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 best home security systems boast friendly, knowledgeable sales representatives, who answered our questions and helped us choose the plans and equipment that would fit our needs best. Most testers were pleasantly surprised with our top picks’ sales reps. The phone calls felt informative but casual; our Vivint tester even felt like the sales rep was a friend looking out for his needs.
Though most systems offer similar features, our favorites lead the pack when it comes to impressive tech. From control panels that look sleek in any home to helpful mobile apps that alerted us whenever we left a door open, we were seriously impressed with the level of technology that went into making these systems.
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. Our top picks were easy to use — and easy to incorporate into our daily routine.
The 3 best home security systems
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.
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.
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 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.
Call to get the best price
The average contract length for a home security provider is around 36 months. Some providers, like Vivint, 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 purchase if you’re worried about a lengthy contract.
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.
Where should I position outdoor security cameras?
Installing security cameras to record activity at the front of your house or leading to your door is a smart option. Installing cameras near any back or side doors/windows can also help verify whether someone has broken in. Place cameras up high where wires can’t be clipped — or by the doorbell, where burglars won’t want to do anything suspicious.
Where should I position indoor security cameras?
Glenn Kurtzrock, a criminal defense attorney and former homicide prosecutor, told us most burglars “go for the master bedroom... Burglars don’t like to spend a lot of time in a house regardless of whether there’s a security system.”
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. 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.