When Things Go Beep In The Night

Here's how to safeguard your most important investment-your home

home owners are allowed two false alarms before fines kick in. As many as 90% of the alarms set off by home security systems turn out to be false. “Systems that have not been properly installed or do not fit the home owner’s lifestyle are the ones that tend to cause false alarms,” says McGoey. “The best way to prevent this is to have the system professionally installed.”

Professionally installed systems can be pricey, running from $800 to $2,000 or more, depending upon the level of security. On average, installation costs $1,300, although location is another variable that affects price. In some cities, ADT Security, for example, charges as little as $99 for installation, but the installation only includes basic protection (a motion detector, two door contacts, indoor keypad and siren, backup battery, yard sign and window decal).

If you go wireless, the alarm is battery operated. You can find these self-install units at electronic or home stores for a few hundred dollars. They consist of a control box housing a siren and several perimeter sensors that are attached to doors and windows.

Once your system is in place, it’s time to decide whether you want it to be monitored or not.

Monitored systems connect to a service that will try to reach you by phone when an alarm is set off. If you cannot be reached, the police or the company’s own security force will respond. Even do-it-yourself systems can be monitored, but many of the major companies won’t offer monitoring services unless they’ve installed the unit. If you have your system professionally installed, the monthly monitoring fee usually hovers in the $20 range. For a nonprofessionally installed system, the monitoring could be as much as $38 per month. Contracts commonly run for three years and may have an automatic renewal clause. While monitoring is recommended, keep in mind that “it doesn’t guarantee the police will respond, especially if you’re prone to false alarms,” says McGoey.

Although there are thousands of small, independent security companies, the major ones include Protection One, SecurityLink, WesTec, Brinks and ADT. The central monitoring systems of these companies have been certified as state of the art by Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), a not-for-profit product safety testing and certification organization, notes Gwendolyn McNutt, spokesperson for UL. This means “the stations have backup power, alternate alarm systems, computer systems and trained operators,” explains McNutt. In your search you’ll find that not every alarm company has a UL-certified monitoring system, which means the system may fall short during a break-in. But no system is completely burglarproof.

An unmonitored system will merely sound an alarm when one of the sensors is disturbed. In this case, you have to rely on a neighbor to call the police or hope that the alarm scares away the burglar.

But don’t think your choice of a monitored or unmonitored system is the last of your security decisions. Nowadays security doesn’t just mean alarms. Safety providers have other offerings.

“You can get

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