Home security system

Thus far, our interactive guides have discussed the practical ins-and-outs of the tools for home and self-defense. Whether it’s a traditional option like a firearm, or a non-traditional option like a TASER, pepper spray, or a high-tech gelatinous-pepper-blasting gun, we’ve assuredly gone over defensive options for just about everyone, worldwide.

However, all those options take time to deploy, whether it’s in seconds, such as a firearm close at hand, or in many more seconds, such as a pepper-gel spray device. And in all cases, the more time you have to bring your defensive tools to bear, the better off you are. And that is where a home security or alarm system comes into play.

As many a self-defense professional will explain, for the most part, “trouble finds you”. A burglar or home invader is not going to break into your home at 7 PM on a Thursday, while everyone is awake and aware of their surroundings. Statistically, the “witching hour” for burglaries and home invasions is either in the afternoon when no one is home, or between the hours of 2 AM – 4 AM, when residents are likely to be deep in sleep, and potentially unaware of a break-in, or if they are aware, they are groggy from sleep and less likely to struggle and offer resistance. The nightmare scenario is if multiple assailants invade your property at that hour, with one or more holding you and your loved ones hostage, and the other helping themselves to your belongings, and perhaps grievously assaulting you or your family.

This is where a home security system comes into play, as part of the overall defensive package of your residence. It offers an initial deterrent to would-be invaders, and as a pointed alert to the residents of the dwelling. Those extra 15 seconds could be the time you need to obtain and make ready your defensive tools and activate your home defense strategy.

In this guide, we evaluate the whole spectrum of home security systems. From do-it-yourself alarm-only kits, to professionally-monitored and installed systems with either a private security or public law enforcement response package.

And, in no particular order, here are our selections…

1. Install Type

2. Response Type

3. Connectivity Type

Scout

Install: Self-monitored plan, Professional monitoring   |   Response: Yourself with self-monitoring, police with professional monitoring   |   Remote Access: Yes, via the Scout app   |   Connectivity: Internet, 4G LTE backup

Product Details:

Equipment Cost: $129 for the Hub, $69.00 for the Door Panel, $29.00 per door/window sensor, $49.00 per motion sensor

Recurring Cost: $9.99 per month for self-monitored plan (relays to your smartphone), or $19.99 a month for professional monitoring

Response: Yourself with self-monitoring, police with professional monitoring

Connectivity: Internet, 4G LTE backup

Remote access: Yes, via the Scout app

One of the new kids on the block of the home security system scene is Scout. Founded in 2013 after an ambitious crowdfunding campaign, Scout sought to lower the overall cost for a modern, high-tech security package for the home. As of this year, 2017, it appears they have accomplished their mission.While the initial start-up costs of the Scout system could be a little high, with the Hub (the “brains”) costing $129, and each sensor being between $29 and $69, covering your average home could cost a few hundred dollars or more. Where Scout shines though is in it’s aesthetics (it doesn’t look like an alarm system), and affordable monitoring plans, both being less than $20 per month.

While the initial start-up costs of the Scout system could be a little high, with the Hub (the “brains”) costing $129, and each sensor being between $29 and $69, covering your average home could cost a few hundred dollars or more. Where Scout shines though is in it’s aesthetics (it doesn’t look like an alarm system), and affordable monitoring plans, both being less than $20 per month.The lower-tier plan clocks in at $9.99 a month, and includes notifications via email, SMS and their app, which works on iOS and Android devices. In this case, Scout leave the response totally in your hands. In the case of an emergency, it will be up to you to notify law enforcement for assistance or backup. The upper-tier plan, at $19.99 a month, includes all this, as well as a professional 24/7 monitoring service which will notify local law enforcement if required. In case of law enforcement dispatch, please always remember the adage, “when seconds count, the cops are minutes away…”. Law enforcement may not arrive in time to assist, and you most likely will have to effect a strong defense for yourself and your loved ones. Still, it is nice to know backup is coming.

The lower-tier plan clocks in at $9.99 a month, and includes notifications via email, SMS and their app, which works on iOS and Android devices. In this case, Scout leave the response totally in your hands. In the case of an emergency, it will be up to you to notify law enforcement for assistance or backup. The upper-tier plan, at $19.99 a month, includes all this, as well as a professional 24/7 monitoring service which will notify local law enforcement if required. In case of law enforcement dispatch, please always remember the adage, “when seconds count, the cops are minutes away…”. Law enforcement may not arrive in time to assist, and you most likely will have to effect a strong defense for yourself and your loved ones. Still, it is nice to know backup is coming.

At the moment, Scout does not offer a video monitoring solution, but word is that options will soon present themselves. Despite that, for a relatively affordable high-tech solution, Scout is a worthy contender

Fortress Security S02

Install: Professional Install   |   Response: Monitored with a response package   |   Remote Access: Limited via calling the system   |   Connectivity: Landline or VoIP with third-party converter

Product Details:

Equipment Cost: $70 for the control panel, $12 for door/window sensors, $35 for glass break and motion sensors, $10 for panic buttons, $20-$100 for various sirens

Recurring cost: None unless you make an arrangement with a professional security company to receive the notifications.

Connectivity: Landline or VoIP with third-party converterRemote access: Limited via calling the system and using tones to control

Remote access: Limited via calling the system and using tones to control

For those who prefer to rely on themselves, and roll their own security arrangements, there’s a litany of do-it-yourself (DIY) home alarm options out there. Some are quite limited, and some are readily expandable, such as the Fortress Security S02.The system we’re reviewing here is their entry level kit, the S02. Affordability is the name of the game with Fortress. Via Amazon or several other quality retailers, you can get a starter kit with the panel, a pack of sensors, and a siren for $130. This basic kit will more than adequately cover an urban dwelling or a small suburban home. Plus, it’s easily moveable and expandable. You can add sensors and sirens at will, including an extremely loud outdoor model (140 dB), as well as smoke detectors, carbon monoxide sensors, motion sensors, and flood sensors.

The system we’re reviewing here is their entry level kit, the S02. Affordability is the name of the game with Fortress. Via Amazon or several other quality retailers, you can get a starter kit with the panel, a pack of sensors, and a siren for $130. This basic kit will more than adequately cover an urban dwelling or a small suburban home. Plus, it’s easily moveable and expandable. You can add sensors and sirens at will, including an extremely loud outdoor model (140 dB), as well as smoke detectors, carbon monoxide sensors, motion sensors, and flood sensors.

Fortress also offers a path to upgrade to highly-sophisticated control panels that include cell and internet notification capabilities. All in all, the system is very modular.

However, in the S02 system, the notification options are very limited. Upon an alert, the system will call out to a user-defined number, and a user-recorded message will play back to the respondent. In most cases, this would be the resident/owner of the dwelling, but some users have made ad-hoc arrangements with local security companies to respond on their behalf. Please note, in most cases, having the system call 911 is not permitted. Check with your local law enforcement professionals first.

The Fortress system is basically a beefed-up notifier for the residents of a home. It leaves the response options solely on the owner. While for some, this may be adequate, but for others, they may desire a professional response as a form of backup. It’s a decision that must not be taken lightly. However, for the DIY-inclined person, the Fortress system might just be for you.

Simplisafe

Install: Professional Install   |   Response: Professional monitoring   |   Remote Access: Only with top-tier monitoring plan   |   Connectivity: Cellular only

Product Details:

Equipment Cost: $114.00 for the Base Station, $70.00 for the Keypad control, sensors range between $15-$50. Cameras $99.00 per camera.

Recurring Cost: $14.00/month for basic professional monitoring with police response. $25.00/month for advanced monitoring including app/email/SMS notifications and remote control.

Connectivity: Cellular only

Remote access: Only with top-tier monitoring plan

Another new player in the scene is Simplisafe. Offering an advanced DIY solution with professional monitoring, the system offers the best of both worlds for some people, a quick no-hassle install, coupled with professional monitoring features. Simplisafe is also one of the few companies offering a DIY kit with a camera system, allowing for authorized users to observe the scene at any time.

The company makes it easy for people to install by shipping all equipment pre-programmed and ready to plug and play, meaning once you connect the pieces and plug them in, they are ready to work. With no contract, you can flexibly opt in for monthly professional monitoring at a low cost. However, if you don’t pay for a monthly monitoring package your system will act as a local system only; meaning, if the siren goes off it merely functions as a noisemaker, but does not contact the police. A potential weak point of the system is it’s cellular-only connectivity to the monitoring center in New Jersey, but if you are using the Simplisafe system as a “tripwire” to effect your own response, this is a non-issue.

The monitoring plans, for those who choose them, are cheap and to the point. The lower tier plan, at $14.00 a month includes basic notifications from the monitoring center and police response. The more advanced $25.00/month plan includes that, as well as notifications via the iOS/Android app, email, and SMS. Remote control becomes possible as well.

Setup is easy and painless and can typically be done for most homes in under an hour. If you are looking for an affordable monitored solution, Simplisafe is a worthy selection.

Frontpoint

Install: Professional Install   |   Response: Monitored with a response package   |   Remote Access: Yes, except with the basic plan   |   Connectivity: Cellular with broadband fallback

Product Details:

Equipment Cost: $99.00 for the control panel, $33 – $75 per sensor, $129.00 per camera

Recurring Cost: $34.00 for basic monitoring, $44.00 for intermediate with geo-fencing alarm, $49.00 for advanced package with home automation

Connectivity: Cellular with broadband fallback

Remote Access: Yes, except with the basic plan

One of the more sophisticated DIY kits comes from Frontpoint. With it’s suite of advanced sensors, control systems, and industrial-grade monitoring stations, Frontpoint has been regarded as the “Mercedes” of roll-your-own security systems.

Installation is a breeze, with the wireless components all being easily configured and recognized by the control panel. Frontpoint handily pre-programs everything when you order your installation kit, so the initial setup is truly plug-and-play.However, a monitoring plan is required for the system to work, but in the case of Frontpoint, it may well be worth it for some applications. Frontpoint’s systems continuously monitor themselves and report to the central monitoring station on their status. When an alert is received, the system goes into “Crash and Smash” mode, which ensures a response even if the system itself is compromised, i.e. the invader smashes the control panel. If Frontpoint doesn’t receive a followup, it assumes the worst and dispatches a police response.

However, a monitoring plan is required for the system to work, but in the case of Frontpoint, it may well be worth it for some applications. Frontpoint’s systems continuously monitor themselves and report to the central monitoring station on their status. When an alert is received, the system goes into “Crash and Smash” mode, which ensures a response even if the system itself is compromised, i.e. the invader smashes the control panel. If Frontpoint doesn’t receive a followup, it assumes the worst and dispatches a police response.The monitoring packages, while pricier than most, include features that most systems don’t. Email and text alerts are standard, and upper-tier plans include remote lock/unlock, automatic arming reminders, i.e. if you go off premises without arming the system, Frontpoint will notify you and you can arm the system remotely. In addition, the top-tier plan includes full climate control for your home. Frontpoint bridges the gap between home security and home automation nicely.

The monitoring packages, while pricier than most, include features that most systems don’t. Email and text alerts are standard, and upper-tier plans include remote lock/unlock, automatic arming reminders, i.e. if you go off premises without arming the system, Frontpoint will notify you and you can arm the system remotely. In addition, the top-tier plan includes full climate control for your home. Frontpoint bridges the gap between home security and home automation nicely.

One caveat, while the system is DIY and can be moved around at will, Frontpoint will lock you into a 36-month contract for monitoring, which may dissuade some users. Regardless, for DIY kits, Frontpoint reigns as a truly top-notch solution.

AT&T Digital Life (formerly Lifeshield)

Install: Professional Install   |   Response: Monitored with a response package   |   Remote Access: Yes, via app   |   Connectivity: Broadband

Product Details:

Equipment Cost: Base station is free with contract. Some sensors included depending on package, beyond that, they cost between $30-$60. 1 camera free with top-tier plan, otherwise it’s $170 per.

Recurring Cost: $30-$60 depending on package and options.

Connectivity: Broadband

Remote access: Yes, via app.

Home security systems have their roots in the big telecom companies (early systems had to be provisioned by the phone company), so it is no surprise that AT&T has moved into the home security realm with a purpose over the past few years, acquiring the firm Lifeshield and looping it in under their DirecTV brand.

The system itself can be installed by the end user, though a professional installer can be dispatched to your residence for a $100 fee. As the system is sold exclusively by AT&T, and preprogrammed for each user, this shouldn’t be necessary, as all the user needs to do is place the wireless sensors and control panel, power up and activate the system, and log into their monitoring account. To sweeten the deal, AT&T is currently offering a free in-home consultation for those who may be undecided as to which package is suitable for them.

Each monitoring package includes professional monitoring and police response, along with remote access and detailed logging and notifications. Yes, you can tell if the front door was opened at 11:34 PM on a random Sunday a year ago if you wish. Upgraded packages include video surveillance, as well as environmental monitoring, i.e. fire, smoke, flooding and carbon monoxide detection. The top-tier package also includes home automation and remote control features.

The caveat, of course, is that the system requires a contract and professional monitoring to work, along with the attending commitments and recurring costs. While a little on the pricey side, the robust and reliable nature of AT&T’s system may lend an extra layer of assuredness to some users.

Link Interactive

Install: Professional Install   |   Response: Monitored with a response package   |   Remote Access: Yes, via app with mid and top-tier plans   |   Connectivity: Cellular

Product Details:

Equipment Cost: Basic control panel is free with a monitoring plan, more advanced touchscreen panels are $100-$150. Sensors are $22-$100. Home automation modules are $50 and up.

Recurring monthly costs: $29.99 for basic monitoring and notification, $34.00 adds home automation features, $39.99 enables remote video features.

Connectivity: Cellular

Remote access: Yes, via app with mid and top-tier plans

One of the modern breed of home security companies, Link Interactive has made waves recently with their truly customizable solutions. While the plans themselves are pretty standard for the industry, where Link shines is in their equipment purchase process. Instead of providing a kit solution, where perhaps the user is left over with unused sensors and cameras, Link simply provides a basic control panel for free with subscription, and leaves it to the user to purchase the needed sensors, sirens, and cameras. In theory, a person dwelling in a small studio apartment could outfit their dwelling with a sophisticated security setup for under $50 to start.

With this modular approach, the system is designed to be rapidly user-installable. Most customers report getting the system up and running within an hour, especially with the aid of Link’s comprehensive support documents and demonstration videos on Youtube.

The monitoring packages are pretty much in-line with other companies’ solutions, offering varying degrees of remote access, home automation, and notification capabilities.

Of course, a contract is required with the amount of free equipment they provide at the beginning, but Link does kindly offer a 30-day window in which to cancel.

Link’s modular approach is very cost-effective, which could prove attractive to some users, and is highly recommended based on the strength of this concept and their stellar customer service.

Xfinity Home

Install: Professional Install, DIY (do it yourself) Install   |   Response: Monitored with a response package   |   Remote Access: Included with app   |   Connectivity: Broadband only

Product Details:

Equipment cost: Generally most equipment is included with your subscription.

Recurring Costs: $40 and up depending on promotion, and customer’s existing status with Xfinity.

Connectivity: Broadband only

Remote Access: Included with app

Xfinity, previously known as Comcast, is a recent player in the home security game. With their huge installed base of cable TV and broadband internet customers, they saw a market opportunity to bundle this service with their other offerings. One can sign up for a “quadruple play” package of TV, internet, VoIP service, and home security, all in one fell swoop. Their proprietary components integrate seamlessly with your other Xfinity gear, and self-monitoring is a breeze through their app.

The system itself is fairly modular, with the included packages covering most needs, such as door and window sensors, optional smoke/carbon monoxide sensors, and home automation capability as well. Due to the proprietary nature of the gear, Xfinity requires a professional installation and configuration at a cost of $99.

Monitoring plans start at around $40, and scale according to add-ons and options, such as the home automation packages. Promotions are frequent, which can drive down the cost for a year or so, but we strongly advise looking at what the final cost of a plan will be, as to avoid “sticker shock” a year down the road when the price changes. Of course, much like their telecom offerings, Xfinity will lock you into a monitoring contract with the attendant early termination fees and moving fees.

However, for simplicity of use and deployment, it’s hard to present an argument, especially if one is looking to get their security system up and running with a minimum of fuss and worry.

ADT

Install: Professional Install   |   Response: Monitored with a response package   |   Remote Access: Depending on plan   |   Connectivity: Cellular, landline, broadband, depending on package.

Product Details:

Equipment Cost: Free with plan, additional sensors are fairly cheap, and items like cameras and home automation devices are free with an upgraded plan.

Recurring Monthly Cost: $36.99 for basic monitoring and notifications. $44.99 adds two-way communication and redundant notifications. $47.99 and up to add home automation, cameras, and remote access.

Connectivity: Cellular, landline, broadband, depending on package.

Remote Access: Depending on plan

When most people think home security, they think ADT. The company has been in the security business since 1874. It started when one of the founders woke up to a burglar in his house, and wondered if a telegraph network could be setup, where the user would trip a semi-automatic telegraph box, which would send an help message to a nearby station, and then armed guards would respond. Today, of course, the systems are far more sophisticated, but the idea remains the same. After all, they came up with it.

Despite their reputation as being for commercial users only, ADT is actually quite affordable, with basic plans starting at $36.99 per month, which include a suite of sensors along with the requisite control panels. Upper-tier plans include remote control features, home automation, and video surveillance. All systems are proprietary and require a professional installer, which is usually an ADT employee or authorized contractor.

ADT is also one of the few companies out there to offer truly custom security solutions, including on-premise armed security. Pricing for these “elite” features is only available via an extended consultation with a company representative.

For the gold standard in home security, period, we can definitely recommend ADT.

Vivint

Install: Professional Install   |   Response: Monitored with a response package   |   Remote Access: Yes   |   Connectivity: Dedicated cellular

Product Details:

Equipment Cost: $550.00 for a basic package consisting of a control unit and a suite of sensors. Cameras cost extra. Financing available.

Recurring Monthly Cost: $39.00 for basic monitoring and notification. $49.00 for monitoring, notification, and video surveillance.

Connectivity: Dedicated cellular

Remote access: Yes

Vivint has recently pivoted their business model, where the user pays for all the equipment up front, or via financing, and is only bound by a low monthly monitoring cost. Unlike most companies, Vivint manufactures their own equipment in-house, and thus is able to offer very customized solutions to the end-user. Due to the proprietary nature of the system, professional installation is required, which is free, unless outdoor equipment is installed, which requires some drilling and labor to perform.

Vivint offers a comprehensive package though for the money. All plans include home automation, comprehensive security monitoring and response, and even medical monitoring for seniors, where the elderly can wear a special “medical alert” fob, and press it during a medical emergency, generating a special code which alerts medical professionals of an impending issue, i.e. paramedics will be dispatched in addition to the police.

Though not a readily recognized name, Vivint’s extra features, such as high-definition video surveillance and medical alerting, may prove attractive to some users.

Slomin's Shield

Install: Professional Install   |   Response: Monitored with a response package   |   Remote Access: Yes   |   Connectivity: Cellular

Product Details:

Equipment Cost: Generally free with installation

Recurring Monthly Cost: $30 and up depending on options

Connectivity: Cellular

Remote Access: Yes

As a company, Slomin’s has been around for about a century, providing home environmental control services, i.e. heating and cooling, to residencies around the country. Adding in security was a no-brainer in the 1980s when the industry really took off. Since then, Slomin’s has been the dark horse of the industry – always there, but not as high-profile as some of it’s other, more flashy competitors.

The biggest advantage of Slomin’s is the up-front cost, which is usually free or negligible. Plans are often quite affordable as well, usually never surpassing $50 per month, depending on whether the user chooses to include video surveillance or home automation. Conveniently, the Slomin’s systems are compatible with Z-Wave technology, an emerging standard for home automation, so the user does have the option to add certain third-party devices to the system. Remote monitoring and police response are standard. Professional installation is free.

There is a catch though. Slomin’s will lock you in to a five-year contract that is fairly difficult to get out of. This isn’t ideal for renters and those whose lifestyle is of a more transient nature. However, for a relatively stable homeowner, the “Slomin’s Shield” is just about perfect, with it’s cost-effectiveness and expandability.

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