Home Security 101

Dashia Starr
Updated Mar 2, 2020
4 min read
Thinking about home security but don’t know where to start? Contracts, costs, equipment oh my! Don’t worry, we’re here for you. This guide has everything you need to know about today’s home security, what to expect and best of all, where to start. 

What’s Included in a Home Security System Today?

Your home security needs are unique and so is your system. Generally, there are a few equipment essentials that home security companies offer.

  • Entryway Sensors: Devices installed on doors and windows around your home to sound an alarm and send an alert when entryways are opened. Most providers include 3 – 4 in their basic package.  
  • Motion Detector: A device installed to detect and alert you of any movement when your system is armed.  
  • Control Panel: A computer hub to control all of your security equipment at home. If you don’t get a control panel, you’ll have a keypad to arm and disarm your system, and signal for help if there’s an emergency.  
  • Keyfob: A wireless remote to arm and disarm your system when you’re within feet of your home. Keyfobs also include a panic button in case of an emergency.  
  • Monitoring: Alerts you’ll receive when your system’s sensors are triggered. Some providers notify you via text, phone call or email. Monitoring can be professional or DIY depending on your provider.   

Of course, many companies let you add extra equipment to meet your needs. Some providers offer security cameras, smoke detectors, glass break sensors and more as extra equipment to keep your home safe. We picked the best home security systems to help you get started. 

  • Best home security for industry experience

    ADT Home Security

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    Our Take on ADT Home Security

    ADT Home Security is a well-known name in the home security industry. It offers traditional security that requires professional installation and monitoring at a steep price.


    • 6-month money-back guarantee
    • $500 theft protection guarantee
    • High-quality equipment


    • Must pay for an extended warranty
    • Lengthy contracts
    • More expensive than competitors

    Research ADT

  • Best smart home security

    Vivint Home Security

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    Our Take on Vivint Home Security

    Vivint is our top choice for smart home security with an extensive line of equipment filled with smart features. The control panel also doubles as a smart hub. The only downside is that Vivint requires a long-term contract if you finance the equipment. Professional monitoring and installation are also required. 


    • Smart Hub to connect and control smart home and security devices
    • Extensive smart features for security equipment including package detection and Smart Deter
    • Wide range of security and smart home equipment


    • Contract required for service and financed equipment.
    • Professional monitoring and installation required
    • Expensive equipment compared to other providers

    Research Vivint

  • Best pet-friendly home security

    Frontpoint Home Security

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    Our Take on Frontpoint Home Security

    Frontpoint Security lets you choose both your package and monitoring plan to help build the best home security system for renters and homeowners alike. Monitoring can be costly, but free DIY installation helps lower costs without reducing reliability or protection.


    • No lengthy contracts
    • Excellent customer service
    • Variety of equipment to choose from


    • Monitoring fees are relatively expensive
    • Short trial period (30 days)
    • No professional installation option

    Research Frontpoint

  • Best landline monitoring

    Protect America Home Security

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    Our take on Protect America Home Security

    Protect America stands out for its low-cost landline monitoring and great coverage for rural areas. Its professional monitoring has over 25 years of award-winning service and monitoring plans based on connectivity type. If you’re looking for a capable no-frills home security system you can install yourself, Protect America is a good choice for your family.


    • Price match guarantee
    • Smart home devices and features
    • Mobile app access & control


    • Contract required
    • Must upgrade to get video surveillance, smart features, and smoke detection
    • Cellular monitoring is the most expensive plan

    Research Protect America

  • Best overall DIY security system

    SimpliSafe Home Security

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    Our take on SimpliSafe Home Security:

    SimpliSafe Home Security is our top pick for inexpensive monitoring, durable equipment, and reliable services that simplify home security. You’ll have all the right devices and features to give you peace of mind — even when the unexpected happens.



    • Inexpensive professional monitoring
    • Wireless equipment
    • Cellular monitoring


    • Mobile alerts not available in the basic monitoring plan
    • No selection of smart home devices
    • Smart home capabilities not available in the basic monitoring plan

    Research SimpliSafe

What’s the Difference?

When narrowing down your home security options, you’ll have a lot to choose from. And each has its own pros and cons. Here’s what you can expect:

Professional vs. DIY Installation:

Pro Installation

Professional installation is a hassle-free setup from a trusted professional technician, and you’ll get an in-person tutorial to help you use your equipment without worry. You’ll feel comfortable knowing your equipment is installed correctly. 

But, professional installation can be costly. Some companies charge at least $99. If you need to move and reinstall it, you may need to pay a technician to re-install it for you. Lastly, most technicians must be scheduled in appointment windows, so you’ll need to be at home for a few hours. Keep in mind, sometimes pro installation is an option, but if your equipment must be hardwired a technician may be required. On the other hand, some DIY companies offer professional installation but don’t require it. 

DIY Installation 

If you’re not sold on professional installation a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) setup may be best. DIY installation is free because you’re installing your equipment yourself and on your own time. The best part is that if you move you’ll be able to pack and reinstall your system yourself without extra costs or time from a technician. 

Some DIY companies send equipment that’s pre-configured to make installation easier. But, be careful of installing on your own. Some install their equipment incorrectly, which could break any guarantees or warranties your security provider may offer for your system. Use the installation guide, customer support and any videos for a secure setup without worry.


Professional vs. Self-Monitoring: 

Pro Monitoring

Professional monitoring gives you the home security protection you need without worry. Your provider’s monitoring agents will respond to any triggered sensors or suspicious activity – even when you’re away. They’ll give you a call, alert your emergency contacts and alert the police to your home no matter where you are. 

But, professional monitoring comes at a monthly cost – some companies as low as $14.99/mo. and others up to $57.99/mo. for monitoring on upgraded plans like video surveillance. Some professional monitoring services are month-to-month without a long-term contract, while companies require one. 


Fortunately, many DIY security companies have self-monitoring for you to keep a watch on your home without the pros. You’ll use your provider’s mobile app to see live camera footage and get instant mobile alerts when sensors are triggered. But if there’s a fire, break-in or another emergency you’ll need to notify the police or fire respondents to your home yourself.


Cellular vs. Landline:


Cellular technology can be used to send your system’s signals to the monitoring center without requiring a home phone. Keep in mind that your system may not work without a backup battery. And if your cellular service is spotty, the connection to your monitoring center will most likely be, too. But if your connection is strong, you should expect fast response times and alerts without worry.  


Some security systems require a landline, or home phone, to stay connected to your provider’s monitoring center and transfer sensor signals. Unfortunately, some thieves are familiar with cutting landlines to disconnect your security system before breaking in. They’re also slower to communicate to monitoring centers. 

Add Up the Costs

GettyImages-1172587378-minThe costs of a home security system can vary depending on your provider’s options and your security wish list. But we’ve put together some ballpark price ranges for you to consider as you narrow down your security choice.

  • Equipment: Equipment is the majority of your home security costs and it will vary based on your package. Vivint’s Starter Kit costs $599.99 total over the course of the contract. On the other hand, Ring costs $199 upfront for their Alarm Security Kit. If you want to connect your smart home devices to your security system you’ll likely need an upgraded plan and add-on equipment. You’ll also want to ask if you’re leasing the equipment for the duration of your contract or if it’s for keeps.

  • Installation: Installation can range from free to a one-time fee ranging from $79 up to $100 depending on your provider. If you choose DIY installation you’ll save this cost.

  • Activation: To get your system up and running, you may need to pay an activation fee. This one-time fee could cost up to $100. Keep in mind, if you move you may have to pay installation and activation fees again for your system.

  • Monitoring: If you prefer self-monitoring, you won’t have to pay this monthly cost, but if you choose professional monitoring the cost will vary based on your provider and package. ADT monitoring costs from $45.99/mo. up to $57.99/mo.

  • Video Surveillance: Many homeowners like to add cameras for extra security. Cameras typically range from $100 – $200 depending on its features. If you’d like to add cameras to your home, you’ll want to factor in a few costs. The cost of cloud storage to encrypt and safely store your footage can vary. Arlo only charges $1.99/mo. while Blue by ADT charges $19.99/mo. as a part of their Professional Monitoring plan. Keep in mind, this cost could vary if you choose continuous video recording (CVR) to record 24/7 or if you have multiple cameras. 

These costs are common among most providers, but remember that each security solution is different. Always ask about additional fees, upfront costs and monthly charges so there aren’t any surprises. 

Before You Sign the Dotted Line

If you choose a security provider that requires a contract for a long-term commitment you should always read the fine print. If you have questions about your contract be sure to reach out for clarity before signing. After all, it’s legally binding.

  • Ask about cancellation terms and fees in case you need to cancel. 
  • Be aware of all upfront fees and rates that could potentially change during your contract length.  
  • Understand what your home security provider will cover in the event of a burglary, fire or flood emergency. This is also the perfect time to ask about equipment guarantees and warranties. 
  • Ask what happens to the equipment after your contract is complete. Is it returned to the provider or is it yours for keeps?

Keep Reading

You’ve got everything you need to start your home security journey. Want to learn more about home security terms, companies and equipment? Check out some of our resources for more help with picking the perfect provider and package for your home. 

Home Security Writer

Dashia Starr

Dashia researches and writes on all things home automation and security. She focuses on the latest news, products, and providers to share only the best with you.

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