Having your home broken into is a terrifying experience and the nightmare of homeowners. Security systems definitely help but trying to decide what to look for in a system can be tricky. Here are a few guidelines and things to note when looking for a security system for your home.
For many people, the price of a home security system is one of the most important factors in deciding which alarm system to purchase. There are three basic elements to consider: upfront (installation) costs, ongoing (monthly) subscription costs, and equipment costs. Be aware that many home insurance providers offer discounts (up to 20%) for homes with monitored alarm systems.
- Upfront cost: Installation is either professional or do-it-yourself (DIY): some companies let you choose an installation method, while others offer only one option. Professional installation costs can run $100-$500+, while DIY is free but requires time investment.
- Subscription cost: Subscription security systems – home alarms monitored 24/7 by outside companies – carry a monthly fee, usually in the $20-$60 range.
- Equipment cost: You’ll catch a price break on monitored systems, which often offer equipment at reduced cost in exchange for signing a contract. If you purchase a system outright, expect to pay $100+ for a basic system and $500+ for top-of-the-line equipment.
Many home security companies offer discounted equipment in exchange for a signed contract, similar to how your cell phone company offers low-cost phones. Some contracts are more flexible than others, so read through the contract terms (and online reviews) before signing on the dotted line.
- Length: Most contracts are for 2-3 year terms. Many allow for cancellation within the first 2-4 weeks of the contract’s term.
- Terms: Pay special attention to a contract’s fine print: equipment warranties, cancellation clauses, etc.
- Portability: Many companies make it easy to port your equipment to a new home, so if there’s a chance you’ll move during your contract, check first to confirm relocation possibilities.
There are two basic installation possibilities: professional installation and DIY options.
- Professional installation: Many complex alarm systems, usually those that are hardwired into a home, require professional installation. This usually carries a hefty cost ($200-$500+), although some companies offer discount installation.
- DIY: Do-it-yourself security systems are generally easy to install, often requiring just a few hours to read through the manual and place your sensors.
- Third-party professional installation: If you purchase a DIY system but aren’t a DIYer, you can hire a local handy person to do your installation at an hourly rate.
Home alarm companies offer monthly monitoring via three types of connection: Internet (broadband/VOIP), phone line, or cellular service. Usually, Internet monitoring is the least expensive option, while cellular monitoring is the most expensive.
- Internet: Monitoring via Internet is inexpensive, but be aware that if you have an Internet outage (or a power outage that disables your modem), you will be cut off from monitoring.
- Phone line: Use your home phone line (landline) to connect with your monitoring company. Be aware that if a burglar cuts your phone line, your system will not work.
- Cellular: Monitoring via cell phone connection is the most expensive option, but also the most secure.
Basic systems are just that: basic. You’ll most likely want to expand your system to meet your home’s specifications – number of windows and doors, outdoor lighting requirements, etc. – so look for a company with the add-on equipment and features that suit your needs.
- Equipment: Equipment offerings vary greatly by company, so choose wisely before signing a contract.
- Monthly plans: Monthly plans can range from bargain-basement monitoring via Internet connection to all the bells and whistles, including smoke detection, medical monitoring and home automation.
- Service upgrades & downgrades: Lifestyle changes may require variations in your security needs; check with your company about the ease of adding services or switching monthly plans mid-contract.
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