How to Choose an Alarm System for Your Home

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Any number of events may prompt you to start looking at home alarm systems. Maybe there's been a string of burglaries in your neighborhood, or you have a new baby and have started thinking harder about the importance of keeping your family safe.

Fortunately, there are more home security options than ever before. The age of technology has brought with it diverse choices, from professional home alarm companies to complete DIY systems.

If you've already decided to install a home alarm, you're making a wise decision. A security system is one of the best ways to deter thieves, making it more difficult - and riskier - for them to break into your house.

Key Considerations When Choosing a Home Alarm System

The only question now is what kind of system to install. Should you choose from the top home security companies or one of the many DIY home security systems on the market? In this guide, I'll outline the available options so you can make the best choice for your family's safety and peace of mind.

There are a few things to keep in mind as you evaluate the best home alarm systems. The factors that apply to you will depend upon the type of setup you choose.

  1. You may need a permit. If you opt for professional monitoring as opposed to MIY (monitor it yourself), your municipality may require you to register your home alarm system. The fees are nominal. For example, if you live in Miami-Dade County, FL, you'll be charged an annual $25 registration fee. In Los Angeles, the fee is $37 and $30 to renew yearly. Check with your local law enforcement agency about permit requirements in your area.
  2. False alarms may also cost you. False alarms make up about 10% to 25% of calls to law enforcement. Local police departments have become frustrated with the manpower and other resources that must be spent responding to these calls. Many now charge you a fine if your system contacts them and they come to your home only to find nothing amiss. These fines range between $25 and upwards of $100 per incident, and some cities raise the fee for every subsequent false alarm.
  3. You can save money on your insurance. Some of the best home insurance companies offer a discount if you subscribe to professional home alarm monitoring. According to the Insurance Information Institute, you may save between 5% and 20% on your homeowner's insurance premium by installing a home alarm.

There's no question that home security alarm systems reduce your risk of being targeted by criminals. Even better, they can have an effect on your entire community. A comprehensive study by Rutgers University showed that the more security systems installed in a neighborhood, the more crime in that area decreased overall. That peace of mind can prove invaluable for you and your family.

Home Alarm Options

It used to be you were limited to hiring a professional to install and monitor your security equipment. Today, however, you have three choices when it comes to installing an alarm system for your home.

In reality, 911 dispatchers classify a crime in progress by the available audio, video, or eye witness evidence, regardless of whom that information is coming from.

Professional Installation and Monitoring

If you opt for a company like ADT or Guardian, they'll handle the installation, the monitoring, and any repair or maintenance. If your system detects a break-in or other emergency event, such as fire, at your home, the CMS (central monitoring station) will contact emergency services for you.

Your home alarm system will either be hardwired into your phone line or operate via a cellular connection. This option is typically the priciest, as you're paying for equipment as well as a monthly monitoring fee.

Self-Installation with Professional Monitoring

As technology has become accessible and easy to install, home security has gotten simpler than ever. There are several systems on the market which save you money by allowing you to do the installation yourself while giving you the option of professional monitoring. Examples of this type of security system include:

  • SimpliSafe - this system comes in a selection of packages to fit any size home. You can choose among sensors, cameras, a panic button, and more. SimpliSafe is one of the few home alarm systems that gives you the option of self-monitoring or professional monitoring.
  • Protect America - this company is unique in that they provide a guided self-install process followed by professional monitoring. Protect America does not offer installation services, thus keeping the cost of service lower than many other home security companies.

Self-installed systems operate via cellular technology, so there is no need to cut holes in your walls or perform complicated electrical work.

Self-Installation with Self-Monitoring

Smartphone apps and plug-and-play equipment now give you the option of running your entire home alarm system on your own. Products made for this type of home security alarm setup range from a single hub with a camera, motion sensor, and siren (like Canary) to complete, expandable home alarm systems which integrate with your home automation (Samsung's SmartThings).

My research turned up a few notable things about this type of home security product:

  • Some are more expandable than others, so make sure you can add enough components to cover all your entrances.
  • You're responsible for contacting 911 if your system sends you an alert. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as it can cut down on false alarms.
  • MIY home alarms operate via your internet connection, so battery backup is an important feature to look for in case the power goes out.
  • Some systems only work with their own home security cameras and some work with third-party products.

MIY home alarms are gradually making their mark on the industry. This is partly due to the fact that they're more affordable than traditional professionally installed solutions. It's also because they're becoming more easily integrated into smart home systems, which are becoming more ubiquitous every year.

Alarm Monitoring

You may be interested in a self-monitored security system yet have concerns about whether or not it can protect you as well as a home alarm that's connected to a CMS. So how does a self-installed home security alarm measure up when it comes to actually getting help in an emergency?

The truth is that whether you subscribe to traditional monitoring or have an MIY system, the process is much the same:

Professional Monitoring

When your alarm is activated, the CMS calls the first two people on the RP (responsible party) list to verify that there is an emergency or unauthorized entry. This may be done through the use of audio or video evidence or an eye witness such as you or a neighbor. Once the company determines that it's not a false alarm, the representative contacts 911.


If you're at home, you verify that there is a breach and then contact 911. If you're away from home, you and/or the RPs whom you've programmed into your system will receive an alert via text, phone call, email, and/or push notification. You can then utilize your video camera or audio monitoring to determine whether there's an intrusion or other emergency taking place.


Many people are concerned that their MIY home alarm will take lower priority as compared to calls originating from a CMS. In reality, 911 dispatchers classify a crime in progress by the available audio, video, or eyewitness evidence, regardless of whom that information is coming from.

Questions to Ask

There are things you'll want to know before deciding which home alarm system is right for you.

Questions to ask about professionally installed and monitored systems:

  • What is the chain of events if my alarm goes off?
  • Do I have to sign a contract, and how long is it?
  • Is the system expandable?
  • Is there an equipment warranty?
  • Is there any home automation support (i.e. can I connect smart door locks, lighting, etc.)?
  • Can I control my home alarm through a mobile app?
  • Is there cellular backup built into the system in case the phone line is cut?
  • Will I need a SIM card?

Questions to ask about self-install/MIY systems:

  • What do home alarm system reviews say about this product?
  • Is there are a warranty and/or tech support?
  • Does the system integrate with other home automation devices?
  • Is the siren loud enough to alert neighbors? (look for a minimum of 90 dB)
  • How user-friendly is the mobile app?
  • Is there optional professional monitoring?

These are just a few of the factors to consider when deciding on the best way to protect your family and belongings. Your choice will be guided by your personal preferences as well as how you intend to use the system (for example, keeping an eye on kids, monitoring for fire, or just as a burglar alarm).

Home Alarm Systems Costs

While it's impossible to put a price on the safety and security of your home and family, the budget is an unavoidable factor in choosing a home alarm system. The cost of your security system will depend on the type you choose and whether you add professional monitoring.

Cost of Professionally Installed Alarm Systems

Having your alarm installed by a professional security company is definitely the more expensive option. This is because there are start-up costs in addition to monthly monitoring fees. Possible costs include:

  • Installation - this ranges from free with some higher-tier packages to $99 or more.
  • Equipment - base packages start around $200. Some companies offer "free" equipment but bear in mind that you'll still pay for it in a higher monthly premium.
  • Activation - this cost also varies between free and a couple hundred dollars, depending upon the package you choose and available promotions.
  • Monitoring - packages run between $10 and $60 or more per month and cover basic burglar monitoring to total home security with fire and carbon monoxide protection. Keep in mind that extra peripherals such as video cameras and smoke detectors may incur additional charges.

If you choose to go with professional installation and monitoring, the most important thing is to read all of the fine print in your contract. The last thing you want is to be caught off-guard by unexpected charges on your first bill.

Cost of DIY Home Alarm Systems

Going with a DIY/MIY system will save you hundreds of dollars on installation and monthly monitoring fees. Basic units with a motion detector, siren, two-way audio, and even video start around $200. These all-in-ones are great for small homes or apartments.

While DIY is a cost-effective home security alarm solution over the long term, equipment costs can escalate quickly as you add components. Things like extra door and window sensors and wireless security cameras range from $30 to $150 each. Even so, a comprehensive setup that covers all of your main floor points of entry will still run you less money than a monitoring contract.

According to FBI data, a burglary occurs in the United States every 20 seconds.


The best home security systems are a combination of effective protection, user-friendly operation, and affordability. Ultimately you want to choose a system which will not only protect your family and valuables but is also easy for you to control and offers the features you want. Whether you prefer a DIY home alarm or a professional install, there are plenty of options available for any budget.

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