Your laptop is the width of a sheet of cardstock, you have a killer sound system, and your TV is so high def that you can count the pores on the panelists of Check, Please! But your security system is a chair propped up against the back door — the one that swings open during thunderstorms. Home security systems have come a long way in the past few years, and most consumers haven’t kept up.
Our Picks for Best Home
From sensors that alert you if your pipes freeze, to cameras that stream video when your doorbell rings, there’s an incredible range of features that can help keep you, your family, and your home safe. Whether you’re vacationing far away from frozen Lake Michigan, or asleep in your own bed, home security systems provide more than physical safety — they give you peace of mind.
The Basics of Home Security Systems
Depending on the security system you choose, your home will be protected by assorted devices and sensors that communicate with each other through WiFi, Bluetooth, or a physical series of wires. Some may monitor unauthorized access through your doors and windows, and others may be tied to smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If one of these sensors detects something amiss, it will trip your alarm.
As your alarm sounds, a few different things will happen based on which setup you have. If your system is connected to a call center, you’ll get an immediate phone call to find out if there is an emergency, or if you just burnt a batch of cookies. If you’re unsafe or not home, the police and/or fire department will be dispatched to your residence.
To get set up for a professionally monitored system, you just need a cell phone, landline, or a broadband internet connection. This option will require a monthly fee starting at $15, with most bills in the $40–$50 range.
You can also opt for a DIY security system. With this type of setup, you won’t be connected to a monitoring service, so when your alarm goes off, you’re on your own. The major benefit of a DIY system is cost. Once you purchase and install your equipment, you’re done paying for security. (And for reference, our recommended Lowe’s Iris system starts at just $179.) However, you should consider that you’ll need the internet to run your system, so if your connection isn’t working or your power goes out, your security system will stop working.
How to Shop for a System
When you begin your search, you’ll see home security systems sold in two different ways: custom-built or bundled. Some companies offer both options, and others only offer one. If you’re buying bundled, you’ll usually see a price right away, along with everything that’s included. Custom-built systems will require a conversation with an agent, usually over the phone. This takes a bit more time, but the benefit to custom is that you’ll generally see shorter contract periods, and you won’t pay for anything you don’t need. Whether you decide to get a bundled kit or a custom system depends on your individual security needs.
While you’ll find a variety of add-on features are available, no matter which company you go with, it’s important to remember that the basics are comparable across all providers. Paying more for a door sensor doesn’t mean it will function any better. In fact, it’s usually the same exact device, rebranded for each individual security company. The exception to this rule is home automation software.
Before You Start
Your living situation will affect what type of security system you need. If you’re planning to be in your home for a long time, you may not mind a multi-year contract and a hard-wired system. But if you’re in a short-term rental, a DIY portable system could be a better fit.
Take inventory of the optional features that you’ll be most comfortable with. Do you just need to know if someone has broken in through a door or window? Or, would you prefer video surveillance in every room? Is someone in your home at risk of falling and needing an immediate emergency contact? Do you dream of a dozen TV monitors tuned to every room in your house, or does that sound a tad too 1984? You have a range of options, from basic to advanced, and only you can decide what will make you feel safe.
Our Top Picks for the Best Home Security System in Chicago
We meticulously researched six of the best home security companies in Chicago, and ranked them based on four different criteria: customer service, equipment, reputability, and cost. We considered a variety of factors in each category, from the big stuff (like Better Business Bureau Ratings) to the little things (like online live chat features).
The outcome? Generally speaking, national companies like Frontpoint and Protect America always provide a consistently quick and straightforward transaction. First of all, pricing is transparent. Plus, those companies have the money and the consumer base to offer equipment at an affordable level. While Chicago residents are still better off going with one of the big guys, the city’s local providers offered abnormally competitive monitoring pricing. That doesn’t mean the equipment will be any cheaper, but the only way you’ll know for sure is to call them and get a quote.
Chicago’s Best Local Home Security Companies
For more than 35 years, Forest Security, Inc. has been protecting Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. Moreover, the company is family-owned, so the founders know exactly why offering homeowners and business owners a peace of mind is so crucial — it is all based on personal experience. Customers reported they love the ease of the systems, and basic monitoring starts at just $40 a month.
Check out the side-by-side comparison of packages online to select a system that works best for you and your family. But don’t forget to call and ask about the free installation and complimentary mobile app that comes with every security system — a bonus customers love. Technicians also carry replacement parts with them, and they are fully trained on each system’s inner workings; they know what to do and how to do it before you even have to ask. Additionally, the alarm systems by this company offer 24/7 immediate response from security-trained professionals who are there when you need reassurance most.
With more than 3 decades of experience, Alert Protective Services, Inc. staff are experts in securing what means the most to you. This company is 100 percent locally-owned, which allows technicians to truly know the market and what works best for each individual. With the newest technology around, Alert Protective Services, Inc. also has the ability to notify and update owners via text or email when away from home. Since its founding in 1982, Alert Protective Services, Inc. has won the approval of the Better Business Bureau and is ranked as an A+ member. Last year, this company also received “Angie’s List Super Service Award” for its work in the security industry.
Professionals with this company will work with your budget and particular needs, ensuring that you receive the best customer service and system possible. Customer reviews of the company report that technicians show up on time and are willing to answer any and all questions from homeowners. Others remarked that using a local provider versus a national one is the way to go for specialized support and service.
For less than a $1 per day, you can protect your home or business with the Security Doctors. The unique aspect of this company is that you can select a package offered, or you can customize a security system that best works for your home, condo, or apartment. Moreover, the monitoring system operates 24 hours a day, protecting more than $100 billion in property and assets, and securing the homes of over 100,000 families. The minute an alert comes through to a Security Doctors operator, emergency responders are quickly notified and dispatched. If you ever forget if you set your alarm before heading out on a business trip or long vacation, there’s no need to turn around — the Security Doctors’ mobile app allows owners to arm or disarm a security system via a smartphone or computer.
For your satisfaction, all authorized security professionals are screened for technical knowledge and competency, so you know you will receive the best service around. In 2015, the Security Doctors received “Angie’s List Super Service Award” for the work performed by its professionals.
Already have an existing system? No problem. Even if it was through a different security company, it can be easily retrieved by the Security Doctors team.
Best National Bundled Options
FrontPoint: Easy-to-install, wireless, and available in three customizable packages, FrontPoint is a great option for home security. They also provide a free app that lets you control your system from your smartphone. FrontPoint requires a 36-month professional monitoring contract, and you’ll need to call them for a quote.
Protect America: With a $0 upfront cost and peel and stick installation, Protect America makes it easy to get started with home security. They require a 36-month contract and you’ll have to call to find out how much their five upgradeable packages will cost you.
SimpliSafe: SimpiSafe offers four packages to choose from, and doesn’t require you to sign a contract. Their prices are the lowest in the business, with security kits starting at $200, and professional monitoring for only $15 a month.
Best National DIY Security Systems
Lowes Iris: With a variety of fun add-on options, Iris lets you watch over everything, from your kids’ TV time to your package deliveries. A la carte hardware means your system is totally custom, and totally you. First generation sensors start at just $15 (while supplies last).
Piper NV: Piper NV is a great space saving security system, ideal for small spaces or short term rentals. It’s an all-in-one tower the size of a vase, and comes equipped with a variety of security tools. Towers start at $200 and are compatible with Z-Wave accessories.
Local Companies That Didn’t Make the Cut
We researched three security companies that didn’t make the cut for a variety of reasons. Some had iffy contract stipulations, others took way too long to respond to our requests for a quote.
- Stealth Security and Home Theatre Systems, Inc.
- VinTech Systems, Inc.
Preventing False Alarms
False alarms in Chicago aren’t harmless. If your alarm goes off by accident, important emergency resources are diverted to your location. Luckily, Chicago no longer fines residents for false alarms. But it’s still important to avoid them.
“A Tribune analysis of nearly 1 million calls shows firefighters responded to about five false alarms for each real structure fire. Those false alarms, which averaged about 24,000 a year citywide in the five years studied, put firefighters and the public at risk by needlessly placing heavy, expensive equipment on the streets while wasting fuel, snarling traffic and conditioning building occupants and firefighters into believing that when an alarm goes off it is likely false.” – Chicago Tribune
One of the ways the City of Chicago compensates for lost revenue from residential false alarms is with fines for businesses whose alarms go off accidentally. Business owners who trip the alarm by mistake will owe $100 per incident, with no grace period. If they want to avoid paying that fine, they’ll need to attend a mandatory court hearing and provide documents from their security company to prove their system is in working order.
To decrease your chances of crying wolf, make sure that batteries in your system are always up to date. Before setting your alarm and leaving home, confirm that all doors and armed windows are fully shut and locked, so that a rogue gust of wind doesn’t end with the police at your door. For more ways to keep your system in check, follow our guide below:
Do I need to register my alarm in Chicago?
While some cities require you to register your alarm with the police department, Chicago makes it easy and does not require registration. Even if you’re installing an alarm in a business, you still won’t need a permit.
Is a home security system worth the cost?
It’s up to you to make your own decision, but we think investing in home security is worthwhile. According to Consumer Reports, almost 80 percent of homeowners rated their alarm systems effective at protecting their homes. Plus, part of the cost you’ll pay for security is usually offset by the discount you’ll get on your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, and a small tax break you may be eligible for.
Are cellular systems better than landline systems?
We’ll cut to the chase. Yes.
Your cellular connection is a lot more reliable than your landline. It doesn’t rely on wires or the internet, and it’s incredibly unlikely that a criminal would be able to disrupt a call between your cell phone and your security system call center. Additionally, you’re not restricted to a particular location. So you can access your system from anywhere, and you can leave your home if you’re in danger while still on the line with the security company.
Your best possible option is to have a landline connection with a cellular backup, but if that’s not possible, choose your cell over your home phone.
What If I’m a renter, or live in a small apartment?
If your landlord won’t let you paint the bathroom or drill into the plaster, you may not want to ask about installing a variety of sensors, cameras, and control panels in your apartment. Luckily, we found several more portable options that are less disruptive to your walls, and can easily move with you if you aren’t living in your “forever home.”
The Bottom Line
Signing up for a security system is a great way to protect your belongings. More than that, knowing someone has your back in an emergency is a great way to protect your mind.
Go ahead, jump in with our top picks below: