Home Security 101: From Systems To Components To Lingo Explained

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Burglar cartoonHaving a home security system is more affordable and easier than ever. Long gone are the days of calling a company to come punch holes in your walls for wires and keypads. You can install wireless systems yourself for a fraction of the price.

With so many options in equipment and home alarm companies to choose from, it can be overwhelming. We’ve spent countless hours learning about this topic and love sharing our knowledge with others in hopes they can make use of our extensive research.

Home Security Systems: What Do I Need To Know?

Home Security 101

Burglars have sophisticated break-in techniques and can enter your home in many ways. That’s why it’s essential that you have a system to protect you and the precious things in your home. In addition to monitoring activity from intruders, home alarm systems can notify you of fires, carbon monoxide and even flooding.

The Way Home Security Systems Used To Be

For decades and into the early 2000’s, home security systems were run off of landlines and consisted of door, window and motion sensors (and sometimes cameras). They were hardwired into your home by contractors for an installation fee and monitored by a third-party central monitoring station for a monthly monitoring fee that typically ranged between $30 – $50 per month.

Today, home security systems are very different. These advanced systems don’t require a stranger to enter your home for installation, and it won’t rob your bank account. There’s a small upfront investment in equipment, but it’s well worth it for the peace of mind in the long run.

What Does Self-Monitored Mean?

Many home security systems are self-monitored meaning: you monitor them yourself versus a third-party doing it for you. The advantage of self-monitoring is that there is no monthly fee. The downside is that if you (and your network of designated contacts) have your smartphones off or are “off the grid,” you won’t receive notifications of a potential security threat.

The good news is that you can expand your network of contacts to the point where this risk is minimal. Many systems come with the (optional) ability to record footage (or trigger recording when there is motion sensor activated) for a nominal fee.

DIY (Do It Yourself)

In the last decade or so the home security landscape has changed significantly and taken a shift in the DIY direction. Sensors are now easy to install yourself, and since no ones knows your home better than you do, odds are you’ll secure your home better than a contractor.

Over time, you also have the flexibility to move sensors around your home as you gauge what works and what doesn’t. You’ll also have the option of moving your entire system to a new home free of charge. So don’t be intimidated when you see DIY (it takes less time than scheduling a contractor and waiting around all day for them to no-show).

We have many tips to help you install your security system sensors in the right places. Make your set up go smoothly by reading our security system installation tips article.

Home Security Yard Sign

Get That Yard Sign!

If you do nothing else, having a yard sign and some stickers is a deterrent to those thinking about entering your home without an invitation. (You can read up on the best burglar deterrents and how to scare burglars away.)

You are only “safe” relative to your neighbors. If they have no yard signs and you do, they’ll probably get hit first. If they are “fort Knox’d” out, you may need to “gear up” to compete. Speaking of gear, are you wondering what the various components to a typical home security setup are?

Home Security Components & Terminology

The sensors mentioned here do different things individually but can also work in tandem to ensure maximum protection.

  • Door and Window Sensors – also known as contact sensors, they attach to windowsills or door frames and activate when opened (they can also be used to monitor pretty much anything that opens or closes, like medicine or liquor cabinets, for example).
  • Motion Sensors – usually in the corner of a room, or a high traffic area, they activate when they sense motion within a certain range (one motion sensor can cover several windows and eliminate the need for multiple window sensors).
  • Cameras – can be installed inside or outside of your home to keep an eye on people coming and going (including recording video when they sense motion).
  • Smart Locks – use Bluetooth and/or WiFi technology to provide keyless entry.
  • Smoke Detectors – smoke detectors today function more or less like the old school ones, with the main difference being that new smart detectors (like Nest Protect) can be silenced using your phone, they can trigger video cameras, and even notify you of fire or smoke when you’re not home. Every home should also have a fire extinguisher.
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors – detects carbon monoxide, an odorless gas that can be very dangerous (if this goes off, go outside and seek fresh air immediately).
  • Outdoor Security Lights – activates light when they detect motion within their range.
  • Door Jammers – quick and easy way to reinforce entrance doors.

We also want to mention fire escape ladders here. Even though they aren’t part of a security system, they are an element to keeping your home safe if you have a multi-level home. You can find the best fire escape ladder here.

Keep in mind, every home is unique so not all homes need the same security setup. For instance, a 4th story condo might not need window sensors since that would require quite the ladder. But they could benefit from a smoke detector. A stand-alone, ranch-style home, meanwhile, could benefit from door and window sensors as well as motion lights.

Why Do I Need A Home Security System?

According to the FBI, in 2017, there were 7,694,086 property crimes in the U.S. (that’s just one of the many crime statistics we’ve gathered – you wouldn’t believe some of the others!). While rates vary by geographic area, home intrusions, property damage and burglaries can happen even to the best of us. In addition to general security purposes, there are many other benefits to having a home security system:

  • Find out if there are unwanted animals or intruders in your garage or yard.
  • Know when people are entering and leaving your home.
  • Let people in remotely via access codes (such as the cleaning person or babysitter), or unlock the door for them via your smartphone.
  • Receive alerts when smoke or CO is present in your home (a good way to keep pets safe when you’re not there).

Security When You’re On Holiday

Self-monitored home security systems have mobile apps that notify you when something triggers a sensor. This is especially handy when you’re away for vacation or a holiday and can’t check on your home easily. If you receive one of these alerts, you can contact police or a neighbor to check your home for you. In addition to having a home security system installed, we have more advice on keeping your home safe on vacation.

Another thing to keep in mind during the holiday season is to be on the lookout for criminals. The holiday season is a typical time for online shopping and package deliveries to your home. The last thing you want is a porch thief to steal your new flat screen TV from your front doorstep.

If Amazon is your go-to online shopping retailer, you may want to consider Amazon Key. Amazon offers Amazon Key to Prime customers. It allows delivery people to drop packages off inside your home instead of outside, thereby eliminating the opportunity for criminals to snatch your stuff. You can learn more about Amazon Key (and whether it’s really worth it) in our dedicated review.

We also have more holiday specific safety tips to share with you to help ensure you have a safe and happy holiday season. Read our holiday safety tips.

Now that you understand the value of home security systems, how do you know which system to choose? Let’s dig into that now!

How Do I Pick The Best Home Security System For My Home?

There are hundreds of home security companies on the market, and it can be time-consuming and overwhelming to sift through them all. We’ve done extensive research, taken our findings, and put them into a comprehensive, detailed guide that can make your decision easier.

In our Best DIY Security System article, we review the pros and cons for the best security systems along with pricing, features and more. We update this article regularly so you can rest assured you’ll be getting the latest. You can also learn more about our top 3 picks in our iSmartAlarm ReviewCanary Review and Ring Review. Although it didn’t make our rankings, you may opt to learn more about Piper given some of its unique capabilities – it may be a good fit for your home.

If cost is a major concern, you can also check out our detailed home security system cost article and 5 Affordable Self-Monitored Home Security Systems to read about some of our favorite self-monitored systems. (Canary, iSmartAlarm and Ring all make appearances in that article too.)

Got Questions?

Hopefully, you’ve gained some valuable insights about home security and are starting to see the value it could add to your life. Still have questions? Read our 9 Burning Questions on DIY Home Security Systems to get more answers.

If you come across something you don’t understand or would like us to dive deeper into, feel free to leave us a comment below, or on the respective article you were reading. We’re happy to help in your quest to stay safe and smart!

Are you considering, or do you already own, a home security system?

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Kimberly researches everything before she buys. She wants to make sure she is getting the best bang for her buck by purchasing the best product/service, which is why she loves her work. She has a degree in Multimedia Journalism and has been researching and writing professionally since 2013 to help consumers make more educated decisions.

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