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Home Security 101: Getting Started

Burglar cartoonHaving a home security system is more affordable and easier than ever. Long gone are the days of calling a company to come wire through your walls and having a big bulky keypad installed on your wall. Thanks to smart home technology you can install wireless systems yourself for a fraction of the price. And, with additional features like cameras, door bells and sensors, you can stay secure and keep an eye on things while you’re away, all while not poking holes or making a big mess!

But with so many options in equipment and home alarm companies to chose from it can be overwhelming. Don’t worry! We’re here to help answer your questions and explain everything you need to know about home security and how to be smart about it. We’ve spent countless hours for the past years learning about this topic and love sharing our knowledge with others in hopes they can make use of all our research. Ready to get started? Use the menu below to navigate to the topic of interest or keep scrolling to read it all.

Home Security 101

Home security is more advanced than just a deadbolt on your door. Burglars have sophisticated break in techniques and can enter through your home in a number of ways. That’s why it’s important that you have a system to protect you and your precious belongings inside (including loved ones). In addition to monitoring activity from intruders, home alarm systems can notify you of fires, carbon monoxide and keep an eye on family members (including your pets!) while away. And all these advanced systems won’t rob your bank account either. There’s a small investment in equipment upfront, but we think it’s well worth it for the peace of mind in the long run.

Self-Monitored vs Professionally Monitored Security Systems

Many home security systems are self-monitored, meaning just as the name implies: 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 if you (and your network of designated contacts) have your phones off or are “off the grid”, you won’t receive notifications of a potential security threat. The good news is 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 motion is censored) for a nominal fee (but still less than you’d be paying for full-service monitoring).

DIY (Do It Yourself)

First, a quick background on home security systems. For decades and into the early 2000’s, home security systems were run off a landline and consisted of simply 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 fee that typically ranged between $30 – $50/month. 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 whisking from one home to the next. 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!

Home Security Yard Sign

Get That Yard Sign

If you do nothing else, having just a yard sign and some stickers is a deterrent to those thinking about entering your home without invitation. You are only as safe as your neighbor in other words. If they have no yard sign and you do, they’ll probably be 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? Read on to find out…

Home Security Components and Terminology

The sensors mentioned here do different things individually but can also work in tandem to ensure maximum protection. If you’re interested in learning more about any of these, click on the ones with links for a more in-depth review including our recommended picks for that category.

  • Door and Window Sensors – attach to window sills or door frames and activate when opened
  • Motion Sensors – usually in a room corner or high traffic area, they activate when they sense motion within a certain range. A motion sensor can cover several windows and eliminate the need for window sensors.
  • Smart Locks – use Bluetooth and/or wifi technology to provide keyless entry
  • Door Bells – typically with video capability, they can also include motion sensing, night vision, and integrations with security systems and smart home products (such as with Nest) as well as notifications
  • Smoke Detectors – just like the old school ones but new smart detectors can be silenced using your phone, trigger video cameras, and notify you of fire/smoke when you’re not there
  • Carbon Monoxide Detector – detects carbon monoxide leaks, an odorless gas that can be very dangerous (if this goes off, go outside and see fresh air immediately).
  • Outdoor Security Cameras – see what’s going on outside, rain or shine, night or day (many have night vision capabilities)
  • Outdoor Security Lights – activate light when motion is sensed
  • Wifi Security Cameras – record and monitor activities inside the home

Keep in mind, every home is unique so not all places need the same thing. For instance, a fourth story condo might not need window sensors since that would require one heck of a tall ladder, but it could benefit from a smoke detector or indoor security camera. A stand-alone, ranch-style home, meanwhile, could benefit from door and window sensors, outdoor cameras and motion lights. And in case you’re curious to learn more about lights specifically, we’ve got that covered as well: Home Surveillance Cameras 101.

Why Do I Need a Home Security System?

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in a 2016 report, 1 out of 10 households suffered from property crime in the U.S. in the prior year. 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 a number of other benefits to having a DIY smart home security system:

  • Get photos of package snatchers
  • Find out if there are unwanted animals or intruders in your garage/yard
  • See your pet’s activity while you’re not home
  • Keep an eye on your children or use as a baby monitor when not in the room
  • Recognize who’s ringing your doorbell (delivery person, solicitor)
  • Let people in remotely via access codes or unlocking door via smart phone (cleaning person, babysitter, etc.)
  • Get alerted when smoke or CO2 is present in your home (CO2 or carbon monoxide sensors are especially important when you’re asleep at night since CO2 is an odorless gas)

Now hopefully you’re convinced but how do you know which system to go with? Let’s dig into that now that you have a better grasp on what they are and how they work.

Video: Home Security in Action

This short video from Nest shows their Nest Cam and Nest Cam Outdoor in action.

They also have a smart thermostat and smart smoke detector (not pictured in video) but you can read about them in our Wifi Thermostat Review and Smoke Detector Review (spoiler: Nest was the top pick for both).

Picking the Best Home Security System For Your Home

There are hundreds of home security companies on the market, and it can be time-consuming and overwhelming to sift through them all. The good news is that we’ve done all the heavy lifting for you and over the years have become very familiar with the good and the bad. We’ve taken our findings and put them into a comprehensive, detailed guide that can make your job easier. In our Best DIY Security System article, we review the pro and cons for the best products along with pricing, features and more. And we update it regularly so you can rest assured you’ll be getting the latest. You can also check out 5 Affordable Self-Monitored Home Security Systems to read about some of our favorite self-monitored systems.

Why Trust Our Reviews?

Our reviews are conducted in an unbiased fashion by independent writers that do rigorous research and gather reader and consumer feedback from various sources around the web. Check out our Review Process for details.

Is Home Security Worth It?

By now you’re hopefully ready to make the investment. But if you are still struggling to justify it to yourself or are questioning whether or not it’s worthwhile then let us put your mind at ease. We know every penny counts when it comes to your home, and those bills can add up quick. But in our opinion, the small investment is a small price to pay for peace of mind in the long-term.

Got Questions?

Whew! You made it to the end. Hopefully, you’ve gained some valuable insights about home security along the way 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 after that, you’re still stumped, we’re here for you. If you come across something you don’t understand or would like us to dive deeper into, feel free to leave us a comment on the respective article you were reading, or Post a Reader Question. We’re happy to help you out in your quest to stay safe and smart.

Are you considering or do you have a home security system?