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Home security systems: How much is enough?

Roger Diez | Improvement Center Columnist | April 4, 2013

Have you ever experienced a home burglary? It can be one of the most devastating things that can happen, not only in monetary loss but in feelings of violation and helplessness. One of the best ways to prevent a break-in is to install a good home security system. But what system is right for your needs?

Why a security system?

According to FBI statistics, violent crime is on the decline but property crimes such as burglary are increasing. Fortunately, most burglars prefer to break into homes that are unoccupied. A good security system can not only alert you or the authorities to a break-in, but can also turn lights and TV sets on and off to give the impression that the home is occupied.

What are the options?

When it comes to deciding on a home security system, you can find a great many options -- so many, in fact, deciding what you need can seem overwhelming. Here are just a few of the basic systems from which to choose:

  • Wired -- a hard-wired system with connections to the system components
  • Wireless -- no physical connection between the control box and the components
  • Monitored -- a telephone or computer link to a security company for quick response by police
  • Self-installed -- designed to be installed by the homeowner

Many modern homes are pre-wired for a security system. If your home is not, then a wireless system can be much easier and less costly to install. A monitored system requires a monthly fee for the service; however, many systems now have options to allow you to monitor them from your smart phone. If you want to install the system yourself and save some money, most wireless systems are fairly easy to install and set up, although functions such as smart-phone monitoring make it a little trickier.

What does a system cost?

Asking how much a security system costs is like asking, "How big is a small dog?" A basic self-installed wireless system with a control panel, keypad, and two door or window sensors can run from about $100 to $150. Additional sensors are around $25 to $50 each. You can add these options:

  • Motion sensors: $20 to $140
  • Video cameras: $50 to $250
  • Smoke detectors: $25 to $60
  • Carbon monoxide detectors: $50 to $125
  • Panic buttons: $30 to $50
  • Keyless entry systems: $100 to $300

As you can see, adding components to the system rapidly escalates the cost. However, when you consider that the average home burglary costs over $1,700, according to the FBI, paying $500 to $1,000 for a security system to prevent a break-in is not a bad trade-off. To help defray the cost, check with to see which insurance carriers offer discount rates for having a home security system.

To monitor or not to monitor

You may see security companies advertise systems for under $100, but these typically require a contract for monitoring.

What is monitoring? In a nutshell, it means that the system sends a signal when a break-in is detected. This signal may go out over your phone land line or a cellular phone or computer connection. The monitoring company then alerts police or dispatch their own security personnel.

An unmonitored system relies on a loud audible alarm and/or visual alert such as flashing lights to frighten off an intruder. A third option is to link the system to your smart phone, but the response is up to you when you receive an alert.

Choose a professional security company for monitoring

If you have decided that you need monitoring 24/7/365, then a professionally installed and monitored system is what you need. National providers include ADT, Brinks, GE and Honeywell. If you live in a metropolitan area, there are also locally owned and operated security companies to choose from. You can purchase or lease a system, but there can also be a monthly fee for monitoring. Many companies offer discounts on their monthly rates if you sign a long-term contract.

Be aware that some communities require a burglar alarm permit and charge fines for false alarms, so make sure to ask your provider how these are handled.

The bottom line is that a home security system is the best way to give you peace of mind that your family and property are protected. A yard sign or window sticker proclaiming the presence of your security system is often enough to deter burglars, who typically choose the path of least resistance.