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Some vendors, such as LifeShield, will let you buy the components outright or lease them. For example, LifeShield's Security Essentials system will cost you $29. 99 per month for three years and includes monitoring, but you'll pay a $99 activation fee and you don't own the equipment at the end of the lease. Or, you can pay $299. 99 upfront for the hardware and still get monitoring but avoid the activation fee. If you live in a small apartment and want to keep tabs on things when you're not home, a security camera can get the job done for a lot less money than what you'll pay for a full security system.

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Most of these panels use capacitive touch screens and contain multiple radios that allow them to wirelessly control Wi Fi, Z Wave, Zigbee, and Bluetooth sensors and home automation components. Most panels also contain a cellular radio that connects them to a monitoring center if you subscribe to a professional monitoring plan, and they almost always have a speaker and a microphone for two way communication with a monitoring agent. The cellular radio is also used to push updates to the system. For example, the $229 SimpliSafe Foundation is a starter kit that gives you the hub, a door/window sensor, a motion sensor, and a yard sign. Additional door/window sensors go for $14. 99 each and you can order glass break detectors for $34.