First and foremost, a home security system aims to protect your property and those inside it from burglary, home intrusion, fire, and other environmental disasters such as burst pipes. Professional monitoring services do this whether you’re aware of the problem or not, and they can also help in a medical emergency. While a security system is a significant expense, the cost of a burglary averaged $2,661 per victim in 2019 (the latest data available), not to mention the psychological impact it can have.
Deterrent to Burglars
Obvious signs of an alarm system, such as stickers, yard signs, and outdoor cameras for video surveillance, have been proven to deter a burglar, whose crime is often one of opportunism. A UNC Charlotte study conducted by Professor Joe Kuhns of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology found that almost 60% of burglars planned the break-in for less than 24 hours prior to attempting it. Plus, 83% looked for signs of an alarm first, and more than half said they would give up if they saw one.
Peace of Mind
With a home security system installed, you can achieve some peace of mind knowing that your home is protected whether you’re away or sleeping soundly. With modern wireless security systems connected to the internet, you can also check in on your system from anywhere in the world.
Convenience and Energy Savings
Modern home security systems feature home automation capabilities that offer convenience and energy savings, which helps justify the extra cost of a security system. Internet-connected lights and thermostats paired with a security system can adjust themselves to save energy when the system is armed, while smart door locks and connected garage door openers give you a secure way to let friends and family into your home.
Reduced Home Insurance Premiums
Many homeowners insurance companies offer a premium discount of 5% to 20% if you have a professionally monitored security system installed. The higher discounts are usually for systems that include environmental monitoring to detect fire, smoke, and water damage, in addition to intrusion monitoring. While this won’t cover the cost of a professional system, it will help make it more affordable in the long run. Additionally, if you have cameras for video surveillance, video footage can help when it comes to filing insurance claims.
Home protection and family safety are the primary purposes of a home security system. While this includes detecting burglary, a security system also detects a number of other threats, including smoke, fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, and water damage. Whether you self-monitor or pay for professional monitoring, you can know if there’s danger in your home, wherever you are. A professionally monitored security system will call emergency services for you if a smoke or flood sensor is activated, whether you are home, away, or asleep. It’s worth noting that you have to buy the security company’s equipment in order to get professional monitoring of smoke and water sensors, which is not included in standard packages and comes at an additional cost.
Home protection and family safety are the primary purposes of a home security system.
Many wireless home security systems work with a smartphone app, a convenient way to keep tabs on your family and pets. For example, the door sensors and motion sensors designed to alert you to someone sneaking around your property can also alert you when your child gets home from school, or tell you whether your elderly mother got out of bed that morning.
A home security system is no good if no one pays attention to it, which is why you should seriously consider professional monitoring. While self-monitoring your home’s security system is the least expensive option, it may not be the best one for family safety. Someone could break in when you’re far away from home, or your smoke alarms could go off when you’re asleep in a hotel, and you wouldn’t necessarily know about it.
Even if you do get the alert, will you know what to do? “Consider if you are on vacation in another part of the country…do you call 911 in Los Angeles for something happening at your home in Atlanta?” says Paul Rothman, editor-in-chief of Security Business magazine. “Professional monitoring takes the onus off the consumer and puts response procedures into the hands of trained professionals.”
Other important features for home protection have to do with the equipment and how easy it is to use. The heart of a home security system is the base station, sometimes known as a hub. This can be a touchscreen mounted to a wall, a simple box you can put in a cupboard, or a device with an integrated keypad designed to be kept out in the open. Whatever extra features it has, its primary purpose is to be the central communication point for all the security sensors that make up your system. Frequently, it also acts as an indoor siren.
Key features to look for include:
- Battery backup so the system will work if the power goes down
- A cellular radio to communicate with the monitoring center so you’re not dependent on Wi-Fi, which won’t work without power
- A wide selection of communication protocols built-in (such as Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi) so you can expand your system should you want to move further into home automation
A home security system is no good if no one pays attention to it, which is why you should seriously consider professional monitoring.
While the basic equipment that comes with a system consists of a hub, motion/contact sensors, and a siren, for more comprehensive security you will need to invest in additional hardware. Most importantly, this includes environmental protection – smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and leak sensors to protect against burst pipes and water damage – and cameras. While you may be hesitant to install security cameras due to privacy concerns, note that some municipalities require video verification of an alarm before they dispatch emergency responders if there’s no one on the property to confirm the threat. With integrated cameras for video surveillance, your alarm company can see a clip of the event and confirm to the dispatcher that help is needed.
One of the most useful features of wireless home security systems is that you can access them from the palm of your hand. All the systems we rated have a companion smartphone app that makes arming, disarming, monitoring, and managing your home’s security system easier than ever.
With today’s wireless equipment, hiring a home security expert to set up your system is more of a luxury than a necessity, unless you have a particularly large home or a complicated system. Installing motion, door, and window sensors and connecting a base station to your internet service is relatively straightforward. If you want smart door locks and thermostats installed, hiring a professional may be a good idea, but for a basic security system, you can easily do it yourself.
When it comes to the smart home features touted by many security companies, don’t pay for something you won’t use. In large part, most home automation capabilities baked into security systems – like turning the lights on before you get home – are more about convenience than home protection. They may not be worth investing in unless you know you will use them.
The same can be said for other conveniences, such as key fobs and voice control using digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa, or Google Assistant. Disarming and arming your system with these features is convenient and easy but not essential, and it can cost you more upfront for the equipment. Plus key fobs are something of a security risk; should your car be stolen, a thief now has a way to turn off your alarm. Similarly, knowledgeable burglars might use smart speakers to turn off alarms once they enter a house.
When it comes to the smart home features touted by many security companies, don’t pay for something you won’t use.
Another popular feature for home security systems is the video doorbell. Although they can improve security, these are expensive devices that often require hardwiring to be reliable and aren’t an easy DIY option compared to an outdoor camera positioned by your front door.
Cameras can be a very useful part of a home security system. However, most work over Wi-Fi, which makes them more vulnerable to hacking. Many other devices you might want to connect to your system also use Wi-Fi. “Two of the most vulnerable elements in a security system are network or internet-connected security cameras and the Wi-Fi router itself, as they are most often the target of hackers,” Rothman says. Note that it’s not the hardware that gets hacked, but rather the software, which then provides the hacker with access to the whole network. This is where the homeowner needs to be security-savvy. “The most important step is changing the default security settings on the equipment itself, including admin login information that is often publicly available and leveraged by hackers,” Rothman says.
There is little research to suggest that a basic home security system will increase your property’s value, but installing a smart home security system may. “Having an alarm system with a sensor network and the ability to add smart home devices would be attractive to potential buyers, which is why many homebuilders are adding these types of systems as a base feature of new homes,” Rothman says. According to a 2018 survey by Coldwell Banker, about 75% of buyers it spoke with said they wanted smart thermostats and smart smoke alarms in a new home, 66% said they would look for preinstalled smart security cameras, and 63% were interested in smart door locks.
Originally, the sole purpose of a home security system was to protect your property, which meant you hoped you would never have to use it. This could make it hard to justify the expense. However, increasing interest in smart/connected homes has given home security systems a boost in capability. “Up until a few years ago, security sensors simply triggered an alarm, but now those sensors tie into other things,” Klein says. “For example, your security system can now tie into your smart lighting.” Using your smart security system to run your smart home can bring significant advantages. “The key selling point for home security providers is that they can provide just about all of this smart home control and technology from a single interface and/or app, instead of consumers being forced to run multiple apps to control all these different systems,” Rothman says.
Increasing interest in smart/connected homes has given home security systems a boost in capability.
An integrated smart home security system can do useful things like disarm your alarm system and turn the lights on when you enter your code into a connected door lock, or lock all your doors, turn your lights off and lower your thermostat temperature at night when you arm the system. Of course, to do this you’ll need to invest in smart locks, lights, and thermostats in addition to security sensors. For a deeper look at how the smart home can work with your security system, see Home Security and Home Automation.
Installing a home security system isn’t the only way to help prevent a burglary. Just as signs of a security system can deter many opportunistic burglars, so can suggestions that people are home, says Joe Kuhns, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at UNC Charlotte. “The most important criteria in deterring the burglars we surveyed were alarm systems, dogs, and indications of people inside. Lights were also an important indicator,” he says. “Burglars don’t want to have a conversation. Anything you can do to create a perception that the home is occupied and active is helpful.” This includes things like putting a hold on mail and newspapers and keeping a car in the driveway when you go on vacation.
Along the same lines, simple measures such as cutting back overgrown bushes that could provide hiding spots and keeping your property uncluttered can reduce the chance of your house being targeted. The U.S. Department of Justice found that burglaries were higher during the summer when people typically go on vacation. Additionally, while property crimes are more likely to occur during the day when homeowners are absent, outdoor lighting is still an important deterrent. Motion-activated floodlights are an easy way to scare off would-be burglars, and some home security systems incorporate exterior lighting into their systems. Dogs are also a great way to guard your home. They don’t need to be big – just loud enough to attract attention, Kuhns says.
Making it harder to break in is another way to prevent burglary, although this can be expensive. Examples include installing metal doors or solid-core wood doors on all exterior entrances, along with heavy-duty strike plates and more secure windows with stronger glass. “There are neighborhoods and parts of cities that are more prone to burglary, and even with lots of efforts at deterrence, you might have homes in those places that will get burglarized regardless,” Kuhns says. “[Reinforced windows and doors] can be a better option in environments like this.”
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