Q. We've lived in our neighborhood for quite some time and have never worried much about locking the house while the kids were living at home coming and going all the time. We still both work but the kids have grown and moved out. The house is empty most of the day and even though we lock up when we leave now, I still feel a bit uneasy about leaving the house empty.
I want to ask you about home security systems that are so popular these days. We don't have a clue about them and don't know where to start looking and would appreciate some help. Thank you.
A. Unfortunately, home security systems have become a fact of life in response to the number of residential burglaries annually. It's estimated that about six percent of the homes in this country are burglarized each year. At that rate, at some point in the next 17 years you can expect to be robbed. I can tell you that in my case the numbers hold. I've been cleaned out three times in my life and in each instance I was living in a "good" neighborhood.
When my folks sold the house I grew up in, they couldn't find the front door key for the new owners because they had never used it. Times sure have changed.
I checked the local Yellow Pages to get an idea of just how many home security system vendors where out there. There are a couple of dozen to choose from. As in the case of any service, quality of service varies and the prospective buyer needs to proceed with caution and shop comparatively.
Technologies employed for home security systems range from high-tech infrared temperature and motion detectors to simple hard-wired contacts that trip when a door or window is opened or forced or the glass broken.
The cost of systems starts as low as about $300 for a bare-bones do-it-yourself system to well over $3000 for a professionally installed and monitored, top-of-the-line system with all the bells and whistles. And that doesn't include the monthly monitori ng fee which runs around $30 per month. A security system without remote monitoring really isnít worth having, especially when considering the fire protection feature. When you install a system, contact your homeowner's insurance carrier because you can get a slight break on your premiums for having a security system on your home
The basic features you need to have in a home security system are reliability, battery power back-up, smoke detector tie-in and remote monitoring. A good basic system must have an automatic telephone dialer that rings a monitoring station when the syste m becomes activated. You have to have a land line phone. The twenty percent or so of the population who rely solely on cell phones will have to incur that expense. Some systems now have internet connectivity.
Summer is peak burglary season as is the period between Thanksgiving and New years.
When the system activates a live person at the monitoring station responds by calling the house to verify the alarm. If you answer and the alarm is false, you give a code and no action will be taken. If there is no answer, the monitoring service alerts the authorities and they send an investigator to the house.
I spoke to the Anne Arundel Police Dept. and they told me that they will not go into a house with an alarm blaring unless there is evidence of forced entry or someone is inside screaming for help. Professionally installed alarm systems have a "time out" feature that automatically shuts the horn or siren off after a specified period, usually after 15 minutes of noise.
It turns out that Anne Arundel County Police log somewhere around 30,000 false security alarm calls a year! The police representatives with whom I consulted quite simply stated that the situation is out of hand. The man hours and emergency assets wasted investigating these bogus calls weakens our whole emergency response system.
Some jurisdictions have a fine structure for chronic false alarmers. They take into consideration odd situations with alarms going off when there is a temporary power outage and such but note that only 2% of all false alarms are weather related. I think things are going have to tighten up with regard to false alarms.
The most important element in the selection of a home security system is checking out the company and personnel doing the installation. Check them out on the web. Get references and contact them. Ask the installation company if they do criminal background checks on their employees. You donít want someone coming back to rob you who knows how to disable your new system. Itís happened. You can't be too careful!