Monday, May 14, 2007

Should I Install a Home Security System?

Not so many years ago, a fail-safe home security system consisted of a good lock on the door, a large family dog, and perhaps a baseball bat propped up in the umbrella stand. Today, most locks can't keep experienced burglars out, fewer people can keep big dogs, and baseball bats provide little protection against well-armed intruders. More and more homeowners--and even apartment dwellers--are investing in home security systems to deter criminals, provide home protection, and give them peace of mind.

If you're wondering whether to install a home security system, then consider the following questions:

What are you trying to protect?

If you live alone with little more than a television and some furniture, and have little concern for your own personal safety (perhaps you have a black belt in karate), then your home security needs may be nil. If, however, you have children and/or other family to protect, you fear for your own personal well-being, and/or you own expensive antiques, art, jewelry, and other valuables, then your need for home security is probably much greater. The importance of what you are trying to protect should weigh heavily in your decision to install a home security system. You want to be able to sleep well at night knowing that both your loved ones and your valuable personal belongings are safe. If you can't do that now, then you may need some form of home security system.

Do you live in a high-crime area?

Another way to analyze your home security needs is to consider the likelihood that you will be the target of criminal activity. If you have lived in a neighborhood for a while, you probably already know whether it is safe to leave your doors unlocked at night, or whether you should barricade every window around the clock. If you live in a high-crime area, your need for home security is greater. If you are new in town, you might want to do a little research to find out about the level of crime where you live. The police station, local library, neighbors, and local real estate agents are all potential sources of information about the level of crime in your neighborhood. Use that information when making your decision.

Is your house a natural target for a burglar?

Even if you live in a low-crime area, be aware that there are certain types of homes that are more prone to burglary than others. For example, ground-level apartments are more likely to be targeted than apartments three or more stories up. Homes surrounded by thick bushes, plants, and trees are favored by prowlers because they offer plenty of places to hide. Old, weak, or cracked doors and windows are easier to break into. A house on a darkened street where the owners are seldom home is a very attractive target. In contrast, if your house has a wide-open lawn on a well-lit street that is posted with "Neighborhood Watch" signs, it is probably not the ideal spot for a burglar to ply his or her trade. Does your home invite or deter crime? The answer will help you make a decision about whether you need a home security system.

Does your homeowners insurance carrier offer discounts for home security systems?

Aside from safety, you may have a financial motive to beef up your home security. Most, if not all, insurers will give you a discount on your homeowners policy premium if you install a home security system. The available discount will vary from one insurer to another. It will also vary depending on what kind of security system you choose. Usually, insurers will give you a 5 percent discount merely for installing dead-bolt locks. A simple burglar alarm is likely to get you yet another 5 percent. If you decide to go with a more sophisticated home security system, complete with monitoring services, then you can expect a discount of up to 20 percent. (In addition to discounts for security devices, you can get discounts for installing safety devices such as smoke detectors or sprinkler systems.) Check with your insurance agent to make sure you're currently receiving any discounts you qualify for, and to see if you can save any more on premiums by installing additional security equipment.

Can you afford a system?

The price of a security system depends largely upon how sophisticated the system is. A typical higher tech solution is a full-perimeter system, which usually includes a series of sensors that, when armed, detect when a door or window is opened, broken, or tampered with. These systems typically operate on the principal that whenever one of the detectors is tripped, an alarm of some sort will sound. It may be a horn, bell, or beep and may be accompanied by flashing lights. If the system includes off-site monitoring, local police will be notified. Additionally, there are a host of other systems that can protect you if an intruder bypasses your perimeter system and succeeds in entering your home. Floor sensors can detect an intruder by the weight of his or her footsteps. Motion detectors sense any significant movements within their range.

The technology that goes into many modern systems is truly amazing, and if cost is not an object, very sophisticated systems are available. But don't let money discourage you until you have shopped around. There are many security systems to choose from, in a wide range of prices. Whatever you are trying to protect, you should be able to find something within your budget that will help you sleep better at night. Consult your local yellow pages, the Internet, or community newspapers for security system professionals and dealers.

Is there anything you can do to minimize the need for a home security system?

There may be steps you can take to minimize your need for a high-tech home security system. If you want to make your home safer and can settle for low tech, there are a number of things you can do.

  • In addition to installing dead-bolt locks, replace old, cracked, or hollow doors with doors made of metal or solid hard wood.
  • Don't rely on a slide chain to protect you if you are opening a door to see who's knocking. Install a wide-angle peephole device in the door.
  • Make sure your sliding glass doors have keyed locks and cannot be lifted out of their frames from the outside. A pole or rod cut to the proper length and laid in the track of the door can prevent it from being slid open, even if the locks are compromised.
  • Install removable pins, nails, and/or rods to prevent windows from being opened, and replace old or cracked windows and panes.
  • Cut back bushes and trees that surround your house and windows.

Finally, try to create the illusion that you are well protected. Whether or not you have a home security system, purchase adhesive labels that say you do, and affix them to every door and window. Post a "Beware of Dog" sign, whether you have one or not. The illusion that you are well protected may deter a would-be burglar. If you are going to be away from your home, purchase an inexpensive timer that turns a lamp or two on at dusk, and off again at bedtime. It may create the illusion that someone is at home and deter a burglar who is waiting to make his or her move when the home is vacant.



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