When I lived in an apartment in Boston, my apartment was broken into while I was at work. I came home to a front door that was lifted off its hinges and carefully placed in the hallway next to where I left it (closed and locked) that morning. The place was ransacked and all my electronic equipment was packed into my luggage and removed by “a guy who looked like a TV repairman,” according to a neighbor. After that, I slept with the lights on for several nights before buying a battery-powered doorjamb alarm at Radio Shack. What I spent on a low-end sanity-saver ($9.99), I saved in electricity by being able to sleep in the dark again.
Moving to a house in the suburbs allowed me to relax a bit. I addressed home security at the hardware store by investing in some deadbolts for the doors and several one-by-fours to put in the window jambs. The next house I purchased came complete with a built-in monitoring system that we adopted as our own and used exactly two times, thus proving the low-tech deadbolts, which we used every night, are a far more effective safety measure.
This is a long way of saying that with robberies happening every 15 seconds in this country, no one will talk you out of buying into home security; whether it’s a fancy monitoring system or a chair-back wedged under the doorknob. Peace of mind is invaluable, but most people’s resources have limits. Fortunately, there’s an option for every budget and lifestyle.
To help you determine which home security blueprint is best for you, here are some questions to start with:
- What or who are you protecting: Yourself and your family, your valuables or both? – This helps you decide if window alarms are necessary or if you can get by with just a lock-box for your important documents.
- Do you live alone? – If you don’t, please make your home security decisions with your partner and/or family. Having a device in your home that “detonates” with a painfully loud ringing noise is something you all have to be in on. If you’re the only one turning it on, others in your house may trip many false alarms, which can cost big bucks after the first few freebies.
- Is the property outside your home something you want to include? – Fences and electronic monitoring systems are great ways from keeping people on the outside looking in. (But you probably don’t even want them looking)
- Do you have pets? – Pets and motion sensors can often work at cross purposes. Be sure you’ve worked any four-legged friends into your game-plan.
- Do you want/need video surveillance? – This question will primarily depend on you resources as having surveillance on your property can cost thousands a month.
Shopping for a home security system, with a monthly fee, can be as easy as walking around your neighborhood and noting the logos you see on window stickers and placards, then sitting down to make some calls. The Internet is another excellent source, as well. You’ll find dozens of home security companies, as well as thousands of devices that will help you increase security without signing a multi-year contract. Here’s a rundown using both methods.
Call the companies you’ve heard good things about first. Then, surf around for others that offer service in your ZIP code. You’ll quickly get a vibe about which company you feel safest with. Those who answer the phone promptly went to the top of my list. ADT, GE and Broadview (formerly Brinks) seem to be the most trusted. Protect America also gets high marks from consumers.
When obtaining prices, ask about affiliation discounts. ADT, for example, offers military and veteran discounts. ADT also offers special pricing for AARP members. Save money by taking care of the set-up yourself. Look into home security systems like InGrid Home Security (No, I’d never heard of them either). InGrid is one of several DIY home security systems out there and it’s getting good press.
The New York Times wrote an excellent review of Ingrid security systems a little while ago and some of the key points there made were:
“Instead of relying on installers to rewire the house, new ‘security systems in a box’ use a combination of battery, wireless and cellular technology to make installation simple and quick for most homeowners. Some systems can even bypass monitoring firms directly and contact the owner instead of a third party when the alarm is set off. One such system is sold by InGrid Home Security. The basic package, available for $199 at ingridhome.com, includes an alarm console, a phone that doubles as an alarm control and three window or door sensors. The entire kit fits in a box about as big as a shoebox.
The sensors stick to doors and windows with sticky tape and are completely wireless. They are powered by tiny watch batteries and connect automatically with a few taps on the cordless handset. You can monitor the system online, even taking video and images using an optional video camera. The system took about an hour to install in a two-story home. No tools were necessary but there were a few snags while activating sensors and base stations.
The monitoring service costs $20 a month and discounts are available with a yearly contract. A video camera costs $130 and temperature and water sensors — for basements or unattended summer homes — cost $60 each. The service offers 24-hour monitoring as well as access to video feeds over the Internet. Smoke and siren detectors cost $100 and $50 respectively.”
Most monitoring services are full service in that they can provide smoke, carbon monoxide and water damage detectors. If you want to secure your entire property and not just the interior of your home, look specifically for companies who can install motion sensors strategically outside your house. Buyer beware of special “sign up” fees being waived. ADT promised to give us our first two months free (after three months of service), but put the onus was on us to call them after that third month…which we did. Even still, it took seven phone calls to get that money in hand.
Added Security Gadgets
There are hundreds of products on the market to make you feel more secure in your home. TheHomeSecuritySuperstore.com is a good first stop. There are driveway alerts, window glass break alarms, motion alarms that automatically call you to report an intruder and things like swimming pool alarms. Price points are of the $9.99, $29.99 and $49.99 variety. Making an a la carte home security system is certainly possible and many people go this route to avoid signing a contract and forking over an average of a buck a day to a monitoring service.
Other outlets, like the Watchdog Superstore, offer a lot of customer support to help you devise a system that works for your needs and your budget. You can even find some really funky, unique and spy-like things, such as the Secureshot Outdoor Speaker Rock Camera/DVR for $539.95. This product can see in the dark up to 30 feet and can monitor and record activity on your property.
You’ll also find a lot of neat gadgets on sites like Buy.com and Amazon.com. Surprisingly there are a lot more companies selling home security contraptions these days than in times past. Many economists noted that the home security industry was flat last year which is considered a win, as most industries showed losses. This goes to show you that people will find the money to spend on personal safety.
Is a Home Security System Right for You?
If you’re in the market for added home security, you have a variety of options, each with their pros and cons. The key to making the right decision is reviewing your budget, talking it over with your family and coming to a consensus. Home security systems aren’t cheap but what they protect is invaluable and an added benefit of a home security system is that it will likely reduce your homeowner’s insurance premium. Make sure to contact your insurance company as soon as your system is up and running.
Alas, if you want to spend as little as possible on home security, you can always rent Home Alone and glean a few creative ideas from Macaulay Culkin’s character. A few toy trucks, can of paint, blow torch, holiday ornaments, bag of feathers, bb gun and tarantula will probably set you back a few hundred dollars anyway, so you may as well go with the professionals.
Published or updated March 22, 2012.