Summary Sheet: Choosing the Best Home Security System

Empty Homes

Neighorhoods have thinned out. Families are smaller, both parents work, streets are empty. If something happens, no one may notice.

  • 28% of Americans live alone

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

A lot can happen in a few minutes. If no one notices, the results can be much worse.

  • 1.5 million burglaries per year in the U.S., one every 13 seconds.
  • More than half of burglaries occur during the day.
  • 1.3 million fires per year, 3,600 deaths.
  • Water leaks can cause severe damage if not found right away.
  • Assaults -- 1 million per year happen at home.
  • Health crisis can happen anytime. Fast response is vital.
  • Accidents -- falls from ladders, choking are common.

A Safer Home

Burglary is the most-feared crime. 3,300 per day -- one every 26 seconds.Things burglars are looking for might surprise you:

  • Your identity. Wallets contain all the info a crook needs to sell your identity on the street.
  • Liquor. It's easy to sell.
  • Art and collectibles. There's a big market for these.
  • Groceries. Crooks can eat them if nothing else.
  • Drugs. Prescription drugs are highly prized.
  • Clothes. They can be easily unloaded on second-hand stores.

Risk factors for burglary

  • Location: Rural areas have more burglaries per capita than urban areas.
  • Geography: The South has 42% of all burglaries in the U.S.
  • Time of day: Most residential burglaries happen during the day.
  • Summertime: It's prime time for burglaries.
  • Renters are far more likely to be burglarized than homeowners.

Who burglars are

Burglars are mostly male and mostly under 25.

  • 51% say they're looking for drugs.
  • 37% are looking for money, often to buy drugs.

Deciding factors

How do burglars pick their targets?

  • Traffic. Proximity to traffic and escape routes are prime factors.
  • 85% say they look for alarms.
  • A sign indicating an alarm system also dissuades some burglars.

Securing your home

How to tighten security around our homes?

  • Harden the target. Better locks, doors, etc.
  • Anticipate trouble. Lock up valuables, don't advertise your whereabouts, conceal sensitive info.
  • Heighten awareness. Security systems, cameras, alarms make it harder for thieves to avoid detection.

Hardening the target

Some simple steps to make a home more secure:

  • Locks Deadbolts on all the doors and windows.
  • Lights Motion-sensing lights, dusk-to-dawn lights help discourage crooks.
  • A fence. Fences make it harder to get in and can slow getaways.
  • Trimmed shrubbery. Plants are great but keep them trimmed so they don't block windows.
  • Neighbors. Get to know your neighbors. Look out for each other.
  • A dog. Dogs will die to protect you and your home.

Anticipate trouble

Stay alert and take simple steps to ward off trouble.

  • Buy a shredder. Grind up confidential documents.
  • Keep valuable in a safe place, not on the front hall table.
  • Lock up guns so crooks can't use them on you.
  • Keep doors locked all the time. Yes, the garage door too.
  • Lock your car so thieves can't get at your garage door opener.

Heighten awareness

In a world so full of risks, surely everyone has a security system, right? Wrong.

  • Only 16% of Americans have a professionally monitored security system.
  • 18% have a doorbell camera or other video camera.
  • 62% have no security system of any kind. Dogs and guns are the most popular alternatives.

Guns can be helpful but they can also be dangerous. 1.4 million guns were stolen from homes in one five-year period.

Alarms, Security Systems

Prevention and awareness are fine but emergencies can still happen. When they do, alarm systems sound the alarm, summoning help and creating escape opportunities.

Sensors are the heart of a security system. They watch for things that shouldn't happen:

  • Fire and smoke in the house.
  • Water where there shouldn't be any.
  • Movement in secured areas.
  • Open doors and windows that should be closed.
  • Unusual sounds like breaking glass.
  • Carbon monoxide that can quickly cause death.

There are several types of sensors:

  • Window and door sensors detect when a window or door is open.
  • Motion detectors sense movement in areas that have been locked down.
  • Fire, smoke and CO alarms detect flames, extremely high temperatures and the presence of carbon monoxide, a deadly gas.
  • Water and temperature sensors detect unusual changes in the environment -- flooding, extreme heat or cold, etc.
  • Video cameras can make a recording of an activity but do not substitute for motion detectors. By themselves, they don't warn homeowners of trouble.

Control units are the heart of a security system. They monitor the sensors. When a sensor detects trouble, the control unit can sound an alarm, alert the homeowner, alert the professional monitoring center or take other preset actions.

The control unit enables the homeowner to turn the system on and off, program it to come on at various times, check for correct operation, etc. Many systems also have fobs that the homeowner can put on their key ring, allowing them to remotely activate and deactivate the system.

Reliability Issues

The main purpose of an alarm system is to sound the alarm when it detects trouble. It's great to sound the alarm locally but if no one is home to hear it, or able to respond, what good is it?

To be effective at protecting life and property, alarms must be monitored. That's where the professional monitoring center comes in. Trained personnel respond to alarms, verify whether there's trouble and call in the appropriate response -- fire, medical or police.

Monitoring centers call the homeowner and also can call directly into local 9-1-1 centers, ensuring a prompt response.

Redundancy is important. Alarm systems need:

  • Battery back-up so they work during power outages.
  • Reliable network connections. Some systems rely on the home wi-fi system, which should also have battery back-up. Others use the cellular telephone network, which is more reliable.

DIY or Professional Installation?

  • DIY is becoming more popular. It is simple to install for people who don't mind counting how many sensors they will need, moving things around and spending a little time getting everything configured. It is generally cheaper and is common with systems that do not require a long-term contract. The user must usually buy the equipment. DIY systems generally use the home wi-fi network.
  • Professional installation is popular with homeowners who are not comfortable with technology and don't want to bother with details. It is often recommended for larger homes that may not have reliable wi-fi coverage. Professional installation may be more expensive and often
    requires a long-term contract. The equpiment cost is often built into the contract.

A Smarter Home

Smart home systems started out as a loose collection of apps and devices mostly designed for entertainment and convenience -- remotely turning on lights, monitoring a pet's activities and playing music with voice prompts.

Smart home systems and home security systems are slowly merging. Most security systems will now interface with smart home systems. A new industry consortium formed by Google, Amazon and Apple called Matter is working to ensure compatability of components.

In general, smart home systems are more flexible but may not be as locked down and redundant as alarm systems. Smart home systems generally put convenience first, alarm systems put reliability first.

A weakness in many smart home systems is that they are not monitored and rely solely on the home's wi-fi network.

Putting It All Together

Fully a third of homeowners who don't have a security system say they can't afford it. But a professionally monitored security system costs much less than most consumers' cable TV, car payment or health insurance.

Besides protecting lives and property, security systems can save consumers as much as 25% of their homeowners insurance premiums by some estimates.

Major Brands: Narrowing the Field

There's no shortage of security systems on the market. Choosing the best one for you depends on several factors:

  • How handy you are A reasonably handy consumer can save money by installing their own system.
    • Your schedule It's not hard putting a system together but it can be time-consuming.
  • Your budget Pricing varies among systems. DIY systems usually cost a bit less but you may have to buy the equipment upfront. Installed systems usually require a longer contract.
  • Your home Large homes sometimes need professional installation. Wi-fi signals vary from one part of a big house to another and just the sheer number of windows and doors can turn a DIY job into a major project.

Narrowing the Field

Here are a few major brands that run the gamut from DIY to professional installation, from 30-day agreements to long-term contracts.

  • ADT By far the largest, with more than six million customers. ADT systms are mostly installed with contracts required. blue by ADT offers DIY systems on more flexible plans.
  • Brinks has its own dealer network and also a direct-to-consumer operation. It offers both installed and DIY. Most systems carry a 36-month contract.
  • Vivint Smart Home was founded as a security company and now bills itself as providing an integrated smart home system. Its business model includes in-home sales and consultation, professional installation and full support. Contracts up to 60 months.
  • Vector was originally an insurance company. It has an exclusive feature that sends alerts directly to 9-1-1 centers in some localities. Professional installation, 36-month contracts.
  • Cove offers easy installation, no long-term contracts, attractive pricing and advanced monitoring. DIY only.

Conclusion

There is a home security system for every situation. Whether it's a one-room studio apartment or a 36-home country manor, consumers can find a solution that is affordable, reliable and easily managed.

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