A home security system is any system that allows you to secure your home against burglaries, vandalism, break-ins, general crime, or even accidents within your home. They trigger an alarm in the event of a break-in or an accident and allow you to take steps to limit the damage. These systems come in an impressive variety nowadays, targeting a wide range of needs and lifestyles.
A good home security system is a considerable investment, not only in terms of money and on-going monitoring costs, but also in terms of it being what you rely on for the safety and security of your property and family. A home security system, therefore, would have to be a very informed purchase for it to serve you the best.
The technology involved in security systems keeps evolving, and though it is all geared toward making our life easier (and safer), the sheer number of options in the market can get overwhelming.
This guide aims to give you a general idea about the basic types of home security systems available in the market, and the factors to bear in mind when purchasing one, so that you are able to make an informed decision regarding what would suit you the best.
The types of home security systems available in the market
Alarms are the most basic and cost-effective choice for home security, with burglar alarms being the most popular ones. These alarms have a rather simple functioning. Their installation entails placing sensors around your house, which when tripped, make the alarm go off. Local alarms, also referred to as unmonitored alarms, will make a lot of noise when they go off but beyond that not much. If you are home the alarms will wake you up or bring the intrusion to your notice so you can act on it. If you are not at home, however, and neither are any of your neighbors, the burglars may safely make off with your possessions.
Monitored alarms do you one better. Upon tripping they alert your security providing company, which then waits for 45 seconds to ensure if it is a false alarm. If the alarm goes on for longer they ring you for a password, and failing to reach you they alert the local authorities who dispatch help to your home within minutes.
While this amount of time may prove enough for swift thieves, the biggest advantage of monitored alarms is that they pick up not just intrusions but also gas leaks and other problems that could endanger your family’s safety. Some of the additional features of these alarms include motion detectors and panic buttons (which come in rather handy for the elderly, the young, or the physically disabled).
Unlike local alarms though, monitored alarms will cost you in the region of $35-$75 each month by way of monitoring fees. But the upside of this is that since your house is technically safer than before, it will reduce your home insurance premium by up to $800 per year. You might want to check with your insurance provider regarding how much the installation of an alarm would affect your premium by.
Home surveillance systems
Other than house alarms, video surveillance systems are also an excellent option for ensuring your house’s security. A typical surveillance system is a lot more intricate and detailed than an unassuming burglar alarm. It entails setting up closed-circuit television cameras around your property or inside your house so you can monitor activity from a central location or even from a remote location via your smartphone. Video footage is recorded onto a computer disk drive, a USB flash drive, or an SD memory card and can be accessed for documentation purposes.
The CCTV technology is primarily divided along the lines of digital video recording (DVR) or network video recording (NVR) systems. There are many subtle technical differences between the two, but for the sake of brevity we will keep things simple.
The DVR systems use analog cameras for monitoring and recording purposes and come with dedicated computer hardware, along with many advanced features.The latest avatar of the technology –NVR– records videos digitally and allows its users to control or access their high-resolution security cameras and systems from any location as long as the users are on the same LAN as the cameras.
Some of the features allow you to remote control your system, set the porch lights to come on at a certain time, even reset certain features (depending on the model you have purchased). These surveillance systems allow their users complete control on their home security from remote locations.
Bear in mind though that DVR systems can also be adjusted to act on local networks and accessed remotely, thus blurring the difference between DVR and NVR systems. Hybrids of the two are the latest entrant in the market.
The security cameras are divided into many categories, depending on their features. Types include indoor cameras, outdoor cameras, night-vision cameras, vari-focal cameras, audio cameras, and fake/dummy cameras.
The sophistication of the video surveillance technology does reflect in its cost, but then it also comes with a warranty, tech support, and reliability. For ultimate peace of mind a proper video surveillance system is hard to beat, especially if you own a big house and have multiple security concerns.
A word on dummy cameras
Dummy cameras are cameras that look like the usual functional surveillance cameras but don’t carry out any of the related functions on the account of them being, well, dummies.
The operating premise here is that merely spotting a surveillance camera acts as a deterrent against burglars, so dummy cameras are used by some businesses and families just to scare the unscrupulous elements away. While that may work with less discerning thieves, the good ones will be able to tell a dummy when they see one.
Also, dummies may lure you into a false sense of security; others will have eventually figured out the camera overlooking your premises is fake while you continue to live believing it will keep you safe and sound.
A dummy does have its uses if you don’t want to spend a lot on a proper surveillance system though, but make sure you have a back-up inside the house, like a reliable and armed alarm system, if you are going to install a dummy outside to fool the intruders.
This is a good video on different types of home security systems and how they work:
What about dogs?
How effective is the man’s best friend at protecting the property? After all, isn’t that the main reason people started keeping dogs in the first place?
A dog may help when it comes to providing security, and some breeds are better at offering protection than others.
The thought of being pounced on by a ferocious-looking dog alone may act as a deterrent for some would-be burglars and almost any dog will create a ruckus when it smells or senses an intruder, thus alerting you to the threat.
The problem, however, arises when nobody is home. Who would listen to the dog barking, much less act on it? Prepared burglars may also not have much trouble neutralizing the canine threat anyway by offering the dog something that knocks it off for a while. What if it’s only your children who are home with the dog when the burglars decide to pay your house a visit?
Also, a dog won’t alert the authorities about the break-in or give a statement to the cops about the appearance of the burglars. Many breeds will also “cower in a corner” instead of take on the thieves.
If you have been relying solely on your canine companion to sort you out in times of distress you might want to ponder on these points.
The benefits of having a security system in your home
The need for having some sort of home security system in place is backed by research and cold hard statistics.
As per FBI data, an estimated 2,188,005 burglaries took place in 2011 in America, a rise of 1% over the previous year. Over 74% of these burglaries took place in residential properties. The losses caused by these burglaries amounted to a total of $4.8 billion, with the average loss pegged at $2,185. (For a region wise breakdown or to see how your state fared, see here.)
Only about 17% of homes in the US have in place some kind of security system, which may have something to do with the high rate of break-ins in this country. Furthermore, research also states that homes without a good security system in place are more likely to be burgled than those with them. Surprise, surprise!
How exactly do home security systems help?
They provide you with a number of features that put you in charge of the security of your home and family. Remote accessibility and control of these systems means you carry your peace of mind with you wherever you go.
Alarms when tripped give out a deafening sound which in itself may chase the burglars away. Authorities are alerted to the break-in within seconds of the event and dispatch help to arrive at your property within minutes. (Be advised though that you may be charged for false alarms.)
Say you are home and spot somebody sneaking into your backyard. You will be able to catch them in the act if you have surveillance cameras trained on your premises.
Spotting CCTV cameras may also act as a deterrent for those who may be tempted to break in illegally.
Spotting suspicious activity in the surveillance footage will help you alert the local cops and prevent a break-in.
Video footage from surveillance systems acts as excellent evidence for insurance claims in case your house is burgled. It may even help nab the culprits.
Most companies selling advanced security systems also have their own free dedicated apps that the users can download to their phones and integrate with the system.
These apps allow the users to check in on their homes from remote locations, amuse themselves with what their pets are up to in their absence, or how their kids are behaving while they are gone.
You can vacation with a mind at ease as you’d be able to keep an eye on your property, or wherever you have trained your security cameras, while you are gone.
Intrusions detected by the security systems are sent by some apps in the form of a video clip to the home owner’s smartphone. That allows the owner to determine if it is something that needs to be acted on, and thus ring the authorities for help, or if it’s a false alarm.
Homes with reliable security systems in place also impact your home insurance premium for the better. Insurers rate such homes as safer than others, which leads them to charge you a lower premium.
As stated previously, monitored systems will require you to pay your security service provider on a monthly basis for the monitoring services, so that is an additional and ongoing cost to consider. However, the money you will save in insurance premiums may well mean that the system will start paying for itself in a couple of years’ time.
How to find the best home security system for your needs?
For best purchase decisions, keep things very simple. There are some basic things you would need to keep in mind and questions to ask yourself before you arrive at a decision. Some important factors include:
Determining your home’s security needs
This is the best starting point.
Do you own a big house? If the answer is no, then in all likelihood you do not need an elaborate video surveillance system with multiple cameras installed all around your property.
How many cameras you need would depend on what you want to do with them. Do you want them installed in your house to keep an eye on your infant and nanny, or do you need them to focus on your doorway or the backyard? You’d also have to decide whether you want your cameras to record footage as well, in which case you will have to connect it with a video recorder.
For average-sized apartments in decent neighborhoods a burglar alarm is more than enough to provide you the security you need.
For average-sized houses in busy or slightly rough neighborhoods you may want to move beyond alarms. An outdoor camera overlooking your exterior space, the front garden as well as the backyard, may prove to be more helpful. If the local thugs can spot the camera peeping out at them, they are less likely to take their chances with your house, especially if there are many unarmed houses around.
What features would you ideally want your security system to contain? Would you prefer a wired or a wireless camera? Wired security cameras, as the classification suggests, come with wires, installing which may require you to make slight changes to the construction in the area they are to be installed.
These cameras are supposed to stay in a fixed place as moving them around would require you to shift the wiring to another location, which is tedious, time consuming, and not always possible.
The wireless cameras on the other hand can be mounted anywhere you want to place them, provided it is feasible to do so. Their transmission signals, however, could be interrupted by phone signals or those from the wi-fi internet, which may affect the resolution of the pictures they transmit.
Wired cameras do not face this problem and in general provide higher resolution feed than their wireless counterparts.
Fixed or PTZ? Fixed cameras keep focusing on the area they are trained on; they can only capture one view. Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras, on the other hand, provide a sweeping view from up close or far away. Which would be of more help to you?
This piece of advice is priceless: “The best home security system will be customized to your lifestyle – it will take your schedule into account and will specifically protect the things you value the most. It has been proven that user education is the best defense against false alarms. It is very important that the installer teach you and your family how to properly use your security system, including false alarm prevention measures.”
Doing good research to find the best system for you
The more information you have, the less you will be swayed by the salesmen doing their best to sell the most expensive or irrelevant equipment to you. They may paint all kinds of doomsday scenarios for you to finally cave in to their pressure, but you know as well as anybody else the realistic chances of that happening. Small houses simply do not need presidential-level security, and that is that.
Assess your own needs, check out as many options in the market as you have the time for, and choose a system keeping your budget in mind. Innovation in technology means it’s not just the high-end systems that have improved, but the low-end ones also give us a lot of bang for our buck.
The multiple features in advanced security systems all boil down to one thing – whether you need them or not. The clearer you are about your own needs, the higher your chances of purchasing equipment best suited to the needs.
When you zero in on a company to buy from, also check out what others have to say about the monitoring services the company provides. Are they reliable? Is the monitoring offered 24/7? What is the customer support like?
So you have determined your needs and have researched the topic properly. What next? Home security systems vary a lot in prices, depending on the technology and the features they offer. If something is wildly out of your budget, don’t even bother, regardless of how indispensable the salesman paints the system to be.
If you find something within your budget, watch out for hidden costs. Most good companies selling such equipment would also install it for you, albeit not free of charge.
Also check for the warranty/guarantee for the equipment. Be clear about monitoring costs and if you’ll need to purchase any additional equipment to make the most of the security system you are buying.
Would any changes have to be made to the construction in the area the security cameras will be installed? Wireless systems are better if you want to conceal any wires running around the security cameras. They also provide higher resolution footage, but can be interrupted by other signals and are relatively easier to disable.
The laws in your state
Installing CCTV cameras around your house to monitor the activity in your premises is fine, but if these cameras happen to train on the street or other people’s property as well, you may get in trouble.
Monitoring or recording activity via hidden cameras is referred to as covert surveillance, and in general it is illegal in this country to monitor people without their knowledge. It may also be illegal depending on where you have installed the cameras. Spying on your spouse via a hidden camera in your bedroom? That is not above board in legal terms.
Similarly, technically eavesdropping on a conversation, meaning audio surveillance of a conversation you are not part of also infringes on other people’s right to privacy.
Check out where you stand with regards to the laws pertaining to the use of private security cameras in your state so that you don’t accidentally violate any. The store or the salesman you buy from may be able to point you in the right direction about this.
DIY security systems
The Internet is full of ingenious home security ideas that let you secure your home without having to dig too deep into your pocket.
If you only have a small apartment to take care of, you may give the DIY options a try if you are so inclined. Where professional alarms and systems differ is in features, high performance, and reliability. For a bigger home housing a proper family, it is better to rely on the professional systems instead of getting too ambitious along the DIY path.
You will have to do your bit, too.
This is perhaps the most underrated aspect of a home security system’s success.
It is all well and good purchasing and installing the best system you can find, but if you do not use it properly it won’t be able to help you when the need arises.
For starters, you’d have to always arm your system when you step out of the house, even if it’s only for a short while and regardless of if it’s day or night. Make it a habit and educate your family members on the need to do so too.
Put up warning signs saying your home is under video surveillance, at the front as well as at the back, where thieves are most likely to sneak in from.
Finally, read what a former burglar has to say about the security leaks in most American homes and how thieves take advantage of them. Among other things this person says “you should turn the alarms on even when you are home.” Bet you didn’t think of that!
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