According to the FBI, homes equipped with centrally monitored alarm systems are 15 times less likely to be targets of break-ins. These steps will help you choose one that's right for your security needs.
The goal of a residential security system is to detect an intruder as early as possible, alert the home's occupants to his presence, and scare him away before he does any harm. Progressive layers of protection accomplish this goal. Imagine four concentric circles around your house, with your family and your most valuable possessions at the center. The interior of your home is the second layer, the exterior shell of your home is the third, and the property around your home is the fourth.
For most people, a system that protects the second and third circles is both effective and cost efficient. This involves sensors on the windows and exterior doors, with interior motion detectors as backup to the point-of-entry protection. The additional cost of protecting the innermost circle adds spot protection for high-value areas, such as a security closet or safe; at this level the system will include 24-hour panic buttons. At the outermost circle of protection, motion sensors let you know when someone has come onto your property. Unless you live in a remote or hidden location, this protection is likely more than you need for the costs involved.
At a minimum, include one interior siren to scare off the burglar and alert you to the situation. You may want to add an exterior siren so that the neighbors know when your alarm is activated. Also, consider whether you want the system monitored by a central station.
A basic alarm system is a low-voltage electrical circuit with sensors installed on doors and windows. When the flow of electricity through a sensor is interrupted because the door or window is opened, a siren sounds or a light flashes. Many systems also include motion sensors. When something moves within the sensor's range, an alarm sounds. Some systems are monitored systems, meaning they send a signal to a central station where operators, in turn, notify police. Electronic alarm systems come in two basic types:
Both wired and wireless systems can be enhanced with a variety of options -- from motion detectors that aren't tripped by pets to remote access that allows you to check the system by phone.
Get bids from two or three reputable security companies in your area. Be sure to compare not only the installation charges but also annual inspection costs and monthly fees (for monitored systems). Also, check with your insurance agent to see if you'll receive a discount for installing a certain type of system.
Alarm systems are only a part of good home security, and electronic systems have to be used properly to be effective. Solid doors and locks, as well as security-smart lighting and landscaping, are still important as well.