Home security systems are no longer the antiquated and bulky burdens of the past, and today’s products and services extend far beyond the basic alarm package. Features that seemed out of reach for the average family (automatic door locks, app-controlled lights) have become the standard — even the necessary. Even live video monitoring, once reserved for millionaires to check in on their pet tigers while off skiing the Alps, are available for you to check in on Fido while grocery shopping.
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Beautifully designed systems and accessible home automation have made the home security world a much brighter place. You can lock and unlock your doors while on vacation, double check you set the thermostat, and see who’s on your steps before they even ring the doorbell. A home security system can be the missing link that makes your house into the safe haven you expect it to be.
In search of that solution, we dug into the industry. Whether you are DIY minded and looking for the budget-friendly solution or in search of the best home security companies in Philly, we’ve got you covered.
Home Security: The Basics
In general terms, a home security system is a group of monitors, detectors, and/or cameras that hook into a central panel which controls the entire system. If it’s professionally monitored, the control panel will transfer any alert signals to a monitoring station though either hardwired utility lines (such as phone or internet cables) or a wireless connection. If your system is not professionally monitored, the central panel will alert only the immediate area with piercing alarms and maybe flashing lights.
Professionally monitoring a system will cost a monthly fee which could range anywhere from $15 to $50 depending on your contract, the complexity of your system, and the equipment involved.
Running a self-monitored, DIY home security system will only cost you for the original equipment. If you feel confident that you could install it correctly, a DIY home security system can be an excellent option and great way to obtain affordable security. Public Information Officer Tanya Little of the Philadelphia Police Department echoes these thoughts, saying, “If homeowners are able complete the job to their satisfaction; then by all means, they can save themselves time and money.” Even if you decide down the road that you really do want your system professionally monitored, many, such as SimpliSafe, do offer the option to seamlessly upgrade.
Shopping for a system
When you’re in the market for brand new security system, you’ll find that offers come in two forms: bundled packages and custom systems.
Bundled packages are the one-stop-shop for your home security needs. Often they come in different levels, offering more features and equipment as you climb from the basic to the premium. It is also common that the cheapest and most basic options will only communicate with a monitoring center through hardwired lines. If you want to eliminate the chance of a burglar cutting the line and disabling your monitoring service, then you will need to upgrade to more deluxe packages which offer wireless monitoring. The plus side of a bundled package is that you know exactly what’s included and at what price, without needing to consult a sales rep. Downsides include potentially not getting exactly what you want or need for your house — and adding a single feature could mean needing to jump an entire package level, which (obviously) would increase the price.
Custom packages are a staple of almost all national and local home security companies. This type of purchase will include a security representative who asses your house and the specific challenges that it faces. Prices will range greatly for custom security systems; it depends on your home, how many zones you hope to cover, the complexity of install, type of monitoring (and therefore the type of equipment needed), and a whole host of other factors.
Thus, the downside of the custom security route is that it can be more time consuming — and more expensive — to get started. You’ll need to schedule an appointment to asses your needs, and only then will you be able to receive a quote. That said, your system will do exactly what you want it to. You will be able to cover every sector of the house using the exact form of security you deem necessary. Need 10 glass break sensors but only one door monitor? No package bundle is going to suit that need. If you feel that your home’s security situation is beyond the standard bundles, call a recommended home security company and have an assessment done. Most companies offer these assessments for free.
What to ask yourself
If you’re renting, you probably not a great candidate for a built-in home security system. For one, extensive installs will probably break a lease agreement, and everything would need to go through your landlord — not to mention, the system is staying with the house when you leave which will mean a whole new install cost in your next abode. But, A DIY system is perfect for you: easy to install, little to no ongoing cost, and when you leave it’s yours to keep.
If you’re a student, chances are you don’t have the cash flow to install and monitor a professional system in the first place. Plus, if you live on campus there are probably extensive rules on the kind of noise-making equipment you can keep in your apartment or dorm.
You should also think about how much security is right for you and your family. If cameras in every room seems a little excessive, or even make you more paranoid, forgo it. If you keep pets indoors, or let them roam while the system is armed, you’ll probably need to forget about motion sensors. There are “pet-resistant” motion detectors on the market, but usually the pet must be below 40 pounds: anything larger than a mid-sized dog means you should skip them.
Freshome’s Top Picks for the Best Home Security System in Philadelphia
We reviewed six of top home security companies in the Philly area. We evaluated things like customer service, business reputability, and costs in order to narrow our choices down to the best. Then, we stacked them up against Freshome’s top home security recommendations for national home security providers. In the end, three companies stood out as viable options.
In Philadelphia, you’re probably best off with a large service provider like Frontpoint or Protect America, especially if you’re looking for a home automation system. But if you prefer the hometown touch, Petro Home Services, Independant Alarm, and Main Line Security and Energy Services are Freshome’s top picks for local security providers. And if you’re in a renters or student situation, we recommend DIY solutions like Lowe’s Iris or Piper NV.
Best Bundled Options
- Frontpoint: FrontPoint beats most bundled offers by providing wireless monitoring standard on every package. Setup is as easy enough for even the un-handy among us — no pro installation necessary. Click their link to check out which one of their systems is right for you.
- Protect America: With $0 upfront for equipment and a 36-month contract, Protect America is an affordable choice. Installation uses peel-and-stick backing, so no tools required. A series of five packages should meet the needs of almost anyone.
- SimpliSafe: SimpliSafe has four package offers and no lengthy contracts. Their prices are the lowest of the major carriers and monitoring is only $15 per month.
Philadelphia’s Best Local Home Security Companies
Petro Home Services
In business for over 70 years, Petro Home Services scored the highest of all providers in reputability and customer service, including high grades from ranking-powerhouses Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau.
The company’s security systems are available as packages, come with free installation, and have additional services and add-ons. You can easily select a more simple system with an alarm and window and door sensors, and add additional security features later on. You can also get additional 24/7 services for fire monitoring and environmental monitoring.
One thing that sets the company apart from its competitors is its specialization in home services. Other companies may provide you with a security system that monitors environmental conditions — leaks, low temperatures, excessive heat, etc. — and be able to alert you to conditions and send someone over to temporarily solve the problem before it escalates, but Petro Home Services have the expertise to fix the environmental issue for you. The company is also open 24/7, so you can call at any time with a question or concern.
Petro Home Services also provides add-ons to give you more control of your system and security — GSM Cellular Backup (wireless backup for your system in case you lose power or a burglar cuts your phone line); remote access to your system and video cameras via your smartphone, tablet, or computer; and home automation features (that give you the ability to control your locks, lights, and more). However, we weren’t able to get a good sense of their monitoring costs — Petro reps said that it all depends on the system, and that a system assessment would most likely be necessary.
With over 35 years of service and an almost impeccable customer service record (from overall high customer reviews on Google+ and Yelp and an A+ Better Business Bureau rating), Independent Alarm is one of the highest-rated security companies in Philadelphia.
With Independent Alarm, you have the choice to have a security system designed for you or have the company attempt to take over a previous system (either from another company or a DIY system).
If you’re looking for a new system, Independent Alarm will provide a free on-site consultation and help you decide the most cost-effective, custom-designed system for your home. The company guarantees no high-pressure salesman (you will not be pressured to sign a contract) or push towards buying more than you need.
One Independent Alarm’s best features is its monitoring. The company’s 24/7 monitoring rate is one of the lowest in the industry and it is run by an award-winning monitoring station.
Like Petro Home Services, Independent Alarm also offers additional fire monitoring, video surveillance, and home automation services, as well as remote access via smartphone, tablet, or computer. Their website is also one of the better ones out there, explaining the process that goes into choosing, designing, and installing a home security system.
Main Line Security and Energy Services
Main Line Security and Energy Services has been providing service since 1972, gaining long-time customers and keeping up-to-date with the latest security system technology. As the second longest-running business in Philadelphia, its customer services has remained on par with the best (due to fast response times and friendly service) and its low cellular 24/7-hour monitoring rate of less than $40 a month makes it a contender among security companies.
Main Line Security and Energy Services also provides monitoring, updates, and add-ons for most other security systems — making it easy to use Main Line Security and Energy Services for your current system.
Along with security systems, additional fire monitoring, video surveillance, and environmental monitoring are available, as well as remote access and home automation. You can even add on intercoms if you want additional security at your door or want to be able to talk from room to room.
Main Line Security and Energy Services also takes a special interest in helping its customers with their energy management. Security specialists show you the right way to program your system to save energy and money on your electric bill through the remote access control of your lights and temperature.
Best DIY Security Systems
- Lowe’s Iris: If a house that reads your mind is your fantasy, Lowe’s Iris is for you. You can check the freezer temp to make sure the door wasn’t left open, or know exactly when the mailman comes with the package you’re expecting. Iris is more than a home security solution. It combines complex home automation with ultimate customization — sensors are sold a la carte or in ready-made bundles.
- Piper NV: Piper NV uses a central tower the size of a vase to monitor the various sensors you place around the home, making it a great choice for small living quarters. Even better: the system is compatible with other technology like Z-Wave accessories.
Local companies that didn’t make the cut
In addition to the top local contenders we also looked hard at three other companies. Some we couldn’t secure enough information from, some were lacking significant ratings from places like the BBB or Angie’s List, and others had very out-dated websites.
- Victor Security
- Advent Security
- Digital Innovation
Registering Your Home Security System in Philadelphia
In Philadelphia, anyone with a monitored home security system that immediately contact emergency services must register with the city. There is a $50 annual fee that has to be paid to keep the registration valid. You will need to complete the Alarm Registration Form, and then mail in the form to the address below with a check or money order amounting $50.
Department of Finance Code Unit
P.O. Box 56318
Philadelphia, PA 19130-6318
If you are caught without having valid registration by setting off your alarm, you could be fined between $150 and $300.
Preventing False Alarms
National statistics say that up to 98 percent of all alarm calls are false positives. Therefore it’s easy to see why Philadelphia continues its strict alarm statutes by fining any false alarms that emergency services are dispatched to. The fines start after 2 false alarms within a one year period and cost $75. Your fines will increase if you decide not to pay — and you could be sent to court.
Rather than go through the headache, learn how to prevent false alarms in the first place.
How Can I Avoid Becoming a Target?
With some common sense and a bit of strategy, you can have additional protection from home burglaries. Tanya Little, Public Information Officer of the Philadelphia PD, suggested three easy ways to deter criminal attraction.
First she recommends a well-lit property. A bright property destroys the notion that an intruder might be able to stick to the shadows and gain entry without notice. It may also give them the impression that your property is being surveilled by cameras, and the last thing any criminal wants is their face on file. Officer Little added, “Surveillance footage, regardless of its source, has played a major role in aiding police/investigators to capturing the offenders.” (Like the sound of that? A good compliment to your lights might be a home security camera system.)
Secondly she touts dogs as great deterrents. Have your kids (or yourself) been begging for a new puppy? It could be beneficial in more ways than one. In a study by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 373 incarcerated burglars were surveyed and a dog of any kind was noted as the fourth major deterrent to forced entry — just below people being inside the home. That means rescuing one of the many shelter pets in Philadelphia could save your belongings — and a life.
Officer Little’s final suggestion is a rose bush under the window. That’s right, some strategic landscaping can help reduce your probability of being targeted. Most crime is committed out of opportunity; if you take a away an easy entry, your chances of becoming a victim are diminished. Think about it — would you crawl through a bed of thorns, or keep looking for an unprotected window?
If you’re still looking for more ways to beat the criminals at their own game, take a look at Freshome’s seven common-sense do’s and dont’s.
Is a Home Security System Worth It?
We certainly think so, especially as it is the number one deterrent to burglary, according to an extensive study of burglars and their tactics. As an added bonus, home security systems can often get you up to a 20 percent discount on your homeowners insurance. And perhaps the most important reason: they bring peace of mind.
Wireless or Landline Monitoring?
We recommend using wireless monitoring connections anytime it’s possible. Hardwired lines present a unique opportunity for burglars: as soon as they cut the line, your watch-dog monitoring company is out of contact with your system. Even though it might cost you a few more dollars each month, the a wireless security system is well worth the money.
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re new to the home security game or a long-time believer looking for your next step, there is a system within your budget. Stay safe, Philadelphia!