Home Security: The Basics

How It Works

Each home security system works a little differently, but the basics are the same. Here’s a quick overview of how a typical home security system works, and which components are included:

  • Control Panel and Keypad – Most home security systems are controlled by a control panel and keypad. This system acts as the “brains” of the security system. Homeowners operate their home security systems through the keypad. This is usually placed in an easily-accessible part of the home and includes the codes to arm, disarm and call for help.
  • Motion Detector – Several different versions of motion detectors exist on the market, including radar-based, photo-sensor and passive infrared. Most create an invisible barrier or shield within your home, and will sound the alarm if it detects motion in guarded areas.
  • Door/Window Contacts – These sensors trigger the alarm siren when a door or window is opened or broken while the alarm is armed.
  • Handheld Arming Devices – Many home alarms offer additional arming features that allow you to arm and disarm your system from a distance. These may include keychain remotes, personal panic remotes, or security applications for smartphones.
  • Monitoring Centers – Alarm companies generally have 1-4 customer monitoring centers where home security agents watch over your home while your system is armed. When an alarm is triggered, the agents attempt to contact you. If they can’t reach you, they call the local authorities for help.
  • Video Surveillance – Some home alarm systems offer video surveillance for additional protection. Cameras mounted inside or outside your home let you keep tabs on who’s coming and going.
  • Medical Alert – This is a particularly helpful feature for homeowners with elderly relatives, disabled persons, or young children living at home. This feature lets you call for help during a medical emergency – often with the press of just one button.
  • Fire Monitoring, Flood Detection, Carbon Monoxide Monitoring, Freeze Monitoring – Many home security companies offer these services for an additional fee. They can help protect your home and family from harm during accidents or natural disasters.

Contracts vs. No Contracts – Should I Sign on the Dotted Line?

The word ‘contract’ can be intimidating, especially when it comes to your home. In the last few years, home security companies have started promising service with ‘No contracts’ and ‘No commitments.’ It sounds great, but when it comes to home security, it is important to look at the pros and cons of signing on the dotted line.

To Sign:

Most large home security providers require you to sign a customer service contract when you sign up for their services. These contracts typically range from one to three years. This may seem like an overwhelming commitment, but contracts can be a huge plus when selecting a home security provider. They typically mean you’re guaranteed dependable service, reliable products and the benefits of working with a trustworthy company. Security systems can also reduce your home insurance premiums, so signing a contract with a reputable security company could allow for lower insurance rates for the duration of your contract.

Or Not to Sign:

If you find a security company that doesn’t require a contract, make sure the offer isn’t too good to be true. And more importantly, make sure their services are reliable. You need to know that they will be there for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Reading the fine print: Questions to ask before you sign:

  • What happens to your service if you move?
  • How long is the contract?
  • What are the billing cycles?
  • Can you register your security system with the local police department in case of emergency?

Home Security Installation – DIY or Hire a Pro?

Do it yourself or hire a professional? This is a growing debate when it comes to installing a home security system. The first step is deciding which type of system is best for you – wired or wireless. This will be the biggest factor in determining whether you should handle the installation on your own or bring in a pro.


Wired home security systems nearly always require professional installation. The task can be daunting, costly and require lots of drilling. A hardwired system’s additional wires and components make installation easier if done pre-construction, which is why they’re popular among people building new homes. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be installed later; you’ll just want to hire a professional installer to make sure the work is done properly. Many home security providers require or include professional installation at a small cost when you sign up for their services.

Hardwired systems also generally run cheaper than wireless systems, making them an attractive selection for many homeowners, especially during tough economic times. And the heavier hardware gives many homeowners a better sense of security. Hardwired systems run on electricity, which means there’s no chance of a dead battery preventing your home security monitoring from working. Plus, electricity-based systems typically don’t intercept radio frequencies, such as from a passing police cruiser, which can accidentally trip your alarm.


With wireless systems, it’s possible for the dedicated do-it-yourselfer to handle the installation but a professional install is still your best bet. Some companies ‘sell’ their wireless security systems as just that – completely wireless. But in reality, nearly all systems require some wires, drilling and labor. Hiring a professional – or taking of advantage of professional installation provided by several of the larger security companies – will give you the peace of mind that your security system is in place and keeping you safe.

The wireless system is also the only option for homeowners without a landline telephone, since its communication signal is transmitted by cell phone technology. So cell-only families no longer need to install a costly telephone line just to receive monitored home protection.

Wireless systems also tend to use the most recent technology, which means you’ll always have state-of-the-art equipment. The downside to this, however, is that they’re more likely to become outdated faster than traditional wired systems. But for the technology lover, replacing a system every few years isn’t a big deal, especially if it means maintaining a stronger sense of security.

Whatever system you choose, both are reliable safeguards against possible threats to your home and family.