home security

Top Home Security System Advice

Security systems in residential areas are definitely not a new concept. The first electro-magnetic alarms used for detecting intruders were patented in 1853. In the 90s, many homes were upgraded with systems that monitored doors, windows, smoke, heating and cooling. After this boom, many systems were neglected by owners who were tired of paying monthly service fees and weren’t convinced that the systems were providing real protection.

More recently, security systems and home monitoring systems beginning to become popular again, in large part due to advances in technology. In fact, the latest technology connects your smart phone with your home’s security system to control all features directly from your phone, according to Security System News. AT&T is planning its commercial launch of this service for this March. With this latest development, we are wondering if home security systems really deliver to protect your home against break-ins.

Why We’re Asking:

Your home contains your valuables, but more importantly, your loved ones. Obviously, you want your home to be a safe place, but not every home owner opts for a security system. The effectiveness of security systems is still up for debate. Deterring a burglar is difficult, and can vary on a case-by-case basis.

So this week, we are looking to our home experts to give us more information on home security systems and their effectiveness:

Do home security systems really protect your home?

Which features are most important to look for when installing a home security system?
Are internal alarms or external alarms a better option?
Should all security systems be connected to a law enforcement agency?
What about home monitoring services? Are they similar? What advantages or disadvantages do they represent?

We look forward to uncovering more information about home security systems. Check back next week to see what our experts have to say!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!



  • Doug Murrell 01/21/13

    Home security absolutely works and having one will protect your home while you are away or even if you are home. You can also use cameras to give you even more protection and I highly recommend homeowners using them to keep their homes and their families safe.

    You should connect to local law enforcement to give you the best protection. I would use internal and external monitors as well as door and window monitors and possible motion detection when you aren’t home. Furthermore, you should use a national alarm contractor that has the latest and greatest technology available.

    I would also recommend using the alarm company capabilities to protect your house if you go on vacation in the winter in order to monitor the temperature in your house. This will allow you to know if the heat goes off.

  • Kahshanna Evans 01/21/13

    I made an astonishing discovery during my time working in tech. Hackers are sometimes known to brag behind closed doors about their hacking talents when it comes to sophisticated systems they themselves help set up so if you are going to trust a private company have adequate information on the trail of happy clients they have, otherwise, stay far, far away. ‘I am the God of IT, I can do anything’, are words that still echo but give me insight on how to consult clients looking to upgrade their systems, security and otherwise.

  • Terry Peterman 01/21/13

    Interesting question, and a timely one as I’m about to make some changes with how we will handle our own home security issue.

    In my opinion, the monitored systems that don’t include video have run their course of usefulness. When I had my contracting business, we had an active system and to make it effective, password management and constantly reminding staff and family to set the system when they were last out, was an ongoing program with the usual annoyances of false alarms, forgotten passwords, etc.

    While it was somewhat of a comfort at night to know that we would be alerted instantly to problems in the business below our residence, the major flaw was exposed while we were away for a weekend. On a Sunday morning, I left my cell phone in my room while at breakfast. Subsequently, I missed a few phone calls from the call-down list, and call-backs from others on the list notifying me of an intrusion alarm.
    When I picked up my phone it was a couple of hours before I noticed all the missed calls. The alarm had gone off, but it was too late for me to do anything about it at that point in time. I called the monitoring company, and they had called the police as per standard protocol after they couldn’t get in contact with me. It was a few more hours before we returned home (6 hours since the alarm). I called the police to see what they had found in their investigation, and they replied that they had not yet been over to check that out! So much for a monitored security system! Too many links in the chain that can fail.

    Most security companies now offer video as an option, but here’s my take on this. With all the options available thanks to advanced technology, you can purchase your own system that will effectively monitor key places in your home or business, and you can spend a little, or a lot. Most systems can be installed yourself, and some don’t even require new wiring to be installed! However, in my opinion you don’t need to have it monitored for a monthly fee. Get a system that alerts you if you have an intrusion (motion detection feature), and as long as you have an internet connection at home and for your mobile (or cell service for a text message), you can be alerted right away to a problem. Then you can decide what the appropriate remedial action is. Incorporate an audible alarm to hopefully scare off the intruder, but this will give you the same level of protection that the monitoring company will provide. You can also log in to your cameras via internet to check on things anytime.

    Terry Peterman
    The Internet Electrician.

  • Kris @ HouseBuying-Tips.com 01/23/13

    Home security systems are definitely something to consider. They can provide you with a large degree of security & peace of mind. But when thinking about security don’t just think about electronic security systems. You also need to be smart about protecting yourself and your home in other ways. For example, don’t post messages on Facebook that tell people you are away. Don’t leave doors and windows unlocked when you are out of the house, or in the other end of the house. Don’t leave the curtains open showing off your new large screen TV and other valuables. And don’t discount the effectiveness of a proven security method – a dog!

    Of course, an electronic security system is a great investment. But it’s not the only way to keep your home and family safe. The more “roadblocks” you put in the way of burglars, the more secure you will be!

  • Sam McBride @ SafeMart 01/23/13

    I work for a home security company so my opinion is definitely with bias.

    But, I always make sure that people know a few things about online rankings and “review sites” before they do a lot of research.

    1. Find true open reviews. Yelp, Pissed Consumer and epinions are all good, but companies can hire people to write reviews so its not perfect. Angie’s List is better because it requires a membership.

    2. There are a TON of fake review sites that allow security companies to pay the owner of the site for the ranking. Here are a few:
    http://home-security-monitoring-review.toptenreviews.com/
    http://www.6webs.com/home-security-systems-reviews/
    http://www.securitysystemreviews.com/compare-security-system-companies/

    3. I would always recommend calling the company you’re considering. See what their service is like and if they are helpful and upfront about pricing. If they aren’t upfront during the sales process you can bet that they won’t be when your calling for tech support!

    Good luck!

    • eLocal of eLocal.com Post Author01/23/13

      Hey Sam,

      I really appreciate your feedback! The fake review sites you mentioned are a great piece of information for consumers and we will be sure to pass that on.

      Have a great week!

      -Melissa
      (Community Manager)

  • Patsy Pahr @ Fix It NOW! 01/23/13

    Security systems really do protect your home, if they are monitored.

    The first line of protection you get is the deterrent factor. You will have signs around the property, and if an intruder is bold enough to bet that all you have is a sign, and he breaks in, there will be the audible siren to scare him off.

    The protection stops here however, if your system is not monitored. People (your neighbors) are so used to alarms going off, that they barely take a look when they hear one. If your system is monitored, the police are on their way.

    Most alarm systems have a panic provision in case you are at home, and hear someone in the house even if the alarm is turned off, and an ambush provision in case you are accosted and made to turn the alarm off when you’re entering or exiting the property.

    The fire alarm can save your life if you’re at home, or can save your home from serious damage even if you’re away. Likewise, other hazards can be monitored such as carbon monoxide, gas leaks, and water coming into the home. Your homeowners insurance premiums are usually reduced by up to 20% if you have a monitored alarm.

    But watch out when you are shopping for an alarm system. The trend today is to “give” you a “free installation” in return for signing a five year contract with the monitoring company. These systems often include two door switches and a motion detector. Woe to you if you leave a window open, and the motion detector can’t cover the entire interior of the house. And what about when you’re at home? Can you turn off the motion detector, so that you can walk around? And even then, only your doors are protected. What if someone comes through a window?

    Better to pay for a custom installation that protects every opening, along with motion detectors that can be turned off when you’re at home. The fire portion of the alarm should include both heat and smoke detectors, and any other kinds of sensors that you need, such as the ones listed above. Also, make sure that you will own the equipment, and that the control panel can be reprogrammed if you wish to change alarm companies. In my view, it’s better to pay up front for what you need, rather than to pay much higher monitoring fees for eternity.

  • BJ Donovan @ Home Security 01/24/13

    I am an expert in the field of Home Security. I’m familiar with all of the major monitoring systems as well as alarm technology.

    Do home security systems really protect your home?

    Yes, a home security system offers residents a great deal of protection. Home security systems can deter burglars, alert residents, and notify authorities to potential burglaries. Statistics indicate that homes without an alarm system are 2.7 times more likely to be burglarized than those with alarms.

    Which features are most important to look for when installing a home security system?

    When installing a home security system features will differ from system to system. Some feature home automation and video monitoring which can be accessed while your away from home via an internet connection. Other basic systems feature only door alarms which sound an audible alert only when the door is opened. The most important features are the deterrents and the monitoring. A system that doesn’t generate an audible alert once breached can lead to confrontations with those breaking into your home. A solid monitoring company will know how to handle any situation that arises and will notify the proper authorities according to the circumstance.

    Are internal alarms or external alarms a better option?

    Both have their pros and cons. I personally recommend internal alarms. External alarms many times can be compromised by a crafty burglar and have a history of being falsely triggered by animals or blowing tree branches.

    Should all security systems be connected to a law enforcement Agency?

    Security systems do not connect directly with law enforcement. To be connected to law enforcement of emergency services one would have to employ a monitoring company. All security systems should be connected to a monitoring company. The monitoring company notifies law enforcement and emergency services of any disturbances in the residence.

    What about home monitoring services? Are they similar? What advantages or disadvantages do they represent?

    Currently most monitoring services offer very similar products and services.. Some try to differentiate themselves by offer medical alert or home automation. Of course these add ons represent additional costs in the monthly bill. Major monitoring companies such as ADT are now competing with local cable providers who tend to focus on the home automation aspects. The disadvantage of contracting with a local or new provider is their unproven track record of monitoring. It’s best to go with a nationwide company who has a proven history of monitoring.

  • Shane Fischer, Attorney at Law @ Fischer Law 01/24/13

    As a criminal defense lawyer, I represent many people for home burglaries. The OVERWHELMING majority of home burglaries are committed by people who either 1) know each other; or 2) have one or two degrees of separation between each other. By that, I mean that the burglar is typically a friend of a friend of the victim. The victim will have friends over to watch a game and brag about his new TV, stereo system, game system, etc. One of the friends will mention to Person Z that victim X just invited him over to show off his new device, and Person Z will set up a home burglary.

    Also, a lot of home burglaries are drug related, so if you’re not a dealer your chances of being burglarized are reduced.

    A lot of burglaries are crimes of opportunity; that is, the victim will leave his garage door open, or forget to close a window; or will post Facebook pictures of their lovely vacation (which tip off a burglar that you aren’t home). The burglar will see the victim leave his garage door open as they walk into their house, and will run in the open garage and grab a power tool, then run out. Happens a lot.

    Take reasonable precautions when you leave: leave a light on and turn on the radio at night, and be careful with whom you discuss travel plans, and you can reduce your chances of being victimized. Istall prickly plants near the base of your windows. This will further discourage burglars. Also, consider installing motion-activated lights around your home perimeter

    Home alarms are a waste of money and provide a false sense of security. A major alarm company recently promoted a “money back guarantee” that wasn’t. If your house gets burglarized on their watch, they cover you up to your insurance deductible. What they don’t tell you is that they can seek reimbursement of whatever they paid from you. That’s right, they can sue you for their own screw-ups! And frequently their contracts are one-sided, making you waive your rights to sue them, or at the very least waive your right to sue in court and instead seek justice in an unfriendly arbitration forum.. Save your money.

  • Brian Frost @ Vector Security 01/24/13

    Do home security systems really protect your home?

    Of course they do. They help deter would be thieves, sending them to an easier target.

    The most important feature in a home security system is a smoke detector. Smoke detectors protect your home when you are not there. The difference between a security system smoke detector and the one already installed in your home is the security system smoke will call the fire department opposed to the flames shooting out your windows and having your neighbors call them. If you own pets this could be a life and death decision.

    Are internal alarms or external alarms a better option?

    Internal alarms may make a would be burglar speed up their search in your home for fear that someone may hear the alarm. External alarms can be heard by the neighbors easily. This may or may not be advisable. External alarms may violate noise pollution laws. Check with your local Police Department.

    Should all security systems be connected to a law enforcement agency?

    If you have a life safety device like a smoke detector the answer is yes. A burglar does not know if your alarm is connected to a monitoring station. Just the threat of it is sometimes enough. The problem is that most security companies will not sell you a system unless you get it monitored.

    Home monitoring services.

    Today a lot of attention is being paid to 2-way voice. The thought is that someone can listen in to a burglary in progress. “This is the alarm company identify yourself.” What does a burglary sound like? This is a gimmick. It is a combination of a Life Alert System and a security system. If there is an elderly person in the home this is a useful service.

    Home security systems have come a long way since you were a kid. With cell service and wireless technology security systems can come with cameras, lamp modules and thermostats for heat and air. Today’s security systems are for more than just protecting your home from burglary!

  • Scriven King 01/24/13

    They absolutely do work. Well, sort of. You see the key ingredient to any home security system is its owner and his/her stated objectives for the system. Most people naturally think “I want an alarm to protect my home”. This is a very wrong assumption about security systems. The truth is by the time your alarm goes off, the intruder is already inside your home. Chances are if he can’t disable the arm, he’ll simply take what he can. You’re still at a loss and the cops haven’t arrived to catch him.

    So why get one if they don’t work? This a popular question I’m often asked after I give the explanation I just gave. Security systems do work. They hust don’t what you think they do. Cops catch bad guys. Your alarm tells them they’re in the house. Depending on what other dispatches the cops have, it could be a few critical minutes before they get there. I can’t stress enough to inquire what your local law enforcement response times are to alarms.

    Here’s why it’s so important you understand what your system can do. It can detect and call the police immediately. What you want it to do in addition to this is to detect and “go off” when an intruder is in your home and provide the police with accurate information as to where the alarm went off, how long ago, and whether the alarm is active. Depending on your budget, you can ask your provider to install an audio-based detection system or a video monitoring service. The audio system is NOT a bug but sound detector that goes off whenever an audible sound or vibration is detected by the sensor. It then turns on an audio microphone to “listen” and transmit sounds back to the central monitoring station. This provides the alarm dispatcher with accurate real-time data regarding the alarm. It’s important for a few reasons. It will reduce your false-alarms and it can give the police an idea as to what they may expect to encounter. There is a high rate of intruder capture success with these systems. A company called Sonitrol is considered a leader in the field.

    Once you’ve outlined your objectives and have an idea as to what your system can do, you need to find a quality installer. Most alarm companies make their money off of maintenance fees. In the alarm business, you truly “get what you pay for”. Just because a company has a big name and offers a cheap monthly rate doesn’t mean they’ll install your alarm system error-free. More than likely they won’t. There are a variety of incentives for them not to do this. If the name is big enough, you may not know enough about their competition to trust anyone but them. So buyer beware.

    I offer new security system customers the following advice on installers:
    “I would also encourage you to be there when they install the system. Ask critical questions about sensor placement. If a sensor is placed in a spot where it’s like to trigger a lot of false alarms, it may be wise not to place it there. Additionally, you don’t need a large number of sensors to cover an average-sized space. Ask for sensors on first floor windows. You won’t need any on second floor windows. Though, I have seen them installed. Ask about sensitivity levels. Some companies have alarms that are highly sensitive. You want an alarm system you can set and forget about not worry about constant false alarms until you’re apathetic when it does go off.”

    Also, ask the company what their policy is for notifications. Will they call you first? Can they track how many false alarms you have? Will they use a phone tree? Who can deactivate alarms in your absence? Do they have a procedure for this? There are a myriad of questions you should be thinking about. These questions should address security and your own convenience. In this day and age, that may sound like an oxymoron but the reason many people turn off systems for good is because they often never factored in how the system would be installed and what it actually does.

    Security systems are like guard dogs. They look great but aren’t worth the trouble if you haven’t invested enough time and care into how they actually perform against the threat.

  • Wayne Caswell 01/24/13

    Do home security systems really protect your home?
    First, I don’t think you can make anything 100% secure and view security systems as I do door and window locks. They keep honest people honest and are only effective if used. And like door locks, some models are more effective than others, but more expensive. Security systems are ineffective against a motivated and skilled criminal with harmful intent. If I were a burglar and wanted to break in to a home with a security system, I won’t even bother with doors or windows, because it’s easy enough to just go through the roof or walls, including brick walls, and I’d be less likely to trip an alarm. I’d pick homes without pets, however, because they probably don’t use motion sensors or pressure pads.

    Which features are most important to look for when installing a home security system?
    The cost and effort to protect your property should directly relate to the chances of being compromised and the damage if it is. A modest home in a dense subdivision with nosy neighbors and loud dogs, for example, requires less investment than the same home in a high crime district or an expensive multimillion dollar home. Likewise, I only recommend monitoring services if you live too far from neighbors or if false alarms have made them complacent. More advanced features, like home automation and remotely accessible surveillance cameras tend to provide more benefits to large, multistory homes than in much smaller homes where you can easily see if lights are on and doors locked while standing in the middle. The large home I lived in 10 years ago was very well automated, with security tied in with lighting, HVAC, etc., but the smaller home we downsized to only have a few convenience-based controls. (see http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2012/04/smart-homes/)

    Are internal alarms or external alarms a better option?
    Except for large properties, I don’t much like external systems that can be set off by animals or weather or disabled by burglars. A better question is interior alarms based on motion sensors and touch pads or perimeter systems protecting doors and windows. I prefer perimeter systems, because the objective is to sound an alarm BEFORE they actually enter the home, rather than surprise them once they’re inside.

    Should all security systems be connected to a law enforcement agency?
    Alarms and alerts can escalate as needed. First sound an alarm to scare burglars away, and if connected to a home automation system, turn on all interior lights and flash the exterior lights so law enforcement can easily identify the house. Most law enforcement agencies require that you register with them – often for free unless you’ve had too many false alarms. If you’re diligent about avoiding false alarms, they’ll be more diligent about responding. But have your system call other numbers first, including your cell phone, so you can address a problem before they’re dispatched.

    What about home monitoring services? Are they similar? What advantages or disadvantages do they represent?
    I generally don’t trust monitoring services and especially not the same company installs the equipment, because I don’t want them to know what technology is installed. Even though monitoring services are bonded, and their employees ideally have background checks, it seems like a great place to intern as a future professional burglar.

    What about professional burglars?
    The skill and motives of amateurs is quite than that of professionals, so deterrents must address both. I learned about the different vulnerabilities, motives and skills some 35 years ago, before I had a security system. Since my house was burglarized twice, exactly month apart, I also learned that the chances of a recurrence go up dramatically once buglers now know how to get in and type of things you have. They also expect insurance to pay for new stuff and are more likely to return later.

    I was a student by day and an IBM computer operator at night, and I came home one night to find glass on the front porch under the front door and the door unlocked. I called the police, and they dusted for prints but got nothing usable since cold winter weather makes hands and fingers dry.

    It seemed like I must have surprised a small group of teenagers who escaped out the back, because of what was taken, and what was not. Among the items missing were several bottles of liquor, a suit, pair of old sneakers, and some cool silver & gold jewelry that I made in the army. They left behind a full carat diamond ring, possibly to avoid questions from their parents that they couldn’t answer if they got caught.

    Since they left in a hurry and I feared they might return, I asked the police how to better secure my home. I installed double-plunger deadbolt locks on the front & back doors that need a key to exit too. And I drove large screws into the windowsills so the windows would only open 6” for ventilation.

    A month later to the day I again found glass at the front door, but the door was still locked, so I unlocked it and went in to find that burglars had hit again. The back door was still locked too. The kitchen window was open, but just 6” – not enough to get in. Another window was open wider. They used a small crowbar to pry open the window, breaking the window lock, and then they banged the window up hard again & again until the screws bent upward enough so they could crawl in.

    I would have loved to watch as I imagined how the crime scene unfolded: Rip the stereo & speakers from the cabinet while leaving the wiring intact. Rush to the front door but then realize they can’t escape there. Run to the back and find the same secure lock. Use the crowbar to unsuccessfully pry open both doors, leaving the door frames severely damaged. (Repairs required replacing half of the old wood & lath wall.) Dig through all of my drawers until finding a Phillips-head screwdriver to remove the window frame screws, and exit through the window with booty in hand – at least the part that would fit through. My expensive racing bike wouldn’t.

    That’s when I learned about motives and skills and how amateurs are easily scared off by the higher risk of homes with a security system. (Actually, I didn’t have to install an alarm. I just added stickers on doors & windows saying I did.) Alarms, however, don’t deter professionals with skills learned from internships at alarm companies. They know how to circumvent them. That’s why I don’t trust home security monitoring services and would surely not have the same company to do the installation. I don’t want them knowing what type of protections I have installed.

    Understanding motivations and skills will help you craft protections against dishonest people, and anything that decreases their profit and increases the risk of getting caught & prosecuted is often effective. So in addition to the alarm stickers, I also engraved my driver’s license number on high-value items and added “Operation Identification” stickers to say everything was marked and registered with the police. With both stickers, I made my home less of a target for both amateurs and professionals.

  • Robert Siciliano 01/25/13

    Do home security systems really protect your home?

    Yes. Security is elusive. Its a process, not a destination and security is
    about putting layers of deterrence in place. The signage saying “this house
    is alarmed is a deterrence. The alarm going off is a deterrence The
    thought in the burglars head of being caught by the police who are called
    by the monitoring is a deterrence.

    A house with no alarm is an opportunity for an undeterred burglar.

    Which features are most important to look for when installing a
    home security system?

    Signage, door/window/glass break/motion sensors/remote capabilities.

    Are internal alarms or external alarms a better option?

    External sirens alert the neighbors and internal alert the burglar.
    Internal gets the burglar out.

    Should all security systems be connected to a law enforcement
    agency?

    None are. But the monitoring station calls them. and Yes.

    What about home monitoring services? Are they similar? What
    advantages or disadvantages do they represent?

    “Home monitoring” doesn’t usually have the security aspect Like Verizon
    for example. Its not designed to thwart a burglar but add a convenience.

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