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Home Security Buyers Guide

Although home burglaries are a frequently reported crime, they are often preventable. A number of burglaries occur in part by open or unlocked windows that allow a criminal to walk right in. Even in burglaries involving forced entry, the crime may have been prevented if homeowners had reinforced their personal security with a burglar alarm. Home security alarms monitor the home and deter burglars by setting off alarms, flashing lights, and even triggering calls to the police station. Before purchasing home security equipment review some of the questions that typically arise and answers that can help you get the best system for your needs.   

Q: What type of system are you interested in?

A: When creating a home security checklist you will have to choice between a wireless and wired system. A hard-wired security system usually requires professional installation, as wires will need to be run inside the walls of the home that connect each of the various sensors to a central control panel.

A wireless system is designed to be inclusive; the keypad, siren, and power source are contained in one main control unit that is plugged into the outlet or mounted on a wall. Sensors use radio frequencies to communicate with the control unit. Do It Yourself wireless home security devices, as they are often called, require limited installation and are simple to set up. Separate components can be added to a wireless security system to provide added protection. Security devices, like outdoor lights, motion sensors, and door and window sensors can provide peace of mind to homeowners.

Q: What is the difference between an interior, perimeter, and perimeter with backup system?

A: Perimeter systems are those that work to prevent an intruder from getting into the home in the first place. These systems may consist of sensors installed on the exterior doors and windows that trigger an alarm or illuminate the area if activated. Perimeter systems may also consist of magnetic strips, mechanical switches, and window screens equipped with built in alarms. A perimeter with backup covers any gaps in perimeter protection and can detect an unexpected attempt at entry by a thief.

For example, a burglar may trigger a window screen alarm by opening up a window to enter the home. Others could attempt to break the glass while leaving the window closed. A glass break detector could prevent this vulnerability. Backup may refer to systems equipped with a backup power supply in case the power goes out. Interior systems are those that detect an intruder once they have breached the exterior of the home. The system can consist of motion detectors, pressurized mats, and photoelectric beams. Most homes receive the best protection from a combination of interior and perimeter sensors.

Q: What type of environment are you trying to protect?

A: The type of environment protecting will determine the best type of security system. High-rise condominiums, apartments, and townhouses are exposed to heavy foot traffic from visitors and residents, making them more likely to be exposed to security breaches than homes. For townhouses and high rise condominiums, the best bet is a wireless security system, as most rental agreements forbid making installation changes to the apartment. These systems are also portable and can be transferred to a new home or location once the rental agreement ends. As many companies require customers to sign a multi-year contract, apartment residents may be best served with an alarm that is rented or leased.

For those living in stand-alone homes, security systems should to protect the interior and exterior. Hard-wired systems are usually preferred for residential home security since the system is more resistant to tampering and allows the user greater flexibility in the distance between devices. For individuals constructing a new home installing the wires for a wired system is easy. Individuals dealing with an older home, however, may prefer the use of a wireless home security system to avoid expensive installation fees. DYI home security systems can be achieved by starting with a basic residential wireless security system with a keypad and sensor, and adding additional security devices as desired. Protective fencing, outdoor lights, timed interior lighting, and window reinforcements are valuable and inexpensive security components that compliment most wireless residential security systems.

Q: What are you trying to protect with your security system?

A: Most individuals think the purpose of a security system is to protect against intruders. This can be done through alarms, sirens, and lights that deter a criminal from entering, or quickly lead the intruder's detection; but security systems are designed to do much more than that. Smoke and heat detectors can be used in conjunction with a standard security system to detect fires, while carbon monoxide detectors can warn residents of dangerous levels of carbon monoxide poisoning. Before choosing a security system that meets your needs, it is important to brainstorm possible emergencies and plan accordingly. Children and valuables play a large part in choosing a security system; consider investing in a safe or extra window sensors on a child’s room.

Q: What is your working budget?

A: Home security equipment can be as expensive or inexpensive as the buyer chooses; there are many options available to meet a wide range of needs and budget concerns. Some basic Do It Yourself wireless systems can be found on store shelves for less than $100. Of course, the cheaper the system the smaller the range of protection and some may only have a transmission range of several hundred feet. More advanced wireless camera home security systems are ideal for surveillance, and with additional sensors, the cost can be hundreds of dollars.

For a comprehensive wired system, installation and equipment can cost $1000 or more. Home security companies will often offer discounts on installation and equipment to work with customers on a limited budget. Some wireless equipment may even be available for free in exchange for homeowners signing a multi-year contract for monitoring services. Monitoring fees are often available for less than $50 a month.

Do It Yourself home security options are available to homeowners on a limited budget. Easy DYI home security precautions include using dowel rods to reinforce your windows, timed interior lighting can be an effective deterrent, and using decorative outdoor lights along the driveway can serve a dual purpose when protecting your home.

Q: When will you be activating your alarm?

A: Most individuals keep their alarm active during the nighttime and when sleeping, many homeowners, or renters, also activate their security system during the day when they are out of the house. Some interactive systems are capable of offering additional layers of protection, allowing parents to monitor when their children arrive home from school or use the alarm to protect sensitive drawers in the home, such as medicine or gun cabinets. Those that like the convenience of monitoring on the go or who tend to forget to arm their systems before leaving the house can benefit from interactive systems. These sophisticated systems allow web-enabled mobile phones to function as remote controls – allowing the user to control the system from afar.

Q: Are there pets in the home?

A: Animals in the home can accidentally trigger a false alarm and cause police to be dispatched to the home. To avoid false alarms, look for a motion detector that can distinguish between people and pets, these detectors usually only trigger an alarm when a human presence is detected. These systems are designed to work on pets that weigh less than 85 pounds.

Q: Who will be using the alarm?

A: Everyone who will be using the security alarm should be trained on use the system and should have a passcode for the keypad that allows them to arm and disarm the system. This includes anyone living in the home and even people that are frequently coming and going from the home, such as babysitters, housekeepers, and other professionals. Having one passcode just for family use and setting up additional passcodes for use by others who require access to the home is strongly recommended. User-friendly systems also need to be adaptable to the unique needs of the individual using. For example, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing may need visual cues from flashing alarm lights. User-friendly designs featuring illuminated keys that are easier to see in the dark and one-touch functions allow the users to receive assistance during an emergency.

Q: Should you use a local alarm or Central Station Monitoring style system?

A: Local alarms activate a signal at the home, such as bright lights, loud sirens, or bells. These signals are designed to cause attention to scare off the burglar and alert the homeowner and the neighbors so they can contact the police. Such systems can work well for those who live near enough that neighbors can hear and see the disturbance and are willing to provide assistance such as in apartment buildings and townhouses. Local alarms, however, are not ideal for remote rural areas or for vacation homes. The most effective type of system is one that provides continuous monitoring through a central facility. Homeowners are required to pay a monthly fee and if an alarm is triggered by the system, real people are on the other end to contact the authorities.

Q: What are some of the basic components of a security system?

A: The central part of a security system is the control panel; the control panel carries out system commands and is connected to all the sensors in the residence. If a sensor is triggered the control panel will take action, alerting the authorities or automatically dialing whatever numbers have been preprogrammed into the system. The keypad allows for user interface, keying in of the system passcode, and monitoring of the entire system. Most are designed to resemble the buttons found on phone but some newer models feature touch screen displays. Window and door sensors, detect if an entrance is opened and trigger sirens or flashing lights to bring attentions. Security cameras may also be used for surveillance of the interior or exterior of the home.

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