need to give to the police, as well as submit a claim to your insurance company.

Remote Monitoring and Control

One of the best reasons for installing a home security system is to have remote monitoring and control over what is happening in and around your home at all times. Most home security systems come with a mobile app that will enable you to access your security system cameras, monitor everything that’s happening at your home, enable you to control your security system, and will send you activity alerts. For example, being able to pull up and view the live streamed recording of your home will show you if and when your kids got home from school and if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing…or not. It will also help you keep an eye on your pets, monitor contractors, babysitters, and anyone else who enters your home. And so much more!

Emergency Response

Home security systems, especially those with environmental sensors can help you respond immediately to any type of emergency. For example, you and/or the authorities will be sent an alert if the system detects smoke, fire, water intrusion, glass breakage, and/or motion. And, if your home security system has a medical alert feature, you will receive alerts for that as well should an incident occur.

Home Security Considerations

When buying a home security package, there are certain aspects of each type of system you will need to take into consideration before making any final decisions. Here are some examples.

Individual vs Family

If you are an individual without other family members in the house, you are probably not going to need a security system that is capable of being programmed with multiple security codes and other features utilized by family geared home security systems.

On the other hand, if you have several members in your family, you probably need to look for systems that have the capability of holding a wide variety of security codes and possibly other biometrics such as facial and/or fingerprint recognition, etc. Additionally, if you have pets, you should look at home security systems that can distinguish different heat signatures and can tell the difference between a pet and other types of motion. This is especially important if you have pets larger than 30 pounds.

House vs Apartment

Whether you have a house or an apartment will significantly affect what type of system you ultimately buy. If you have a house, well, the sky is pretty much the limit because you can install a wired or a wireless home security system. However, if you have an apartment, that’s a different story. If you have an apartment, you will more than likely need a wireless home security system.

You will also need to obtain written permission from your landlord prior to purchasing your system. Your landlord might have some very specific rules regarding what you can install and how and where you install your new system. There could be privacy and liability issues that determine your landlord’s decision about installing a security system. You should also keep in mind that some landlords might require you to leave your system behind when you move, especially if he/she approved a wired security system. So make sure you check for that as well.

Professional Monitoring vs Self Monitoring

You can purchase a home security system you monitor yourself or one that has professional monitoring available and there are benefits to both. The self-monitoring option is usually free of monitoring fees. However, with a self-monitoring system, you will need to be available to receive activity alerts on your phone at all times so you can respond accordingly. With a self-monitored option, generally, your system will not contact the authorities on your behalf.

Alternatively, a professionally monitored system is usually accompanied by a monthly service fee and a long-term contract, but most of the time the equipment is free. Also, with a professionally monitored system, your home will be monitored by trained professionals 24/7 leaving nothing to chance. And, if unauthorized activity is detected, the monitoring center will contact the authorities on your behalf so you don’t have to worry anytime you miss or can’t respond to a mobile alert.

Indoor Needs vs Outdoor Needs

If you would like to have the inside and the outside of your home and property protected by a security system, you will need to shop for ones that include inside and outside protection. Indoor only security systems generally come with a few basic features such as a control panel, motion detectors, window and door sensors, etc. You can usually add on other components such as cameras, home automation features, and environmental sensors as well.

Outdoor security systems are your first line of defense. With an outdoor security system, the most important factors to compare is how many cameras you will have to buy for the coverage you need. Do you need a wired or wireless system? Is your equipment going to be added to an existing home security/automation system? Will it live stream only or will it live stream, record, and store your videos? Does it include quality cameras that have wide angle lenses and night vision? Is it weatherproof? You will also need to know the different types of outdoor cameras that are available. For example, a bullet camera, dome camera, or a pan/tilt/zoom camera, etc.


Most home security systems come with basic equipment you can either buy together as a package or as a system that can be customized and purchased according to your specific needs.

Here are some examples of the most popular equipment.

Security Cameras

Most security systems come with cameras or have the option to add on as many cameras as your needs dictate.

  • Indoor – An indoor security camera will usually come with a control panel, motion detectors, window and door sensors, and some will have video cameras that are either included or can be added to an existing basic package.
  • Outdoor – Outdoor security systems usually consist of one or more of the following: video cameras, night vision, flood light cameras, and/or motion detection cameras. Others offer the option of discreet cameras that are disguised as outdoor decor, plants, or that can be hidden inside of a tree, etc.

Doorbell Cameras

Doorbell cameras are some of the most popular home security options on the market today. Doorbell cameras usually come with a two-way talk option, intermittent or continuous video recording, different angled lenses, night vision, wired or wireless options, battery backup features, motion detection, cloud storage for your recordings, and a mobile app that will provide you with system controls and activity alerts.

Smart Locks

Smart locks can be bought and installed independent of a home security system, or they can be part of a larger home security/home automation system. They generally include features such as Wi-Fi compatibility, auto lock and unlock using proximity sensors, smartphone controls, and are usually easy to install. They can either be retrofitted to your existing deadbolt or installed as a new locking system. Many of them also come with backup protections, such as a push button keypad and some can even be used with a traditional key should the need arise. And, most smart locks can be installed with only a screwdriver.


Most home security systems work by using different types of sensors that detect various movements.

  • Motion – Motion sensors are designed to detect motion within the coverage area and will trigger the alarm if such motion is present.
  • Door & Window – Door and window sensors are placed on, yep, you guessed it, windows and doors. They are designed to detect when a window or door is breached. If a window or door is breached, it will trigger the alarm.
  • Glass Break – A glass break sensor works by sensing the sound of breaking glass of any kind. It uses a microphone to listen for the characteristic acoustical frequency that breaking glass makes.
  • Garage Door – A garage door sensor works by using an infrared beam of light that is emitted from one side of the garage door to the other. When this signal is misaligned, the sensor detects a problem and the garage door will reverse. The purpose of this sensor is to avoid garage door crushing injuries. Garage door sensors have been mandatory on all garage doors since 1993.

Environmental Sensors

Other types of home security sensors include one or more of the following environmental protections.

  • Flood – A flood sensor is designed to detect water intrusion events in your home. The flood sensor triggers an alarm if it comes in contact with water.
  • Fire – A fire sensor, otherwise known as a fire alarm, is designed to detect smoke and/or heat. When smoke or extremely high heat is detected an alarm will be triggered.
  • Carbon Monoxide – A carbon monoxide sensor is designed to detect a certain amount of carbon monoxide in the air over time. If carbon monoxide is detected under the right circumstances an alarm will be triggered. Carbon monoxide is an invisible deadly gas that when left undetected could cause death.

Buying a home security system with one or more environmental detection features could help you get an additional discount on your homeowner’s insurance. So be sure to let your insurance company know if you have these installed.

OK, now let’s talk about home security system features. What are the most common home security system features, what do they do, and why are they important.


Features! This is the fun part of customizing a home security system. And, with many brands, you can start with the basics and add on to your system as you see fit. What a great way to create your own personal home security, home automation ecosystem.

Let’s start with the home automation features.

Home Automation

Home automation features are part of a smart home system that makes your life easier to manage and control, as well as, help save you money.

Smart Assistant Integrations

Smart home integrations start with a hub that is used to manage and control your home’s other smart features and works by connecting your devices to the internet. For example, Google Home, Alexa, Apple Homekit, etc. Smart assistants can be controlled (in almost any language) manually or by using voice commands.

Here are some of the most popular home automation features.

Lighting Control

With a home automation system, you can control your home’s lighting using your voice. Smart lighting controls are implemented by replacing your current light bulbs with smart light bulbs that screw into your light’s socket just like a traditional light bulb does. These bulbs communicate with your central hub and the internet connects them all together. This allows you to set up automated lighting schedules and remotely adjust your lights from anywhere.

Entry Control

Smart locks are probably the best thing since sliced bread, especially if you have kids or frequently have your hands too full to fumble with traditional keys. The convenience of smart locks is immeasurable!

Smart locks will enable you to lock and unlock your home remotely. With some smart locks, all you have to do is walk within a pre-designated range of the lock and it will, in conjunction with your smartphone, automatically unlock the door. Most smart locks also provide door activity monitoring, digital keys for guest access, and alerts that tell you if the door is closed and locked. And, most smart locks are compatible with standard single-cylinder deadbolts.

In addition to smart door locks, there are also smart garage door openers as well. These will allow you to control your garage door from anywhere using your smartphone. Smart garage door openers communicate using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology. The benefits of having a smart garage door opener include providing you with automated access to your home, many of them use geofencing to detect when you are nearby and will open the door automatically, and some will also alert you if you forgot to close your garage door after you have driven outside of a pre-designated range.

Environmental Controls

Smart home environmental controls are a great way to conserve energy and save money. These features use your voice or smartphone app to remotely control your thermostat, measure air quality, window blinds, and small appliances. There are some that will also monitor and detect smoke, heat, carbon monoxide, and water intrusion events and alert you if they are detected.

Now let’s move on to 24/7 monitoring.

24/7 Monitoring

Different types of home security systems offer different types of monitoring. Therefore, it’s important that you decide which route you want to go before beginning your search for a suitable system.

Self Monitored Options

Self-monitored, or unmonitored home security systems are cheaper in some ways than those that are professionally monitored because there are no installation fees, no contracts, and no ongoing monitoring fees. However, just as with anything else, there are some drawbacks when it comes to self-monitored systems. For example, will your neighbors respond to your alarm if they hear it going off, or are they more likely to ignore it? And even though most of today’s self-monitored alarms come with mobile apps that will alert you if activity is detected, the drawback is that you have to be near your phone, able to check it, and respond accordingly if there is a problem. If you miss an alert, the alarm is essentially useless unless one of your neighbors calls the police.

Professionally Monitored Options

Professionally monitored home security systems offer 24/7 monitoring of your home by trained professionals who will respond immediately if your system is triggered. Many home security brands that offer professional monitoring will provide you with the equipment and install it for free. Then all you have to do is to pay for the monthly monitoring fee. However, the brands that give you the equipment for free will require you to sign a long-term contract in exchange. Opting for a home security system with professional monitoring will generally give you better protection though because your system is being monitored 24/7 and the emergency response center can respond immediately to an activity alert via a cellular or internet connection.

Environmental Protection

When thinking about a home security system, the first thing that comes to mind is not usually environmental disasters. However, having environmental protections in place could not only save you money on your homeowner’s insurance, but it could also save you and your family’s life. And, if they don’t come bundled with the system you’ve chosen, in most cases, they can be added for a minimal cost.

Environmental protections include sensors and/or detectors for smoke, heat, fire, air quality, water intrusion, carbon monoxide, and more.

Video Streaming & Recording

One of the most important features of any home security system is the video cameras and the options they provide for recording and/or storing your video clips.

Generally, a security system that comes with any type of camera will offer live video streaming that you can access using an associated mobile app. Once accessed, you can view your home and/or property at any time. The recording features vary. Some will be on-device recordings (which are free) and others offer cloud recording storage options that usually require you to pay a monthly storage fee for the service.

Additionally, each system is different when it comes to when it records. Some systems are designed to record only when activity is detected and others offer continuous recording options. There are also some systems that don’t offer any recording storage at all. This means if you receive an activity alert, you must access your system immediately to see what’s going on and if you miss the alert,  you won’t be able to see what the alert was for since nothing was recorded. You will only be able to see the date and time an alert was sent—that’s it.

App Control

Just about every home security and home automation system on the market today comes with an associated mobile app that enables you to access, monitor, and control your entire system remotely. This includes receiving mobile alerts when activity is detected, as well as being able to communicate (in most cases) with whoever is at your door particularly if a doorbell camera is part of your security package. These mobile apps are a free service that come included as part of your home security system.

The best part of these apps is that you can easily access your security system and look at the real-time video streaming of your home at any time. The only thing you really need to confirm is that the mobile app included with your system is compatible with your particular mobile device(s). However, most (but not all) mobile apps these days are compatible with both Android and iOS devices.

Another great feature with many of the apps is that you can also control your home automation system with them as well. This means you can control all your home’s systems from one convenient place.


If you are like most people, one of the most important factors when buying a home security system is the cost. So let’s go over the basic costs you can expect when making such a purchase. This will help you budget accordingly.


The cost of equipment will vary depending on which brand you choose because some brand’s give you the equipment at no cost; however, they will require you to sign a long-term contract and pay a monthly monitoring fee in exchange.

If you choose a brand that doesn’t require a contract, these are some of the most common equipment costs you can expect.

As you could probably guess, the cost range of equipment varies greatly because of the different ways each brand presents its options. For example, the equipment, especially if purchased separately can range from as little as $2.50 for a security sticker, $5.00 for a key fob, all the way up to $1,800 for the most elaborate home security package available.  But the most common price range for security equipment is more like $99-$400. You can always shop around for promotional offers or look for Black Friday sales to help you save on equipment costs.


Activation fees, if they are charged at all, are frequently used as a bargaining chip where the company will offer you a free activation fee special if you buy their equipment. So the most common range you will probably see when it comes to activation fees is around $20-$25, but there are some brands out there that charge more. So if you choose a brand that does charge an activation fee, be sure to ask them if they will waive it in exchange for a purchase.


Obviously, the installation fee for a DIY system is zero. But, for the security systems requiring professional installation, the installation fee is usually included as part of the package. However, those that do require you to pay the installation fee, we’ve seen them range anywhere from $50 up to $199. And some brands will even let you spread the payments out over the term of the contract in $10/mo. or so installments.


The 24/7 monitoring of a security system will usually range anywhere from $9.99/mo. on the extreme low end and $59/mo. for the extreme upper end with a wide variety of options in-between. But the most common range is usually around $20-$40 per month.


Some home security brands require a contract and some don’t. The ones that do require a contract—the contracts range anywhere from 12 months to five years. But the most common contract is the 36-month contract, which is what most of them offer.


The installation of your new security system is another issue to consider. There are two types of installation available—professional installation and the do-it-yourself (DIY) option. Then there are two types of systems—wired and wireless. So let’s go over each of these.

DIY vs Professional

A DIY home security system might sound like something difficult, but it’s really not unless you have sophisticated home security and home automation system that only a techno-geek could figure out. And in that case, professional installation is recommended. But for those of you who just want to buy the average system, you can easily do the installation yourself. All DIY home security systems come with one or more of the following: step-by-step installation instructions, DIY installation videos, and customer/technical support services. So you really don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to the installation of your new system.  Of course, you can always have your new security system professionally installed in which case you don’t have to do anything. This will also make sure everything is installed correctly. It’s really up to you which way you want to go.

Now, with that being said, another factor is whether you want a wired home security system or a wireless home security system because the installation will be very different for each of these. This factor could also make the difference between whether you choose to have your new system professionally installed or not.

Wired vs Wireless

Installing a wired home security system is a bit more involved than installing a wireless system. A wireless home security system, which includes most of the DIY systems, is very easy to install. In most cases, a wireless system is a quick peel and stick process or one that only requires a simple screwdriver for installation.

If you decide to buy a wired home security system that doesn’t come with professional installation, you might want to go over the installation process before you make the purchase. If you have some basic skills and the necessary tools you might be able to do the installation yourself. Here’s an example. A basic wired doorbell camera is a pretty easy installation for just about anyone. But a whole home security system that requires holes to be drilled through walls and ceilings is better left to a professional.


The best company reviews come from third-party websites who have spent thousands of hours researching, testing, and compiling the information in an easy to read and understand format. Third-party review websites are generally full of facts versus regurgitated information that was scraped from the internet. These reviews will provide you with detailed information while backing up that information with links to the brand’s official website. And that’s how you will know what you are reading is the truth!

So why shouldn’t you just go straight to the brand website to begin with?

Because a third-party review site has already done all the legwork for you. They will have researched and tested a wide variety of products and services, compiled that information, and presented it to you all in one place. This keeps you from having to jump from site to site just to get the information you need. It will also provide with a one-stop shop. A resource you can use that will make it easier to make an educated decision based on facts.

So let’s talk about company reviews for a minute.


When looking at reviews, you have to read them with the understanding that some of those reviews could have been posted by competitors and/or disgruntled employees, etc. That means you should take the time to read reviews from a wide variety of sources. Look for trends and any comments that are made that don’t fit with what everyone else is saying. Then use a little common sense to determine what fits and what doesn’t. If you find a reoccurring trend over several consumer review sites, then there might be some truth to it. Everything else is probably just bunk! Take a look at our detailed home security reviews below:


Home security systems are now more affordable than ever before. In this day and age, home security systems are no longer optional, they are necessary, and they protect the ones you love most.