Written By: Security.org Team | Published: March 17, 2023
We know, we know; we sound like a broken record, always reminding you day after day that your home needs an alarm system. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a Brooklyn apartment like us, in a cozy home in the suburbs, or on a sprawling ranch compound out in Montana. If you haven’t invested in home security, you’re vulnerable to home burglary, to say nothing of the possibility of fires and floods.
Here’s something you don’t hear us say very often, though: there are alarm systems out there that just aren’t worth it. We’ll put it another way: if you see a salesman from one of these companies wandering around your neighborhood, lock your door, close your blinds and pretend you’re not home. It’s not just that the three systems below are bad investments. In some cases, they can actually make your home less safe than having no security system in place.
Don’t worry, we’ll get to how to pick out a good system later. Because – wait for it – you definitely need an alarm system. But before we get to what you should look for, let’s talk about what you should avoid.
Three Alarm Systems You’re Better Off Avoiding
We feel so strongly about the problems with these three systems that we don’t even want to waste time on an introduction. You need to know about them now, before you make a decision you may regret later.
We’ll be honest: We like the name of this one. It sort of makes us feel like we’re in a Harry Potter movie, and who wouldn’t love to have their own Hagrid stationed right outside the front door? Unfortunately, this system doesn’t come with any Hagrids. It does, however, come with some headaches.
Our first inkling that something might be amiss with this company was when we discovered a few of their claims weren’t exactly … what’s the right word? … true. For instance, Night Owl claims to be a member of ONVIF, an organization dedicated to standardizing communication between different types of security systems. Membership in that organization would be awesome if it were true. Alas, it is not. Similarly, Night Owl makes large claims about how long its camera batteries last: a minimum of six months, and usually up to a full year. That wasn’t our experience, though. We found they lasted around three to four months, max.
It didn’t help matters that Night Owl refused to give us any upfront pricing information. We had to contact a sales representative, which gave the company a chance to subject us to hard-core sales tactics. Among other things, the representative tried to convince us that we didn’t need door sensors or motion detectors. Turns out, there’s a reason he was working so hard. Night Owl doesn’t sell those things; they only sell cameras and recording devices. That sort of sales approach might work on security newbies, but we know better. Cameras can definitely play a vital role in home security, but you shouldn’t rely on them by themselves. The nail in the coffin? We had to set up and monitor the system entirely on our own.
If you’re looking for a great system that includes both highly-rated cameras and door and window sensors, you might want to check out our review of SimpliSafe.
Safe Home Security
What’s worse than ambiguous technology claims and no upfront pricing? Business practices that are borderline shady. Unfortunately, that seems to be the way Safe Home Security operates (not be confused with SafeHome.org, a reputable site). The equipment wasn’t terrible. A little pricey, maybe, but it all worked, and we received both security cameras and entryway sensors. Equipment prices can reach upwards of $600, though, and the cheapest monitoring plan is $39.99 a month. Compare that to Ring’s monitoring plan, which is a full $20 less.
Our bigger concern, though, was that Safe Home Security insisted we sign up for a five-year contract. That’s quite unusual in the home security market. Most companies offer single-month subscriptions. Shorter subscriptions might cost a little more than signing up for a year or two, but this type gives you flexibility. In fact, few companies even offer five-year plans, let alone require them. We were more alarmed – no pun intended – when we discovered why the company was so anxious to lock us into a contract. Apparently, the company can become downright predatory if you try to get out of that contract. It also doesn’t like to help customers move, for instance, and seems to have no qualms about charging customers for service they don’t actually have. Of course, you can cancel your contract, assuming you’re willing to pay up to $2500. In fact, just recently, the company was forced to pay a $6.5 million settlement for trapping users in auto-renewing contracts and engaging in illegal debt collection practices.
Pro Tip: Most home security companies offer deep discounts, as much as 90 percent, if you’re willing to sign up for long-term contracts. Private Internet Access’ price drops from $11.95 to just $2.03 if you go with a three-year plan.
By far, our least favorite alarm system, though, is Platinum Protection. This is another one of those companies that insist they can only offer service if you sign a five-year contract. Are you sensing a pattern? Worse, the company’s sales force is apparently under so much pressure that they don’t mind telling outright lies to get your business. Ours told us it was easy to get out of that lengthy contract if we needed to, though when we called the company directly, the customer service representative told us in no uncertain terms that this claim wasn’t true.
We should mention that it took us a while to get that answer. Platinum Protection touts its customer service on its website, but as these sales tactics suggest, customer service is actually one of the company’s biggest weak spots. Consider this: just a couple of years ago, Platinum actually fired its entire workforce. Wondering how it deals with customer complaints when it doesn’t have any employees? So are we. In fact, we’re not sure how Platinum Protection is still in business at all. The company was also the subject of a $2 million lawsuit for money it apparently owes to Monitronics, another home security company. No surprise, then, that Platinum Protection does everything it can to keep customers from getting answers. Like other companies on this list, it refuses to publish its price packages. Oh, and if you want to contact customer service, make sure you do it before 9 p.m. because that’s when it shuts down.
You definitely don’t have to sign up for a long-term contract to get a great home security system. Don’t believe us? Check out our list of the best no-contract security systems.
Choosing the Right Alarm System
After hearing about these three systems, you might be turned off of home security completely. Don’t be. There are dozens of great companies out there. Just take a look at our list of the best home security systems. The trick is knowing exactly what to look for.
- Equipment: You always want to start your home security system search by looking for the right equipment. You want high-quality devices, and you want them to make use of the latest technology, like smart home integration and facial recognition. Your most important consideration, though, should be whether the company offers the equipment you need for your particular situation. Do you need indoor cameras, outdoor cameras, smart locks? Don’t settle for anyone who doesn’t offer them.
- Monitoring: We always recommend full-service 24/7 monitoring. It’s by far the safest alternative, and it guarantees your home and family are protected even if you’re under anesthesia at the dentist. If you must go DIY to save a little money, though, you still want a company that at least offers monitoring. That way, you can get it when you need it, like when you go on vacation. In other words, you want to go with a company that offers a number of different options.
- Installation: You can find companies that offer full installation and companies that are completely DIY when it comes to installation. Either can work. You just have to know what you prefer.
- Customer Service: Home security is a very personal product. You’re making an agreement with someone to watch over your family and belongings and keep them safe. There’s no excuse for a company that isn’t responsive to its customer’s needs. You should be able to get help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, via phone or internet, no matter what question you may have.
- Apps: You might have picked up on a theme here by this point. Security is serious business, and you can’t settle for subpar equipment and services. That goes for apps, as well. A company’s app needs to be intuitive and easy to use, it needs to give you total control over your system and, most importantly, it needs to be stable. A break-in or a fire is no time to worry about a wonky app.
- Price: Of course, all of the features your home system includes must come at a price you can afford. Obviously, that varies depending on your situation. In general, we prefer systems that cost between $200 and $600 and that provide monitoring for $20 to $40 a month. Our most important requirement, though, as this page suggests, is options. We’re not signing up with anyone that says we absolutely must sign up for five years.
FYI: When comparing prices, don’t forget to consider any installation fees or what you might have to pay if you move to a new location.
Hopefully, this little exercise didn’t scare you off. That was certainly not our intention. You need a rock-solid home security system, the best you can afford. And the good news is that there are plenty of great ones out there to choose from.
Unfortunately, though, there are also plenty of terrible companies out there, too, companies that won’t keep you safe and that have no scruples when it comes to their business practices. Like anyone else shopping for any other product, you deserve honest information so you can make an informed choice. Home protection is essential, but it isn’t cheap, and we want to make sure you don’t make any decisions you eventually come to regret.