Why You Should - or Shouldn't - Get a Home Security System

Home security systems are common in residences all around the U.S., and the range of technology they employ is varied. An industry survey from 2009 estimated that around 36 million American homes and businesses used a security system of some kind. These can range from basic alarms that sound when doors or windows are opened, to sophisticated setups that connect cameras, smoke detectors and motion sensors to emergency service networks or the internet.

Just as there is no shortage of choices when it comes to home security systems, there is neither a shortage of opinions on their usefulness and value. While a security system can provide homeowners at least some peace of mind, many of them do little to deter or prevent crime. Before choosing a security system, it's essential to weigh the costs against the benefits.

The technology that falls under the purview of home security vendors is varied. At the most basic level are physical barriers like fences, locks and window bars. More advanced preventative measures include reinforced doors and shatter-proof glass windows. However, most wouldn't consider many of these features in the home security system category, since they don't involve the use of electronics to monitor property and respond to a threat. Some common examples of electronic security systems include:

  • Alarms
  • Automated emergency response
  • Cameras
  • Motion sensors
  • Network-enabled smoke detectors
  • Digital locks

Many home security systems require the purchase of not only the equipment but also subscription to a service. This may include 24-hour monitoring as well as maintenance. 

Benefits of Home Security

Depending on the type of system used, home security systems offer a number of benefits. Services that connect to a phone line to automatically alert authorities of a possible fire, flood or break-in can allow the appropriate authorities to respond even if a homeowner is absent. Some systems also enable homeowners to monitor cameras and sensors from the internet, which could be useful to look after a home while on vacation, or to keep tabs on pets and kids. 

SecurityDepending on the type of system used, home security systems offer a number of benefits.

Systems that employ an audible alarm probably have some effect on burglars. If an alarm sounds upon a door or window being smashed, it's more likely that criminals will leave the scene quickly. The sound may also alert neighbors and thus encourage a police response, even if it isn't hooked up to a phone line. A study from Rutgers University found that neighborhoods with a high density of alarm-guarded homes tended to have lower property crime rates.

Finally, there are some fringe benefits of a security system. Homeowners insurance policies may offer a premium discount for homes that install a security system. But not all perks have a fixed financial value - security systems can make homeowners feel safer, and might make it easier to spend long periods of time away.

Drawbacks of Home Security

The most obvious downside to home security systems is the cost. For initial purchase and installation, this could range from less than $100 to several thousands for the most advanced systems. Then, there is the price of recurring service to consider. Monitoring services may charge a monthly fee of anywhere from $20 per month to more than $100.

Of course, these costs can be offset, or at least justified, if they reduce the damage incurred by burglary. Whether or not this happens is a point of contention. Alarms tend to reduce the average value of damage and loss in a burglary, but can hardly be said to prevent these crimes from occurring at all. In addition, while the previously mentioned Rutgers study found evidence of security system effectiveness, there was little apparent benefit if secured homes were located in areas without many security systems in place. That means if you live in an isolated area or in a neighborhood without many other secured homes nearby, the benefits tend to be far smaller.

There is no easy answer to the question of a home security system's true value. Homeowners should conduct thorough research and seek out quotes from multiple services before choosing a home security system. In addition, it's always a good idea to adopt sound safety practices even with a security system, like keeping doors locked and keeping in touch with neighbors.

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