Imagine coming home from a weekend getaway, ready to hit the hay and get back to the Monday grind — until you notice some muddy footprints right inside your door. Then you see the back door left ajar, and the empty spot on your counter where your microwave used to sit. You frantically rifle through your drawers looking for your jewelry and heirlooms. You call the police, but the robbers were wearing gloves, and a few footprints don’t offer any clues to their whereabouts.
Burglars take more than cash, computers, and jewelry; they take your sense of comfort and security in your own home. But consider this alternative anecdote from Andrea Davis, spokesperson for the Tampa Police Department.
“We had a recent case where a homeowner had a camera system in their house. They received a text message saying there was activity in their home. They went to the app on their phone and saw the criminals. They had the ability to set off a remote alarm and the suspects left with just an iPad. We had great video of the suspects and were able to make an arrest.”
Installing a home security system can be the difference between an incident that shakes your family’s sense of safety, and a small annoyance that ends with the perpetrators in prison.
There’s a lot to consider when choosing the company to work with, so in this guide, we’ll break down what you need, what you don’t, and how to get started.
The Basics of Home Security Systems
Our Picks for Best Home
You can choose from a variety of security levels when setting up your home system. Depending on what you decide, your home will be equipped with a number of sensors and devices that communicate with a control panel through Bluetooth, WiFi, or wires. When one of those sensors detects danger — whether it’s a burst pipe or a broken window — it will set off your alarm.
What happens next depends on the type of security you choose. If you go with a DIY option and your system is tripped, your alarm will sound, but you’ll need to call emergency services yourself. There are some benefits to DIY (mainly cost), but if your power or internet service goes out, your alarm may not even make a noise.
If you choose a security system connected to a call center, a few more protective measures will take place. After your alarm sounds, you’ll get a phone call to confirm your safety. Then the police and/or fire department may be dispatched to your home.
Professionally monitored security systems require a cellphone, landline, or broadband internet connection. (We’ll discuss the differences in more detail below.) These types of services start at $15 a month, with most companies charging around $40 to $50. With a DIY system, you might pay more up front by purchasing the equipment outright, but you won’t have a monthly fee.
Shopping for the Best Home Security Systems
When you start your search for home security, most systems will fall into two categories: bundles and custom-built packages. Many companies will offer a few different bundles to choose from, with options to add upgrades. Bundles will give you up-front pricing, while custom-built packages will require a quote over the phone or in-person (or sometimes even an in-home visit). Generally, bundles require a three-month or longer commitment. So if you’re looking for a month-to-month option, a custom-built system may be the way to go.
Remember that despite cost differences, most of the hardware available is exactly the same. An expensive window sensor is likely the same as a cheap one, just with different branding. So it’s fine to be frugal when purchasing your security kit.
Before you Start
Consider your long-term home goals before you start shopping for a security system. If you’re renting or planning a move within the next few years, a DIY system that can travel with you may be a good fit. If you’ve found your forever home or think security sensors would raise your property value, a hardwired system could be a good investment.
Professionally monitored home security systems have a variety of contract options, from several months to several years. Typically, the longer the contract, the better the deal, so if you’re sure you’ll be in your home for years to come, it’s smart to commit and lock in a low rate.
Something else to consider is the level of security that makes you feel the safest. If multiple camera setups would make you feel more paranoid than secure, they might not be worth it. But if you have a valuable art collection whose safety keeps you up at night, a more intense system could provide peace of mind.
And If you can’t find just the right setup, consider bringing in backup:
“Everyone’s needs and security issues are different. Many law enforcement agencies will send an officer to a resident’s home or business to help them with a security analysis to determine what is the best direction for them. For some people, something as simple as trimming the bushes and foliage around their property is a good deterrent, but for others, a camera system may be warranted.” — Andrea Davis, Tampa Police Department Spokesperson
We dove deep into Tampa’s local home security options, researching 10 companies in detail. We scored each of them according to four categories: Customer Service, Equipment, Reputability, and Cost. In each category, we judged a variety of factors, like phone accessibility and Angie’s List ratings. We narrowed the list down to four top contenders. We focused on local companies for this review process, but there are also a number of national providers to choose from. For details on our ranking of the big brands, check out Freshome’s guide to national home security systems. For now, here are the basics:
Best National Bundled Options
- Frontpoint: With cellular monitoring as a default feature on all three package options, you’ll have a more convenient and secure system without any extra fees. You can install the equipment yourself, and everything is wireless. Each quote is customized, but it’s quick and easy to call and find out how much you would pay.
- Protect America: Though you’re required to lock into a 36-month contract, all of your Protect America equipment is free up front. It’s easy to install yourself with peel-and-stick backing, and you have a choice of five customizable packages. Call for a quote.
- SimpliSafe: A great choice for those who aren’t sure whether to go DIY or professionally monitored, SimpliSafe is a low-cost provider that allows you to buy equipment without a contract. Security kits start at $200 up front, with monitoring available at $15 a month.
Best National DIY Security Systems
- Lowe’s Iris: For the hands-on DIYer, Lowes Iris offers hardware you can install yourself, with options to control the climate, lighting, and locks in your home from your smartphone. Sensors are sold a la carte, starting at just $23.
- Piper NV: An all-in-one security tower with night vision, motion sensors, and many other features. Piper NV starts at $279 and doesn’t have a monthly fee.
Tampa’s Best Local Home Security Companies
EMG Alarm Systems
EMG Alarm Systems has been in business since 1973, and is family-owned and operated. It is the provider of choice for law enforcement professionals, and its UL-certified central monitoring station also monitors alarm system for 2,000 companies throughout the U.S.
The company is known primarily for its high-quality and affordable monitoring services. EMG Alarm Systems offers professional system installation, and its monitoring packages begin at $15 a month for landline monitoring, and $20 for cellular monitoring.
EMG Alarm Systems is also known for its quick response times. Many of the security experts at EMG have more than 20 years of experience securing homes. In the event of a break in or disturbance, station monitors will respond immediately to ensure your safety.
The company offers two-way voice communication and medical device alarm systems as well. This ensures you will be able to connect with a representative even if you are unable to dial 9-1-1. If a central station manager hears a ruckus, he or she will send an authority to the scene.
We also liked that EMG’s cellular monitoring system uses a backup 2G (GSM) network in the event a 3G network is unavailable. This gives peace of mind that your security system will work, even if your connection is slowed.
EMG Alarm Systems is a well-known provider servicing Florida’s West Coast residential and commercial clients. If you’re looking for a high-quality monitoring provider at an affordable price, check out EMG.
SafeTouch Security Systems
SafeTouch Security Systems is the largest independent security company in the nation. The company has more than 20 years of experience providing security solutions to Tampa residents, and now has offices in Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Orlando, and Savannah, GA.
The company offers full-service security solutions, including hosting an in-house, UL-certified monitoring station managed by licensed professionals (a very nice gesture). The company’s 24-hour monitoring station has an 11-second response time, on average, and it’s one of the largest local providers in town.
SafeTouch offers a free app that allows you to monitor your home from your phone. The app enables you to monitor movement near door and garage sensors, the unlocking of your door, and cameras from any mobile device, including tablets and your cellular phone. The company also offers cellular monitoring for about $50/month.
The provider offers home automation solutions as well, including flood and fire detection and monitoring. Flood sensors can also warn you of too much moisture in your home, potentially saving you thousands in damages through early response.
SafeTouch offers a 30-day, money back trial for new customers, and its hardware systems are Crash & Smash protected, and are guaranteed to work even if destroyed. If you’re looking for a local full-service provider, SafeTouch offers great solutions.
Maximum Security Services
Maximum Security Services is one of the few locally owned companies in Tampa to offer customizable packages. It is also a full-service company, offering solutions from hardware and monitoring to remote access and video surveillance.
The company offers residential and commercial packages to the Tampa Bay area. It has been in business for more than 15 years and uses several monitoring stations throughout the U.S. to monitor security systems 24/7.
Maximum Security Services uses the Total Connect Remote Services app, which allows customers to access their security systems remotely from any mobile device. Customers are able to lock and unlock their doors, view live video feeds, and control lighting and temperature throughout their homes, all from their phone or tablet. The app also lets customers set up text or email alerts so you can be notified immediately in case of a break-in.
The company also offers video surveillance services. If you live in an area with a high risk of burglary, vandalism, or theft, video surveillance is a great way to protect your home and deter intruders. Some home security systems include video surveillance. If you’re interested in this feature, call for a free quote. Our quote for monitoring started at $37/month.
Maximum Security Services is a great local company that offers comprehensive, customizable security solutions.
Hive wants to be your one-stop shop for home security, automation and management. It makes shopping for home security solutions fun (and even a little sexy), by aggregating alarm systems with perks like smart audio and visual functionality, motorized gates, custom safes, and more.
The company strives to make protecting your home easy and accessible. It prides itself on offering home management solutions that are all connected to one central remote. This allows you to monitor your door sensors, live video feeds, and adjust your energy preferences from the same central location.
Hive is all about connectivity, so its security solutions offer features like smart smoke detectors, real-time video viewing, alerts, and remote door lock. If you’re looking for more of a home management system, Hive offers tons of customization, including energy management, automated blinds, custom-made safes, and smart audio systems. It strives to offer solutions that give you peace of mind.
The company’s security services utilize GE Security hardware, and include cellular backups and central station monitoring with guaranteed lowest pricing. As expected, Hive also offers remote access to your security system that doubles as a home automation system.
Hive is based in Tampa and exists to offers smart home customization, at an affordable price. Our quote for cellular monitoring was about $40 a month, but quotes will vary greatly depending on your specific needs.
Local Companies that Didn’t Make the Cut
Six out of 10 local home security systems that we looked into didn’t make the cut. Some had poor customer service ratings, and others never returned our request for a quote. In no particular order, here are the other companies we considered, but couldn’t recommend.
- A-1 Security Alarms
- Integrated Security Consultants
- EEI Security, Inc.
- Federated Security Solutions, Inc.
- Secure Pro
You’ll need to complete this annual registration for your home security system in Tampa. Don’t worry, it’s a quick and easy form, and there’s no fee to file. A few simple questions and the cost of a postage stamp later, and you’re good to go.
Can I Prevent False Alarms?
Security alarms go off a lot, but the vast majority of them are false alarms. In fact, 94 to 98 percent of all security systems triggered are false alarms. That might sound like a great thing (and in a way, it is), but this causes a massive headache for the Tampa Police Department. The police have to treat every alarm like the real thing, which means a lot of important resources could be diverted just because your babysitter forgot the alarm code.
Hillsborough County is relatively forgiving of false alarms. As long as your alarm is registered annually, you’ll get off with a warning for two false alarms per year. After that, the fines set in:
- Third occurrence: $75
- Fourth: $100
- Fifth: $150
- Sixth: $300
- Seventh and above: $500 each
Accidents happen, but you should do everything you can to prevent false alarms, both to save money and to conserve your city’s resources. To make sure your security system doesn’t go off erroneously, follow our handy guide:
Is a Home Security System Worth the Cost?
A monthly fee starting at $15 is usually worth the peace of mind that home security will bring you. And the cost of security may be even lower than you think. Many insurance companies provide discounts on homeowners or renters insurance, and it’s possible you’ll be eligible for a small tax break.
Our Picks for Best Home
Are cellular systems better than landline systems?
The best possible scenario is to have a landline connection with a cellular backup. But if you have to choose between cellular and landline, cellular is better.
While your cellphone works almost anywhere, your landline system relies on wires and power, so it’s more likely to be compromised in a dangerous situation. With a cellular system, you’re able to check in with your security on the go without worrying about being tied to your home phone.
What if I rent or plan to move soon?
For a less permanent security solution, a DIY system may be your best bet. These will generally be more portable, and you won’t have to sign a long-term contract. Dive in with our top picks for this type of home security: Frontpoint, Piper NV, Scout Alarm, SimpliSafe, iSmart Alarm.
How Can I Avoid Being a Target?
Anyone can be a victim of a home invasion or burglary, but there are a few precautions you can take to decrease the likelihood that criminals go after your home. Davis told us the following:
“Criminals are opportunists. They are going to pick the easy targets. An example would be if someone has an open window and a criminal can easily get inside, they are going to target that home before they target the one that is locked up. If a homeowner puts a flat-screen TV box on the curb for the garbage, the criminal knows there’s a new flat-screen TV in that house and they are more likely to become a target than their next door neighbor.”
Here are some more tips to keep in mind:
The Bottom Line
Home security systems should intimidate burglars, not you. Hopefully this guide has made the process of security shopping more transparent. Whether your priority is protecting your laptop, checking in on your kids, or giving an elderly relative access to support with the push of a button, there’s a security solution that is right for you. And our list of top picks below is the best place to start shopping.