What the Top Home Security Systems Have in Common – And What They Don’t

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As burglary statistics rise, more Americans are choosing to protect their homes with security systems. These consumers benefit from a healthy competitive market environment, with approximately 13,000 alarm companies to choose from. So, what security features spell success? What characteristics do the top home security providers have in common, and how are they different?

Mobile Apps and Remote Control

When you visit home security websites, in addition to the standard picture of a smiling family, you’re likely to see a new element: a smartphone.

The top home security systems have gone mobile. Many providers call it “interactive,” meaning your security system can communicate with you when you’re not there, and vice versa. The alarm system feeds information to you, or receives commands, over the internet. You access it using an internet-connected device, such as your computer, smartphone or tablet. Then you can arm or disarm the system, learn who and when people entered your house, or receive alerts notifying you of potential trouble.

In today’s mobile environment, this kind of connectivity is expected. Customers want access to the information they need, regardless of where they are, or what time it is.

Some top home security systems include free mobile apps, but most companies have varying rates for their monthly monitoring packages, and the interactive plans are more expensive. There are two primary differences to look for when selecting a provider: 1) how much extra do they charge for interactivity, and 2) which devices are covered. Some systems only work with iPhone. Others include Android. Many, however, do not include Blackberry, Windows Phones or tablets. Make sure your device is covered before you sign up.

24/7 Monitoring

A home security system is not effective unless someone is available to take action when a break-in or other issue arises. An empty, unprotected home is a burglar’s favorite target, and the majority of burglaries take place during the day, when many people are at work.

All the top home security systems offer professional monitoring, round-the-clock, protecting your home even if you’re not there. However, burglary is not the only threat, and here’s where security systems vary. Typical monitoring services dispatch the police when intrusion is detected. But what happens if there’s a fire? Some – but not all – systems have the sophistication to distinguish between a fire alarm and an intrusion alarm, so the monitoring team can dispatch firemen instead of cops.

But what if your pipes burst, flooding your house? What if someone has a heart attack? If your security system monitors for “Environmental” emergencies, you’ll be protected from elements such as flood, water leaks, freezing pipes and carbon monoxide. Medical or “Life Safety” monitoring covers health emergencies, dispatching an ambulance when needed.

When choosing a home monitoring system, be sure it covers all types of emergencies and includes a comprehensive selection of specialized sensors.

Wireless Alarm Systems

Many top home security systems use wireless equipment, offering consumers great advantages over the old-fashioned, hard-wired variety. Simple, DIY installation is Advantage #1. Since wireless alarm system components connect automatically, without wiring or complex programming, it’s no longer necessary for customers to hassle with professional installation. No more skipping work to wait for the guy to show up.

Wireless security equipment ships straight to your house. You place it where you want it and activate it over the phone. Then it simply works. You save time, hassle and money – no installation fee! If you’re painting, redecorating or adding a room, you can move the equipment, because it’s not permanently affixed to your walls. This flexibility advantage is huge if you move to a new home.

Does Wireless Mean Cellular?

Many of today’s top home security systems claim to be wireless, but be wary: their claim may be misleading. They may have wireless equipment, but often they don’t offer cellular monitoring – and that’s a problem.

In home security there’s an important distinction between wireless and cellular. The equipment within the home communicates wirelessly. But the system also needs to communicate outside the home, sending alerts to a central monitoring station. With the best home security systems, this communication is cellular. The cellular link is safer and more reliable than a wired telephone line, because it can’t be snipped or blown down. Even under the worst of conditions, the cellular alerts will get through.

If your security system doesn’t have cellular monitoring, it will require professional installation, to connect it with your home phone line. Then you’ll lose the convenience of DIY, PLUS you’ll have an unreliable connection to the monitoring station.

Advanced Technology

Today’s tech-savvy consumer has grown accustomed to the conveniences that technology brings, and welcomes the “home of tomorrow.”

Today’s top security systems are contributing to the evolution of the advanced “smart” home. With a simple, yet sophisticated control interface, today’s most popular alarm systems integrate features such as video monitoring and automated utility control.

Security cameras greatly enhance the users’ ability to stay connected when they’re away. These cameras send live video footage from the home to the user’s computer or mobile phone, using the home broadband connection. The best security camera systems also record footage automatically, any time a security sensor triggers in the home.

Utility control is more commonly known as “home automation,” meaning you can automate and control your lights and heat/cooling from anywhere. Home automation saves on your utility bills, while adding comfort and convenience. Door locks can also be integrated with your security system, and controlled from afar.

Many, but certainly not all, top security systems offer these attractive options. Pricing will vary widely.

Attractive Pricing

Price is obviously an important factor in any buying decision, and the top home security providers must offer competitive pricing to stay in the hunt. Perhaps the exception is ADT, which leverages their name-recognition in order to offset their higher rates. ADT is especially expensive on the installation side, and has add-on fees, charged monthly, for almost all the features we’ve described above.

Don’t base your security system selection on the prices you see advertised. Many providers advertise a low price, but then add on for the features you really want. Watch out for extra fees related to everything from shipping to interactivity.

Customer Satisfaction

The industry’s top security companies are definitely NOT equal in customer satisfaction. The reviews on sites such as Angie’s List, Epinions, Yelp and Yahoo tell the real story. It’s also surprising to note how few of the well-known home security companies are accredited by the BBB. The largest number of negative reviews and customer complaints are for ADT, but again, since they have name recognition, perhaps they don’t need to take great care of their customers. Protect America and Vivint have also created more than their share of angry, dissatisfied customers. Vivint, in fact, was called APX Alarm until early 2011, but rebranded itself soon after experiencing difficulties in court for deceptive trade practices. Read the details in this BBB report.

Today’s home security systems offer amazing benefits over the systems sold just ten years ago. But there are still important differences between the top providers. Here’s a summary of what to look for:

  • Interactive apps for your mobile device
  • Cellular monitoring, for no extra fee
  • Comprehensive monitoring plans
  • A variety of features, cameras and sensors
  • The best overall pricing
  • The best customer reviews
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