Should I just get a baseball bat?
July 26, 2012 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Should I get a home security system?

I live in Pomona, CA by myself in a large, 2-story historic house. It's in a pretty decent neighborhood, but I'm about 3 blocks from shady in Pomona. I think that I carry myself as a confident, don't-mess-with-me woman, and I play it smart, but the question sits in the back of my mind, "should I get a home security system?".

It popped up in my mind again today because while I was working out in my yard on the sprinkler system, an older guy stops by and while he looks familiar, I can't place him. He gives me his card (real estate agent?) and is just generally chatty while being a bit too complimentary. The inner alarms aren't going off completely, but are poised to. He could have just been being friendly, or maybe I am too forgiving. He told me about how he showed the house and asked me if I was renting some of the rooms and such. I guess what bothered me a bit is that he said he would stop by sometime if my car was here.

To be fair (I guess) there has been a lot of interest in the sale of this home. He is not the first person to just stop by and ask me about it. It is one of the more spectacular historic homes in the area. I don't like being paranoid, but I moved here from a small town where I left my front door open and didn't worry about break-ins. But as I am here by myself most of the time (SO lives back East and will visit from time to time), would a home security system be worth it? Is it just a waste of $? I googled and the answers are all over the board. I talked to an ADT rep who was giving me a rate of $40 or $50 a month. I do have dogs, which is some security, but not when I am not at home. If the answer is "yes you need home security", any recommendations for a company?

Sorry if this question seems all over the place. Any ideas are appreciated.
posted by bolognius maximus to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My understanding--based on no actual research that I can recall, so defer to more informed answers--is that the most significant effect of a security alarm is simply deterrence: that is, seeing signs announcing an alarm and perhaps one of those alarm boxes with the light on it. I strongly suspect that getting fake ones of those would do 99% in terms of keeping you safe of what real ones would--with the added bonus of not costing you an arm and a leg.
posted by yoink at 11:36 AM on July 26, 2012

My friend's parents' place was just broken into (via the second floor window) while they were on vacation. They didn't get much because of alarms and so on, but had there been no security system, the burglars could've just leisurely cleaned the place out over the course of hours (or even days) as the point of entry wasn't very to spot and the family was clearly on vacation.

Thinking back -- I grew up in apartments -- I can think of very few people I knew who owned homes and did not have some sort of security system installed. Could very well be confirmation bias.
posted by griphus at 11:37 AM on July 26, 2012

I have home security and pay about $28 per month. I would recommend one. I wish that I could recommend a company, but I am in Florida and use a local company.

I also recommend having a gun and knowing how to use it. I sleep with a 12 gauge shotgun within reasonably safe access, and I sleep very well knowing it is there. As a commenter above noted, I rely on the security system for deterrence for would-be intruders. If they persist in breaking in, the alarm will help to prevent them from getting the drop on me so I can get my shotgun.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:40 AM on July 26, 2012

Yes. It is most definitely worth it. Speaking from experience, you cannot guarantee your protection from being a crime victim, but alarm systems are a good preventative step. At a minimum you will have the ability to send a panic alarm when needed. The home security signs tend to discourage burglars, too. If your home is that eye catching, such discouragement is a very good idea. Also, though it is not likely, you should know that it is also not unheard of for assaultive people to target a woman/girl they know or believe to be alone in a home. An obvious alarm system is a good deterrent to someone who might otherwise believe you are readily accessible.

We got a combination fire alarm and home security system, for what that is worth.

We like ADT but if you look at City Search for your area you'll probably find some additional reputable alarm companies. They will look at your house and give you bids, so you can also seek a competitive offer.
posted by bearwife at 11:41 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

FrontPoint has been good to me so far; they directly compete with ADT, with the caveat being that you do your own installation of equipment and they provide the monitoring. I have one of the mid-tier packages, and pay $40/month.
posted by ellF at 11:42 AM on July 26, 2012

There's quite useful thread here that's worth looking at around different systems.

I disagree with yoink. If I see a box - fake or not - I wonder what they've got that's worth nicking.

The single best defences are proper, solid locks on doors and windows, and ideally a strong front and back door. And a lack of complacency - don't leave valuables on show and don't leave windows open when you go out of your home. It sounds basic but you'd be amazed at how many people nod at this and then fail to fit proper locks and have crappy door and window security.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:42 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I disagree with yoink. If I see a box - fake or not - I wonder what they've got that's worth nicking.

So I did some googling around and found a serious academic study that suggests that you're incorrect on that point (although I can see the hypothetical logic of your position). Visible signs of an installed burglar alarm do, in fact, decrease the probability of break-ins.
posted by yoink at 11:50 AM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Muffinman is right about the doors and windows. You can have good locks on your steel-core doors, but if the door itself doesn't fit into the frame very well, someone can pry open the door pretty easily. Found that one out the hard way; would have been nice if locksmiths who'd replaced the tumblers earlier had warned me, but what can you do.

Also have someone knowledgeable check the doors and windows in the basement, if you have one.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:52 AM on July 26, 2012

A police officer once told me that the single best deterrent to home burglary was a dog with free reign of the house when you aren't home. The barking and dog coming near the door or window will deter just about any burglar. They'll move on to an easier target.
posted by COD at 11:55 AM on July 26, 2012

I have an alarm system. It was there when I bought the house so I just had to continue the monitoring service. It's nice to have and I don't really see any downsides. It doesn't make you invulnerable but it adds a little peace of mind. I could be wrong, but I think the little stickers on the doors and yard signs might deter the common burglar looking for a quick take. I pay $30/month for monitoring from a local company that I think contracts with another national company for monitoring.
posted by chrismc at 11:59 AM on July 26, 2012

I appreciate the answers. My house has the original (1903) windows and doors. Should I get additional window locks for those?
posted by bolognius maximus at 12:11 PM on July 26, 2012

What about bars on the windows? Might be cheaper.
posted by patheral at 12:11 PM on July 26, 2012

And I have six small/medium dogs. The terrier mix sounds threatening, but the others (pugs)...not so much. Do you think that helps?
posted by bolognius maximus at 12:12 PM on July 26, 2012

Like chrismc we took over an existing alarm system when we recently bought our new house. I had never had one before. The house is a century historic home.

I had a security concern with the front door. It is this huge gothic arched door with a glass pane big enough to walk through. One kick and someone could be in the house. It is fine to suggest all doors be steel and have deadbolts but I'm not destroying the character of my home to do that. With a motion sensor sweeping the foyer I don't have to worry about that.

I also like that with the motion sensors sweeping the main floor nobody is getting to the second floor bedrooms (I have a 2-yr old daughter) without raising holy hell (and the police).

It is also zoned so that we can be relaxing in the back yard, have the back of the house turned off but the front of the house is alarmed. Keeps the quick opportunity guys from just walking in off the street which has happened a couple times in the area.

Being an older home there are way too many windows to alarm each one. I like the motion sensor option because it can cover multiple sections of the house at once.

Our system also has direct call to paramedics/EMS and the fire department. We have just started using it but I'm not seeing any downside as long as it is affordable for you. Ours is $30/month.

You may want to check with your city regarding the cost of false alarms. Ours charges $100 per false alarm unless you register your alarm with the city and then you get 3 free before they charge.
posted by pixlboi at 12:24 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I see a box - fake or not - I wonder what they've got that's worth nicking.

Honestly, I think thieves are going to wonder this no matter what. We live in a tatty little 80-year-old house in a little blue-collar neighborhood of a somewhat depressed town. We had two break-ins within one year, and as my mother said (kindly), "Your house doesn't really make it look like you're wealthy people." (We're not, and we lost maybe $3K worth of jewelry and computer stuff between the two.)

After the second burglary we put in an alarm system (front, back and basement/house doors monitored and motion sensor that covers most of the downstairs) and we haven't had any trouble since, about three years later.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:45 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Being an older home there are way too many windows to alarm each one. I like the motion sensor option because it can cover multiple sections of the house at once.

This may not work so well (unless you can set them at chest-height?) if the dogs are loose inside.
posted by Forktine at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2012

The rep said the motion sensors we have were rated for 40lbs, meaning anything smaller than that would not set off the alarm. We do have a cat and no problems so far.

Although he did say that really active animals or animals that get really close to the sensor can read bigger than their actual weight. I think he mentioned there were 60 and 80lb sensors as well. He was really good at talking with us about our lifestyle and habits and coming up with a configuration that worked for our family.
posted by pixlboi at 12:54 PM on July 26, 2012

Forktine, there are a lot of sensors that can handle most dogs and cats without going off. They're generally best used in confined areas that aren't too deep, since the sensing area increases with distance.
posted by MonsieurBon at 12:58 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Until a recent move, I owed a 1923 Craftsman historic home -- with the single pane wavy glass windows. It sounds exactly the type of neighborhood you live in.

We had an alarm, since we had so many random 'stop-bys' of drifters looking to do yard work, evangelicals, etc. We didn't do motion detectors since the motion didn't work well with dogs and cats, though they claimed they would. Instead, I installed these security pins into every window. It means that in order to get into a window, they couldn't pry them open, they would have to break them. Then we installed glass breakage detectors in the rooms on the bottom floor.

It is worth the peace of mind. I would travel for my job and liked having an alarm at night for my wife to hear is the door opens in the middle of the night, or the door chimes while the sitter is with my kid during they day.

I paid $28/month.
posted by LeanGreen at 1:03 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would suggest looking into how alarms are handled in your city. In several areas, alarm dispatchers are not allowed to directly contact the police department on your behalf when they receive a signal. Also, as mentioned above, you may also get charged a fee for false alarms.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 1:28 PM on July 26, 2012

Check with your insurance agent if they offer a discount on your homeowners insurance if you have an alarm. In my case the savings on the insurance covers the cost of the alarm with a little left over.
posted by Runes at 1:47 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have six small/medium dogs

Holy crow. That's better than one big dog. If I were a burglar, I'd look at all those anklebiters and figure that stealing that computer just wasn't worth tripping over all of those dogs and listening to their barking!!

Seriously, though. If your windows open more than six inches, you should put little stoppers on the insides so that they do not open all of the way. Double-hung windows are so easy to break into...just slide your fingers up to the top of the lower pane and lift.
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:11 PM on July 26, 2012

Get it, now. We use Simplisafe.

1) It is really easy to install and has sensors that you can place around your house. You can chose to go with the alarm monitoring if you are living alone and it helps. We don't. My main goal has been to be pre-warned in case of intrusion.

2)Their sensors can also be places on doors/windows.

3) What i like about them is a sound is made every time you open a door/window even when the alarm is not on.

4) Also, you have a keychain with a panic button that sets off the alarm.

5) I really like this system as i can turn on the Home option which is good as I can chose which sensors blast off when I am home (for e.g i wouldnt want my kitchen/livign room sensors to turn on when i am at home as i would be mostly occupied in those areas)

I think it costs like $250 or less to start-you can add components as you see fit.
posted by pakora1 at 3:10 PM on July 26, 2012

I have one, and the single greatest benefit it has for me is the control panel by the main entrance showing the state of all the sensors: it's an easy way to verify I have closed all the windows/outside doors before leaving the house, and works wonders for my peace of mind.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:34 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

if you do:

Get battery back up (thieves will just shut off your main in the back yard with crappy systems)
Get a motion sensor in hall ways and/or shock alarms on windows and especially sliders (no shock or motion means a rock through your window/slider will defeat your alarm system as the connection style alarm sensor between the frame and the window was not broke)
posted by couchdive at 3:47 PM on July 26, 2012

I like mine a lot and use it pretty consistently. Live in Minneapolis, decent but not high-end neighborhood, small single-family homes. I use a local company and pay about $30 a month. Initial install was in the $300 range.

It's great for peace of mind while you're away, either at work or on vacation. (The statistic I think I remember is that most burglaries happen between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, while people are at work.) You can also program it to do just doors and downstairs, if you're worried about someone breaking in while you're upstairs and asleep.

It also goes off if there's a fire, but it's been good about not activating due to kitchen accidents. Important for Minnesota but maybe not for you: it will go off if the temperature gets below 40 degrees F. indoors, to warn you if you're pipes might be in danger of freezing.

Alarms go to a call center that first tries to call you, then calls police or fire as appropriate. I've found that I can call them if I set off an alarm by mistake (about twice a year), and it's always worked well so that the alarm gets cancelled and police aren't called. Minneapolis does charge for false alarms.

You can have an alarm system and still do other things, too: window locks, indoor lights on a timer, outdoor motion detector locks, a dog, whatever.

This varies a lot from area to area, but if your local police have a crime prevention unit, they might be willing to pop out and give you some basic security tips: securing doors and windows, making sure burglars don't have places to hide while breaking in, those sorts of things.
posted by gimonca at 4:36 PM on July 26, 2012

One more thing: my system uses a cellular dialer/receiver, so there's no landline needed for the phone connection (and no line to be cut). And it has a battery backup in case the power goes out.
posted by gimonca at 4:38 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I say get one. I live alone in a 1908 house in a similar-sounding neighborhood and I really like being able to turn it on at night when I go to bed. (The "at home" setting means it will go off immediately if one of the doors is opened, in addition to the regular window and motion-sensor alarms that normally fire in the "away" setting.) I have cats, who set off the glass-breaks accidentally pretty often, which is a pain in the ass (and means I get fined for false alarms), but on balance the peace of mind is worth it.
posted by slenderloris at 5:00 PM on July 26, 2012

The probability of getting burgled while you're not home is small. The probability of a home invasion is incredibly, vanishingly small. The probability of your house burning down is much larger than either.

Call your homeowner's insurance company and ask what kind of a discount you'll get for a professionally installed alarm system. They're the ones who will pay for your stuff if it gets stolen, and they know how much it's worth to them. They'll give you some kind of a discount, but it won't be anywhere near the cost of the system.

Window locks, a safe for your valuables, a cheap self-installed security systems, and security cameras are all just about as effective as a monitored alarm, and they are vastly less expensive.

Dogs are also highly effective, no matter the size. They bark and alert the neigbors.

If you do go for a monitored system, be sure to hook it up to your fire alarm. It's way more likely that your house will burn down while you're away, and in that case you have to replace an entire house, not just your stuff.
posted by miyabo at 10:04 PM on July 26, 2012

I'll step up as a dissenting voice, just to give that perspective. I live in an urban neighborhood of mostly turn-of-the-century rowhouses, and hell no, I'm not interested in an alarm system. Personally, they don't give me peace of mind, just the opposite. I don't want a chirp of warning every time I open a window or door in my own house. I don't want people visiting me to not know whether they can open the door without an alarm going off. I don't want to take a moment every time I enter or leave my house and dedicate it to the fear of a (statistically improbable) break-in. We women have the fear of assault bludgeoned into us from birth, I think I've got caution covered just fine without taking extra measures against even more improbable scenarios. I really, really don't want the stress of false alarms, let alone fines for them. And I can button up the house for the night myself for free.
posted by desuetude at 10:12 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

(Which is not to say that I begrudge anyone their own security system if it works for their emotional well-being. Just offering the reasons why it does not work for mine.)
posted by desuetude at 11:50 PM on July 26, 2012

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