Playing It Safe: Your Guide to Home Security Systems



It used to be that home security systems were reserved for people who lived in palatial digs with private servants and swanky cars parked in their garages. Thanks to the ever-falling price of consumer electronics, however, some type of home-monitoring and/or security system is well within reach for nearly everyone who owns their own home. Here we’ll take a look at a variety of systems to help you choose the right one for your needs and budget.




At the most basic end of the spectrum for home security systems are stand-alone window and door sensors. These devices consist of two parts – one which goes on the door or window and one that goes on the frame. When the two parts are separated when a door or window is opened, a high-pitched siren sounds which could just be enough to scare off a would-be intruder.


Good For: These systems are good for people who are on a tight budget and have at least basic DIY skills to install the sensors. They’re also probably best for people living in low-crime areas as the alarm simply sounds in the home, and doesn’t lead to the dispatch of any emergency services.


Best Options: The wireless door and window alarms by Wsdcam are a solid choice. At $12.00 each, The alarms install using simple peel-and-stick adhesive and they are operated via a remote control so that you can turn them on and off easily, from wherever you are in the house. If the remote control feature isn’t important to you, Doberman Security makes a set of four alarms for just $9.99 that can be turned on and off with switches on the side.

If you can go up just a little more in your budget, then the BIBENE Door Alarm System for $24.99 is worth a look. The system comes with four sensors and a remote panel that lets you set up a password to keep the alarms from being turned off by an intruder. The system is expandable to up to 40 alarms, which can be placed in four different zones. When an alarm goes off, the remote panel lets you know which zone is affected.




Between the basic systems above and systems that are monitored by a security company (which we’ll get to next) are streaming cameras. These stand-alone cameras connect to the WiFi system in your home and let you access them from apps on your smartphone or sometimes via a website. Some cameras simply let you take a look at your property when you’re not home, while others provide motion detectors that will ping you when movement is detected in the camera’s field of view. Nearly all stand-alone cameras these days feature the ability to record either clips or full minute-by-minute video that’s either stored in the cloud or locally on an SD card.


Good For: People who would like to check up on certain rooms of their house while they are away and who have minor security concerns. While using a system like this could alert you to unexpected movement in your home, it won’t sound an alarm and you’ll still need to alert the authorities yourself if you get a notification on your smartphone, which could buy an intruder valuable time.


Best Options: The Amazon Cloud Cam packs a lot of features into an affordable device, at just $119.99. It steams in 1080p full HD video and stores the last 24 hours of any clips triggered by movement for free in the cloud. You can access the clips and the video feed via any device, and the system offers two-way audio so that you can hear what’s going on or communicate with an intruder or anyone else in your home. Amazon offers upgraded cloud-storage packages ranging from $6.99-19.99 per month which provide person-versus-pet detection, the ability to tell the camera to avoid monitoring certain zones, and increased storage from seven to 30 days.


For the same price, Samsung’s SmartCam is also worth a look. It offers the same high resolution and night-viewing capacity as Amazon’s device, with a slightly larger field of view (128° versus 120°). It also offers sound and movement alerts. The real difference between the two, though, is that the Samsung device can record on a inserted Micro SDXC memory card. The camera can take up to a 64GB card, which means it can store up to seven days of action, which can save you the cost of a cloud service. The app also lets you tailor what should be saved to the card.


While both of these cameras are fine for indoor use, if you want to set up streaming cams outside your home, your choices will be a little more limited. The Nest outdoor security cam at $166.91 is one good option. It also offers movement detection with smartphone alerts, a two-way audio system, an impressive 130° wide-angle range, and night vision. To store video though, you’ll need a Nest Aware account that costs $10 per month for a 10-day video history or $30 per month for 30 days of storage.


If you’d rather not pay a monthly fee for storing your clips, EZVIZ offers a security package including four cameras and a 1 terabyte hard drive that stores your streaming video for only $179.99. The included app lets you check out the feed from any of your cameras while on the go.



If your security needs go beyond blaring loud noises or eavesdropping on the rooms in your home when you’re not there, then you might want to consider graduating to a monitored system. These packages include a range of sensors for your home, but the differentiating factor between them and the other systems mentioned here is that a central monitoring station is alerted when anything is amiss. This allows them to more quickly dispatch emergency services to your home if they are needed. The first type of monitored security system you can install is one in which you do the work yourself.


Good for: Individuals who don’t mind spending some time targeting potential areas of invasion in their homes, ordering the correct equipment and setting the sensors and cameras up themselves.


Best options: SimpliSafe is generally well-regarded in this arena. The company offers a range of self-install sensors including the usual door and window sensors as well as devices that can keep an electronic ear and eye out for flooding, freezing, glass breaking or smoke or carbon monoxide. Entry sensors run $14.99 each, motion sensors are $29.99 and the company’s camera is $99. You’ll also need to pay for a base station that acts as the system’s hub and alarm for $114.99 and a keypad from which you can operate the system for $69.99. Packages which feature some combination of this equipment can bring the per-item price down a bit. After that you have the option of adding on monitoring for the cost of about $25.25 per month for the best package or about $15.20 for a more scaled-back version.


Frontpoint offers an alternative to SimpliSafe, with cheaper equipment costs but higher monthly fees that climb from $34.99 to $44.99 to $49.99. The company’s website also requires you to enter your contact details for a follow-up sales pitch before you can see any options, which might turn some customers off.




Aside from on-site private security, which truly is something reserved for the realm of the one percent, the best you can do to keep your home safe is to go with a professionally installed and monitored system. These tend to be the costliest of all options, but the peace of mind they bring might simply be worth it.


Good for: Those living in higher-crime areas or looking to have the confidence of knowing that their security system has a team of human beings always at the ready to help dispatch appropriate emergency services.


Best choices: The two leaders in this category of security systems are Vivint and ADT – and their offerings are quite similar. With Vivint, you must purchase your hardware, which runs at minimum $549 for the control panel, two entry sensors and a motion detector. Additional equipment is available for an extra fee (extra entry sensors, for example, cost $39.99 each). The cost of the equipment can be spread out over monthly payments. While monitoring is not necessary with this system, it costs $39.99 per month for the Smart Protect Plan which covers basic door/window sensor monitoring. The Smart Home Plan jumps to $49.99 per month which brings control of additional devices like cameras and smart locks.  


ADT has long had a good reputation in the home security arena, but that reputation comes with a price. To get set up with alarms and some smart home devices could easily run you over $3,000, with basic monthly monitoring $28.99, but quickly rising to $60 or more, based on ad-ons. ADT also forces you into a three-year contract, which is definitely a turn off for some consumers, especially considering that you need to pay off the contract (a la the cell phone industry) if you cancel the service before the end of that term.


Both companies offer a similar range of monitoring and safety equipment including indoor and outdoor cameras, smart doorbells, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and more. Both companies also make it impossible to view equipment and monitoring prices on their websites – a factor that could easily drive consumers to DIY systems like SimpliSafe.


Still, if you want top-level home security and you want someone else to do the work for you, both Vivint and ADT are well worth considering.


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