Buying A Security System – Part 1

Newsflash: home burglaries are on the rise.  This happens every summer and is pretty much usually best attributed to bored kids + warm weather.  It is not easily dismissed as a “midtown problem” or a “hilltop problem”; it happens everywhere.  Everyone knows the general tips on protecting your home — lock your windows & doors, install security lighting, keep valuables out of sight — so I’m not going to rehash those here.  Sara published a pretty good list a few weeks ago if you need a refresher.  One footnote: if you get security lighting, get the kind with flourescent or LED lights.  Especially with dusk-to-dawn lights and the forthcoming massive utility rate hikes, the energy savings will pay for the added cost in a matter of months.

I’m a big advocate of home security systems.  Not only can they summon help when trouble strikes, but they can also generate a 3% – 10% discount on your homeowners’ / renters’ insurance.  With UL-listed monitoring as low as $8.95 / month and UL-listed systems starting around $200, they’re surprisingly affordable.  And even if your technical knowledge is generously described as “limited”, the fact that you’re reading this demonstrates that you have enough skills to install one yourself.  Before you shell out big bucks for that $34.95-a-month ADT system, consider these points:

  • UL-listed monitoring services typically cost $8.95 (Alarm Relay) to $14.95 (NextAlarm) per month.  Both of these services have multiple redundant UL-listed central stations that are staffed 24×7.
  • Equipment is generally pretty inexpensive.  The Abbra 2 is what I usually recommend, and can be had for just under $300 — including a year of prepaid monitoring AND lifetime tech support.
  • Even if you’re not a customer, most alarm companies will happily send you window stickers and/or yard signs to use (some may charge a shipping fee).  These are non-adhesive vinyl decals that read “Protected by NextAlarm / 24×7 Security Monitoring”.  These can help deter someone looking for a quick score, as it will encourage them to move on to a less troublesome target.
  • Having a home security system does more than let you know when someone breaks in.  It can also summon help in an occupied home invasion or thwart an ambush attempt.  It can summon the fire department upon detecting smoke, even if you’re away.  Most systems (including the Abbra, above) can even turn on your lights when you come home.

If you’d like to get a system, I highly recommend buying from Home Technology Store or Safe-Mart (no, those aren’t referral links; I’m not getting any commission here).  I’ve ordered from both without any problems, and both offer systems bundled with a year of monitoring.

Quality brands to consider are Abbra / Visonic, Ademco, and GE.  Abbra and Visonic are my personal favorites because they’re less expensive and, from first-hand experience, very reliable.  Visonic (who also makes the Abbra) is an Israeli company (all of their equipment is stamped “Made in Israel”, a first for me) that has little brand recognition in the US private sector, hence the price.  Ademco is much more well-known and makes slightly more polished-looking equipment, but at a notably higher price.  GE is probably the most popular of the bunch in the commercial / industrial market, and has a wider range of sensors than the others.  They are also slightly more difficult to program.

You can make your system as simple or as complex as you like.  At an absolute minimum, you should have one sensor for every door into your home and one motion detector.  This will probably provide adequate coverage while you’re away, but minimal coverage while you’re home.  For ideal coverage, you should have one sensor for every door and window in your home and at least one motion detector.  I used to recommend motion detectors in every room — and feel free if you have the budget — but doing so is highly redundant.  Your door / window sensors are your first line of defense and are extremely difficult to bypass (the old “stick a knife in the windowframe” does not work, ever).

You can also pimp out your system with smoke detectors, flood / water detectors, freeze sensors, extra keypads, gas detectors, remote sirens, cellular backups, and keyfobs.  I recommend hiding the main panel somewhere that would take at least 60 seconds to find (such as inside a closet on the second floor), replacing the built-in siren with a remote siren, and adding a keypad at each door.  While not necessary, this gives an added layer of security by “defending” the panel against physical attack (the 60-second rule comes into play because it takes your panel about 20 – 30 seconds to dial in and report an event).  Keyfobs are great because they allow you to arm / disarm your system as easily as you operate your car’s keyless entry.

These days, you have a choice between wired or wireless systems.  Wired systems will require you to — obviously — do a little wiring, which will in turn require you to start drilling through walls and pulling down trim.  Wireless systems are extremely reliable and much easier to install.  Most wireless systems, including the Abbra 2 above, will detect trouble like weak batteries (none of the batteries in my system have been replaced in 4 years), tampering, or even a loss of signal.  They all operate in the 433mHz range, making them pretty much immune to everyday sources of interference like cell phones and microwaves.  And with a typical indoor range of several hundred feet and built-in signal meters at the base station, you really don’t have to worry about the signal being too weak.

A decent home security system can give you peace of mind both while you’re at home and while you’re away.  The assortment of quality systems on the market right now means you have a pretty good selection among features, brands, and price points.  In my next post I’ll talk about designing, purchasing, and installing a system in your home.

3 thoughts on “Buying A Security System – Part 1”

  1. I love your points about the importance of home security and couldn’t agree more about its value. Home security is something that is often overlooked but can play a great role in protecting the home and providing additional peace of mind.

    I think any quality home security system should come fully backed with guarantees such as a performance warranty, an equipment warranty, an emergency service guarantee, a satisfaction guarantee and a false alarm fine guarantee. This helps ensure that you are getting a quality system. While everyone wants to get the most cost effective system, it is also important to do your homework and make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck.

  2. I’m not a big fan of the non-dispatched monitoring (the former $5/mo plan). I always recommend that people pick one of the monitored plans for their homes or businesses. Maybe if you’re protecting a remote hunting cabin, but that’s it.

    And somehow I don’t think NextAlarm — or any other monitoring company — was affected by the bailout.

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