Best Self Monitored Home Security Systems - 2020
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Customizable security package that covers every part of a home.
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Simple, all-in-one system that’s perfect for small spaces.
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Home security systems have become an affordable amenity for every homeowner, but not everyone wants a system that’s monitored by a security company. Fortunately, there are many systems on the market that give homeowners the power to self-monitor, which means they can monitor their own home. A self-monitored system gives homeowners protection and peace of mind without the cost of a monitoring company. Since alarm technology is now largely controlled by mobile apps that notify homeowners about disturbances, professional monitoring is no longer a requirement.
Home security systems have evolved. Every homeowner now has the ability to purchase, install, and self-monitor their home with today’s advanced security systems. While there are many systems to choose from, this guide should help homeowners narrow their search and make an informed security decision.
What is a self-monitored home security system?
A self-monitored home security system relies on the homeowner to watch their home and contact police in the event of an emergency. A self-monitored system doesn’t mean a homeowner has to sacrifice any features. Homeowners can customize the system to their needs and can decide to have the unit professionally installed or do it themselves. Unlike other monitoring options, self-monitored systems don’t have a monthly monitoring fee.
What other monitoring options exist?
A self-monitored system isn’t the only monitoring choice. A homeowner can also choose a professionally monitored system or opt for on-demand monitoring.
A professionally monitored system is watched by an alarm company from a monitoring center. If there’s a problem, the company contacts the homeowner and the authorities. If the homeowner confirms there isn’t an emergency, police aren’t contacted. If the homeowner can’t be reached, the company accesses the situation and can contact the police if necessary. Homeowners pay for a security system to be professionally monitored. There’s a monthly monitoring fee that typically ranges between $15-40 a month.
Homeowners can also have their system monitored as needed. This option is referred to as on-demand monitoring. If a homeowner goes on vacation, for example, he or she can opt to have a monitoring company watch their home while they’re out of town. In this case, the homeowner is only charged for the monitored time.
How does self-monitoring work?
Many home security systems make it easy for homeowners to monitor their house. The alarm systems are connected to a mobile app, which can give homeowners the ability to view their home in real-time via live-streamed cameras.
However, a homeowner doesn’t have to watch a video feed 24/7. The systems alert homeowners to problems as they happen. Using a combination of security cameras, door and window sensors, and motion detectors, the system can detect problems. If there’s a disturbance, the system alerts the homeowner via text message, push notification, or email.
Some systems send homeowners a picture or video of the disturbance so the homeowner can access the problem in real-time. If there’s an emergency, it’s up to the homeowner to call the police.
Some of the apps give homeowners the ability to program emergency numbers into the app, while others pre-configure 911 into the app so the homeowner can reach police with one button tap.
Why people select a self-monitored system
A self-monitored unit is appealing to many people, but here’s why many people pick this kind of system:
The biggest reason people opt to monitor their own system is to save money. As mentioned, self-monitoring doesn’t cost anything while professional monitoring has a monthly fee. Research shows a self-monitored system could save homeowners between $120-$780 a year, according to HomeAdvisor.
Homeowners using a professional monitoring company are often asked to sign long-term contracts for the service. In some cases, the contracts can be up to three years long. Contracts can be very difficult to break too, even if there’s a legitimate reason to end the relationship, like moving. Self-monitored systems don’t have contracts.
Convenient systems make monitoring easy
With the advances in technology, monitoring a home security system is fairly easy. Since the security systems alert homeowners to suspicious activity via a smartphone, monitoring a home is as simple as checking a text message. Given how convenient self-monitoring has become, many people don’t see the need for a monitoring company to be involved.
Many security companies with professional monitoring rent their equipment to homeowners and take it back once a contract is terminated. The homeowner still pays for the use of the equipment and the monitoring service, but once the contract is over, the equipment must be returned. With many self-monitored systems, homeowners pay for the equipment upfront and own it. Period.
What does the installation process look like?
The installation process of self-monitored alarm systems is designed to be simple. Many companies claim their equipment can be installed in about an hour without the use of any tools. With most self-monitored systems, there’s no need to connect to a home’s electrical grid or even drill holes to mount sensors. Installation is streamlined and meant for DIY home security. However, professional installation can be an option.
The installation process varies by system, but here’s the basic set up process:
- Download the app: To get everything started, homeowners must download the security app. The app will likely provide set up instructions.
- Pick camera placement: Decide where indoor cameras will sit. The easiest placement is on a tabletop or shelf. Keep in mind, most indoor cameras must be plugged into a wall socket, which may limit where the camera sits. Before settling on a spot, check the camera’s feed through the app to see the camera’s field of view. Adjust the camera so the biggest area is seen.
- Hang sensors: Most systems come with a few sensors. There’s usually one for the main door and possibly a few for main windows. Sensors have a peel-and-stick back so they’re easy to secure to any surface.
- Connect to the internet: Most systems work via the internet, so the app will prompt the homeowner to find the correct network and connect to it.
- Customize notifications: Using the app, homeowners can usually decide what notifications are sent and whether they’re delivered via text, push, or email. In some cases, the system can even alert homeowners by sounding an alarm on a phone.
Advantages of a self-monitored home security system
There are many benefits to selecting a self-monitored system. The advantages include:
- No monthly fees: A system that’s self-monitored doesn’t require any monthly monitoring fees. Avoiding a monthly fee could save homeowners between $15-65 a month, which can add up over time.
- No calls from a monitoring company: A self-monitored system avoids speaking with someone from the monitoring company when an alarm is triggered. Let’s face it, false alarms are fairly common. If a homeowner forgets their keys and goes back inside with the alarm engaged, or an outdoor motion sensor is triggered by a neighborhood cat, it can set off the alarm. With a professionally monitored system, the homeowner will be contacted by the monitoring company every time the alarm goes off, unless the homeowner disables it quickly. False alarms happen. With a self-monitored system, a homeowner won’t receive calls from a monitoring company. Instead, homeowners access the alarm themselves and take the necessary action.
- No false alarm penalties: Homeowners with a self-monitored system are less likely to dispatch the police for a false alarm. Since the homeowner is in charge of the system, police are only contacted if there’s a real emergency. On the other hand, a professional monitoring company will contact police if a homeowner can’t confirm a false alarm. If police are contacted for a false alarm, homeowners may have to pay a fine for dispatching police unnecessarily. A self-monitored home limits the potential for false alarms and subsequent penalties.
Disadvantages of a self-monitored home security system
Self-monitoring is a popular choice among homeowners, but there are a few drawback everyone should know about. The disadvantages of a self-monitored unit include:
- No fail-safe: If there’s a real emergency and the homeowner can’t get to their phone, no one calls for help. If a homeowner is knocked out by a burglar or doesn’t receive an alarm notification when an intruder breaks in during the day because their cell phone doesn’t get reception at work, the police won’t be contacted.
- Systems rely on the internet: To get notifications, the owner has to be in cell range. Alerts won’t go through when a phone is stuck in a dead zone, which can limit a homeowner’s ability to monitor their home.
- No duress option: A professionally monitored system often comes with a duress PIN. If an intruder forces a homeowner to disarm the system, the homeowner can turn off the alarm using the duress PIN. While the alarm is off, the duress code serves as a secret signal to the monitoring company to send help immediately. Self-monitoring systems don’t have this option.
What to look for in a self-monitored home security system
Many companies offer self-monitored units, so the number of choices can be daunting. To help narrow the search, homeowners can use this list of things to look for in a security system.
Before selecting a security unit, know how the system works. Many security units use WiFi, cellular signals, or ethernet cables to communicate. The most common choice among homeowners is WiFi connectivity since they’re easy to install and easy to work with. However, homeowners with weak internet shouldn’t opt for a WiFi-driven system since the signal will continue to drop and render the security system useless. If WiFi isn’t an option, cellular connection is a good alternative. Ethernet cables can connect a system as well, but that means cables. Typically, a system with ethernet cables is professionally installed since the wires should go through the wall and tap into a home’s electrical grid.
To monitor a home effectively, a homeowner should be notified of any disturbance. Every system varies in its notification process. It’s important to know how a system contacts a homeowner and what triggers the alerts. Look for a system that gives homeowners the ability to customize alerts. A homeowner should be able to choose what qualifies as an important event and how the notification is sent, whether its via text, push, or email.
A few years ago, there were only a handful of security companies in the game. Now, there are dozens. Homeowners selecting a system should look for a reliable, reputable company. Many of the best security companies have been in the home security business for decades, long before the idea of self-monitored systems even existed. Reputable companies tend to have better equipment and customer service as well.
Take some time to read online reviews and not just those on the company’s website. Look at the Better Business Bureau website specifically. If a customer has a lodged a complaint about the company, its staff, or its equipment, it will be on that website. Other third-party reviews sites should be checked as well. Consider asking neighbors for recommendations on security systems too. They may even suggest a local company with a strong reputation that can professionally install the equipment.
Video recording isn’t a standard option on most security systems. Homeowners looking for a system that offers video recording should make sure the option is available rather than assume it is. Storing video is also a concern. Video files are large, which means a lot of space is needed. There are a handful of companies that offer free video storage, but the video is sent to a cloud account and only kept for a few days. For longer access to video, expect to pay a monthly storage fee.
To minimize video storage needs, consider security cameras that only record when triggered by a motion sensor. The motion sensor eliminates the need for 24/7 recording and massive amounts of storage space. While cloud storage is the most convenient, some systems include local storage options. Local storage means the camera is able to record video to a memory card that’s installed inside the system. Memory cards are often sold separately.
Frequently asked questions about self-monitored units
Can family members help monitor my home?
Yes. There are self-monitored systems that give access to a home’s security app to up to 20 family members. However, shared monitoring isn’t a feature available from all companies. If this is a high priority, be sure to research the company’s features or speak with a representative directly.
Does self-monitored mean I have to install the system myself?
No. Self-monitoring doesn’t mean DIY installation. There are many companies that offer self-monitoring and professional installation. Keep in mind there will be a one-time installation fee. The fee will vary depending on the complexity of the system. There are also companies that offer support hotlines for people trying to install a system on their own, so if a question comes up a homeowner can get answers without staring at a manual for hours.
Are self-monitoring systems wireless?
The term “wireless” is used in two different ways when it comes to security units. The first refers to a system’s internet connectivity. Many systems are wireless in the sense that they function via a wireless internet connection. The second refers to the entire system being wireless; meaning no cords whatsoever.
Most systems are wireless, but few are wire-free. Most systems are powered through a wall socket. While this cord doesn’t have to be hidden in the wall, it can limit the placement of the system or camera or hub. There are a handful of wireless, wire-free systems that run on battery power. However, these systems do require regular battery replacement. Homeowners looking for a wire-free system should also make sure the security app will send alerts when batteries run low.
How are self-monitored systems sold?
Self-monitored systems, like most security systems, are sold online and are typically sold in packages. Many self-monitored packages come with a starter kit that usually includes an in-home camera, a door and window sensor, and a base station to connect the devices. Most companies give homeowners the ability to add additional components like another camera, contact sensors, a panic button, keypad, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, or a key fob.
Are outdoor cameras part of self-monitored systems?
Most of the self-monitored starter kits don’t include outdoor cameras. Outdoor cameras are a little more difficult to install since they have to be mounted to a home. Exterior security cameras are also more expensive since they are made to withstand the elements. In an effort to keep starter kits easy to install and affordable, they’re often left out of the basic packages.
However, if a homeowner is interested in outdoor cameras, they can be added. As mentioned, most companies offer a few basic packages and then encourage homeowners to buy additional components a-la-carte.
Do self-monitored systems offer home automation integrations?
A growing number of people use smart home devices to control things remotely, like the thermostat or lights. Voice activation platforms like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant are common as well. There are self-monitored systems that offer home automation integrations, many of which work with smart locks as well. Most of the companies specify their automation options on the home page.
Best self-monitored security system to choose from
Homeowners looking for the best self-monitored security system should consider these options:
SimpliSafe is a well-known security company that offers a variety of high-quality security equipment. Many of their larger packages include professional monitoring, but several of their basic cameras are self-monitored. The SimpliCam is an indoor camera that lets homeowners stream live video and uses a motion detector to detect trouble. If there’s motion detected, the system will send a mobile alert. The company also offers a doorbell camera that can monitor the front door.
✓ Live streaming
✓ Reputable company
✓ Easy installation
✗ Limited options
✗ Bulky camera design
iSmartAlarm offers more homeowners self-monitored security packages that offer complete home coverage. The company has created a series of starter kits that include more than its competitors offer. The packages include cameras, contact sensors, smart switches, remote tags, and motion sensors. The company has a reputation for creating high-quality security equipment. Unlike other companies that do offer professional monitoring as an option, iSmartAlarm does not. Instead, the company focuses on selling the best security components for full house coverage. The system is compatible with Amazon Alexa and is expandable.
✓ Company solely focused on self-monitored systems
✓ Full house coverage
✓ Competitive pricing
✗ Complicated packages
✗ Limited home automation options
Abode Iota is an all-in-one device that includes an HD camera, motion sensor, and a two-way intercom. The camera is simply placed on a table, plugged in, and connected to Wi-Fi. The installation takes 30 minutes or less. This small system is ideal for people who only want to monitor one room, or for renters looking to secure a small space. Many people put the camera in the main room to keep an eye on the front door as well. Homeowners can add to the camera system. Adding window and door sensors is a smart choice and are simple to connect to the camera. The system can be controlled through an app, keypad, or key fob, depending on a homeowner’s preference.
✓ HD quality camera
✓ Easy installation
✗ Limited coverage
✗ Limited app customization
Ring alarm is most known for its doorbell camera, but the company also has several self-monitored packages for home security as well. The main difference between Ring and its competitors is that their basic starter kits don’t include cameras. The packages include door and window sensors, motion sensors, a keypad, and a base station. To add cameras, they must be purchased separately. In addition to cameras, the company offers a variety of add-ons that give homeowners the ability to protect their entire home from property crimes and emergencies like fire and carbon monoxide.
✓ Full house coverage
✗ Cameras are add-ons
✗ Limited home automation options
Canary View is another all-in-one camera system that’s easy to set up. The camera is plugged in and connected to Wi-Fi, that’s it. This system doesn’t require a hub, the only piece of equipment is the camera. As with other all-in-one systems, the camera uses a motion sensor to detect problems. If there’s trouble, the camera alerts the homeowner. The camera has a nice design so it blends in with home décor, rather than being an obvious camera sitting on a table. The camera has a wide-angle lens, night vision, and a two-way intercom to speak with people remotely. The camera comes with a one-year warranty and is the most affordable option with a price tag of just $99.
✓ Easy to install
✗ Limited coverage
✗ Limited growth potential