Do I Need a Home Security System? 

Each year, hundreds of thousands of homes are broken into. Burglars take valuables and can cause expensive property damage. But more harmful than the financial loss is the trauma a family can suffer after having their personal space invaded. The feelings of being vulnerable where you once felt safe can linger for years. A home security system can help protect your home and family, and can prevent this type of violation in the first place. 

What a home security system does

A home security system is not going to physically stop someone from entering your home uninvited, but it will serve as a warning to potential criminals that you are not an easy target. Rutgers University reports that alarm systems are associated with a decrease in crime, and not just for the home where they are installed. In a 300-page report funded by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation (AIREF), it was found that burglar alarms made a property look less attractive. Surprisingly, intrusion crimes were not just displaced to other nearby homes, but, according to the data, were decreased for the general area. 

In short, an alarm system is a powerful deterrent. Furthermore, in the case of a successful break-in, an audible alarm can draw unwanted attention to the home, which will likely send the intruder running. A system with a built-in camera can capture video of activities that happen around the property and can help authorities identify the perpetrator.

Features and benefits 

A home security system is comprised of many parts, all of which work together to provide your family with the best protection possible. A master control serves as the brain of the unit. It’s responsible for interpreting information from the sensors, and then either alerting the monitoring agency or sounding an alarm. Sensors are the arms of the unit and are positioned strategically at entrances, such as the doors and windows. When engaged, sensors monitor for movement; some can detect glass breakage. Motion sensors utilize infrared technology to pick up on movement in the dark. A motion-activated light will automatically flood the area with light, which eliminates the cover of darkness criminals seek.

Where there’s smoke

A smoke alarm, which may also be monitored by your home security company or smart device, works around the clock to monitor for potential fires. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) explains that there are two types of smoke alarms: photoelectric and ionization. The former responds best to flames, while the latter tends to sound more rapidly during a smoldering fire. Both should be installed for maximum protection. Even without monitoring, a smoke alarm can cut your family’s risk of dying in a fire in half, according to research published by the University of Cincinnati. 

Wireless or hard-wired?

When it comes to home security, the two options are wired and wireless. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and the type of system you choose should be based on your family’s needs and budget. 

A hardwired system provides the greatest range of protection, and may continue operation during an electrical outage. They are less susceptible to interruption, tampering, and radio interference. Hardwired alarm systems are more difficult for tech-savvy criminals to hack. However, they’re more expensive to install, and are exceedingly difficult to remove. If you are concerned about aesthetics, consider the possibility of exposed wires. Hardwired alarm systems can support more than a dozen cameras and may be necessary for large homes if you want the entire property monitored.

Wireless technology has made home security more readily available to people living in rental situations when the structural changes involved in a hardwired system are not possible. Wireless monitoring is expandable, and can be installed in outbuildings and other areas with no electrical access. Battery life can exceed two years per device, but must be monitored and replaced to ensure there is no lapse in coverage. One major limitation is that wireless sensors must be placed near the system’s central control panel. Like other devices that utilize radio waves, a wireless alarm system is susceptible to outside influence, making them easier to tamper with. 

DIY or professional installation?

Technology has made it easier than ever to provide for your home security needs via DIY installation. Wireless cameras, smart home hubs, and a more reliable internet connection mean that anyone can add some measure of security to their home. However, these do-it-yourself systems have their limitations. 

A significant drawback of self-installation is that mistakes can quickly void the warranty. Installing a wired home security system requires an in-depth understanding of the complex mechanism that is your home’s electrical system. You’ll have to drill holes and run wires as well as connect each device. If your home was not previously set up for a security system, this could be a lengthy and time-consuming process. 

Further, improper electrical wiring can increase your home’s risk of fire and may invalidate homeowner insurance claims. If you don’t have the right tools and equipment, you also put yourself at risk of injury during the installation process. For example, using an improperly-sized ladder to try to reach overhead wiring increases your chances of falling. Industrial Safety and Hygiene News reports that ladder accidents result in more than 400 deaths per year.

Professional installation is beneficial if you want guaranteed quality work and a warranty. Your installer can instruct you on how to use the system, and help you identify ways to improve your home security setup. A home security system installed by a company likely comes with monitoring services, whereas many DIY systems do not. Installation can be expensive, and you may be locked into a 12- to 24-month contract. Pricing often varies as companies strive to remain competitive so, if you are patient, you can usually find a free-installation promotion or other incentives. 

Property crime statistics

Property crimes are those committed specifically against real estate or personal property. These include burglaries, vehicle theft, and vandalism. The FBI estimates that there were nearly 8 million property crimes in 2016. These resulted in losses of greater than $15 billion, excluding arson damages. Fortunately, most burglars report that they prefer breaking and entering during periods when the home should be unoccupied, such as around lunchtime or shortly after the family has left for work and school. But this isn’t always the case, and being home unexpectedly can startle a thief and provoke violence. Where you live determines your risk of burglary, but even the safest communities are not immune from crime. 

Home invasions, which are forced entry into a dwelling when the owner or occupants are present, often start out as a simple attempt at theft. Unfortunately, there are many examples of would-be burglaries escalating into violence — up to and including murder. An alarm system can lessen your chances of becoming a statistic. 

Paying for itself

A less-considered benefit of owning a home security system is that you can save money on your homeowners insurance. The Insurance Information Institute claims that the combination of a smoke and intruder alarm can save you 5 percent on your yearly premium. A monitored system with more advanced capabilities may help you shave 20 percent off your bill. Contact your insurance agent to find out which systems qualify and what proof is needed to receive a discount. You may find that the savings offset the monthly fees. 

Other ways to protect yourself

In addition to a home security system, there are many small actions you can take to improve your safety. These include using a deadbolt on entry doors and installing a door stop on tracks for sliding doors. This can be a wooden dowel or broom handle cut to size. If your windows have child safety latches, engage these to prevent a criminal from opening them enough to enter without breaking the glass. Some dog breeds can also work as crime deterrents, but only if the perpetrator is a stranger and has never made contact with the animal. Jacksonville State University offers an additional 10 pages of home safety advice in this PDF, which was written with assistance from security expert Chris E. McGoey

Is an alarm always necessary?

Despite the advantages of home protection, it doesn’t always make sense to incur the costs — if you live in a staffed apartment complex with 24-hour security, for example. Likewise, if you only plan to be in your rental for a short period, you may be better of waiting until you move into a more permanent home. However, a smoke alarm, which you may be able to get for free at your local fire department, is advisable for everyone. 

If you’re still asking yourself if you need an alarm system, the answer is probably yes. Your home is less likely to be targeted by criminals, and you’ll enjoy the peace of mind that comes with an added set of “eyes” on your family. When coupled with around-the-clock monitoring and smoke detection, an alarm system is a comprehensive first line of defense against tragedy.