In today’s age, to say a home security system is a burglar alarm is the equivalent of saying a smartphone makes phone calls. While both are true, those statements barely scratch the surface of the capabilities and features that come equipped with today’s devices. Advances in technology and innovating thinking from several leading companies have made home security systems so much more. What used to be a simple entry alarms now have the potential to be fully-integrated home management systems. Plus, technological advancements, industry disruptors, and marketplace competition have made those systems more accessible and affordable than ever. Which is important, because regardless of how safe you may think your home is, everyone can – and should – benefit from a home security system.
What do home security systems do?
At their most basic, home security systems protect your home against theft and property damage by securing entry points and designated areas of a home with a series of separate electronic devices all connected to a central control panel. When any of those devices (typically door/window sensors or motion detectors) register an entry, they send a signal to the central hub. If the homeowner doesn’t verify that the entry is authorized by deactivating the system from the control panel during a short window of time, the system sounds an alarm.
Equally as important as the signals themselves (and more so, in some cases) is what happens after the alarm sounds. According to Bureau of Justice statistics , a family member is home during nearly 30 percent of all burglaries. In those situations, if the sensor alarm doesn’t deter the intruder, at the very least it would alert the family member of the break-in, who could then take appropriate action. But what about the other 70 percent of the time when no one is home? What good is a burglar alarm that only the burglar hears?
If your system is professionally monitored by an alarm company, trained operators hear those alarms too. Along with coordinating all of the various sensors, the control panel also acts as a communication device, relaying those signals to a 24/7 central monitoring station. Those stations are manned by agents specially trained to respond quickly in interpreting those alarms, verifying the emergency, and contacting the appropriate authorities.
Why do you need a security system?
Burglary is the second-most prevalent crime in the United States today, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report . Your best defense against it is deterrence: stopping a burglary before it starts, or before it can be completed. That deterrence is the core value of having the best home security system. Even for those who feel secure in their neighborhoods and don’t think the cost of a professionally monitored alarm system is justified, there are still a number of reasons to install one, beyond theft.
Peace of Mind and Protection:
Burglaries result in an average dollar loss of over $2000, which is more than five times the annual cost of the more expensive monitored home security systems. But, those statistics come from completed burglaries. There are far more home intrusions committed every year than there are burglaries. An intrusion doesn’t escalate to a burglary until items are stolen. The Electronic Security Association estimates that three-fourths of intrusions stop short of becoming burglaries because of a home security alarm.
Nearly 30 percent of burglaries occur when a family member is present in the home. Of that number, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that over seven percent resulted in some form of violent victimization. Those intruders are statistically more likely to abandon the burglary, and subsequent victimization, if a home security alarm sounds.
There are far more threats to your home than intruders. The biggest of those is fire. If you’re not home when a smoke alarm sounds, or rendered unconscious, there might not be anyone to call emergency services. However, most security companies also offer professional monitoring of smoke, fire, carbon monoxide, and flood detectors.
Every day, as more analog devices in the home upgrade to digital, the best home security systems are finding new ways to incorporate them into their networks. Thermostats, lights, electrical outlets, appliances, door locks, and even water faucets can now be centrally controlled through your security system’s interface, completely automating key components of your home. That control can add an extra layer of safety as well as convenience.
Security systems do more than save you the cost of replacing stolen items. They can save you money even if a thief never forces you to use it. Proving to your home insurer that you have a security system not only decreases your chances of a break-in, it decreases their risk as well. That lower risk translates to significantly lower coverage premiums for you.
How The Best Home Security Systems Work
Fortunately, home security systems have their own statistics that can give you some peace of mind, even in the face of all the burglary numbers. That’s because, as crime has evolved over time, so have the security measures used to combat it.
Today’s systems operate in three main areas:
Security monitoring is the main function of a home alarm system. Systems protect your home against intrusion by securing designated doors and windows with electronic sensors that detect every time one is opened. The sensors themselves are connected to a central control panel that arms and disarms the system, as well as monitors all of the separate components. When a sensor is tripped, not only does an audible alarm sound, but the panel also relays that alert to a professional monitoring station where agents are standing by to notify the proper authorities.
Security systems also rely on motion detectors placed at key areas within the home. Less than 60% of burglaries involve forced entry. Through a variety of means, intruders are often able to enter the home without causing any disruptions. Motion detectors are a key stop-gap measure in those instances.
Traditionally, home alarm systems relied on hard-wired, professional installation. Each individual component was attached to the central control panel through a series of cables run through the walls and under the floors of the home. Now, more and more devices are able to communicate with each other wirelessly. This not only makes easy, self-installation possible, but also makes the sensors less permanent and able to be moved around the house as need dictates.
Perhaps more importantly, the communication with the monitoring station is transitioning to wireless as well. For a majority of their existence, control panels relayed alarms through landline telephone connection. But criminals quickly realized that phone lines can be cut, rendering the system useless. Thankfully, cellular service built into newer control panels allow for secure, reliable communication with no wires that can be tampered with.
Additional equipment can further secure your home by adding video recording and streaming, and allowing full control of your system through internet-enabled devices.
Of course, there are more threats to your home than just burglary. Every year, there are nearly 400,000 home fires in the United States. They account for an average loss of nearly $20,000, and 84% of them result in at least one death. Every home should already be equipped with smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detectors anyway, but incorporating them into your home security system helps protect against those loses when you aren’t home, or worse.
The wireless capabilities of many environmental sensors available today allow them to integrate with your system’s central control panel. Not only do they give you the regular audible alarms of traditional sensors, but they are also connected to the same central station that monitors your security alerts. If an alarm sounds when you either aren’t home or are incapacitated by the disaster, the monitoring station immediately alerts emergency services on your behalf. That quick response is critical in mitigating potential losses and saving lives.
It should also be noted that over 20% of home fire deaths came from homes that had non-working smoke detectors. In those instances, where detectors were present but didn’t work, nearly half of them were a simple case of dead or disconnected batteries. With monitored detectors, both the homeowner and monitoring station are continuously updated on the operational status of the sensors, helping to avoid those simply, yet tragic, oversights.
Additional water sensors can also monitor for leaks and floods in susceptible areas of the home. And some companies take their safety monitoring a step further by incorporating panic buttons and wearable medical alert devices
As a new wave of wireless, or internet-enabled, “smart” devices hit the market, that same technology that connects those safety devices to your security system’s control panel can also give you unparalleled remote control of many basic home features. Through your control panel, web browser, and dedicated mobile apps, you can electronically control thermostats, lights, electrical outlets, small appliances, door locks, and even water faucets.
Home automation can provide comfort, convenience, savings, and peace of mind that home security systems of the past never could. And, more importantly, it provides an extra layer of protection.
When you have that nagging feeling that you left the house without locking the door, home automation allows you to use your cellphone to check and lock it from anywhere. Also, the ability to remotely control certain home features means you can make your home look occupied when it isn’t. For example, you can use your control panel to schedule lights to turn on or off based on time of day. You can even set them to turn on or off based on movement detected by your security system’s motion detectors.
A simple, virtual flip of a light switch could be enough to discourage a burglar casing your home while you aren’t there.
Choosing the Best Home Security System
A quick internet search reveals hundreds of companies offering home security solutions. With so many options, it can be difficult to decide which one is best for your home.
The best companies meet the following three criteria:
- Professionally Monitored: With professionally monitored systems, an alert is sent to operators at a 24/7 monitoring center every time an alarm sounds in your home. Someone is always watching over your home, even when no one is there.
- Nationwide Availability: Companies that are able to sell their products nationwide tend to be larger, more established, have better infrastructure, and are generally in a better position to meet the needs of their customers. There are exceptions that rule, but for the most part, the best companies have the farthest reach.
- Cellular Connection: Some systems rely on landline phone connections to communicate with monitoring centers. Unfortunately, landlines are easily cut by criminals, and therefore less reliable when it comes to home security monitoring. The safest systems are those with cellular connections.
When choosing a home security system, it’s important to understand that you don’t need to purchase the most expensive plan or upgraded equipment packages to get the best protection. To help you cut through all of the confusion of each company’s many offerings, we’ve created this walkthrough to help you choose the system that’s best for you.
Decide Your Security Monitoring
The first step is deciding what type of monitoring you want in a security system: professional monitoring or DIY self-monitoring.
Things to Consider:
All of the sensors in your home are connected to a central control panel. When a sensor is tripped and an alarm sounds, the control panel sends an alert to the central monitoring station. It does so through one of three connections:
Cellular systems can cost a little more because of the price of using a third-party cellular network, but it’s the recommended option because of its reliability. Landlines can be cut by intruders, rendering your system useless. Cellular systems have no lines to cut. The same goes for broadband connections, which don’t work during power outages. With a battery back-up built in, cellular connections work even without electricity.
The benefits of professional monitoring are obvious. With it, you have the peace of mind that someone is always watching your home, even when no one is physically there. The only drawback is the cost. All of the monthly fees that come with a home security plan are associated with the monitoring. Without it, the security would be free after the initial equipment purchase. However, the benefits outweigh the cost when you consider how expensive even one break-in to your home could be.
The main benefit of DIY systems is the money you save on professional monitoring every month. However, self-monitoring requires an enormous amount of due diligence on the part of the homeowner. There is no one else to alert the authorities of an emergency when an alarm sounds. If you miss an alarm notification, the cost of a burglary could quickly negate all of those savings.
Plus, depending on the type of connection, self-monitoring isn’t always free, despite the lack of a professional service fee. Systems that send alerts through your home’s Wi-Fi connection are typically no-cost. However, if those alerts are sent from a cellular control panel, you could still end up paying to use that network.
Regardless of price, we highly recommend professional monitoring plans. The added peace of mind is worth the additional cost alone. Plus, the price of monitoring pales in comparison to the average cost of a single break-in. Even popular companies founded on the premise of cheap, DIY monitoring now offer a professional option because of the undeniable benefits it provides.
Determine Your Equipment Needs
Once you’ve deciding on the type of monitoring you want, your next step is finding who has the devices you need.
Most equipment is made by the same top manufacturers. So, when shopping for a system and provider, you shouldn’t worry about who has the best quality equipment, because there’s a strong chance that most of the competitors you’re researching have at least one component made by the same company. Instead, you should focus on which offers the type of equipment you’re looking for, at a price you can afford.
All plans start with the same basic equipment:
- Control Panel
- Door/Window Sensors
- Motion Detectors
- Yard Signs/Window Decals
Decide ahead of time how many doors and windows you want to secure. You can always purchase extra sensors at any time, but you should shop for the plan that offers the best value by giving you the most initial sensors for your money.
The basic starting equipment is enough to secure your home, but there is also a wide variety of upgraded devices that add extra features and increase the functionality of your system, such as:
- Touchscreen Control Panels
- Indoor/Outdoor Video Cameras
- Glass Break Sensors
- Garage Door Sensors
- Recessed Door Sensors
Not all companies offer every upgrade. Therefore, you need to decide not only what you want initially but also which features you may want in the future. You don’t want to find out that your desired upgrade isn’t available from your company after you’re locked into a contract. Always browse every offering before choosing.