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How Effective is a Home Security System?

Separating facts from sales tactics can be a challenge for the home security shopper. For example, one of the electronic security industry’s leading organizations recently claimed that 2012 FBI statistics showed a year-over-year increase in property crimes, burglaries, and robberies in almost all areas of the U.S. In truth, FBI statistics show that U.S. property crime rates have gone down every year from 2001 to 2012, the robbery rate has declined every year since 2006, and burglary has dropped annually since 2008. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of household burglary decreased 56% from 1994 to 2011, from 63.4 per 1,000 US households to 27.6 per 1,000.

Without question, home security systems have been responsible for a lot of this progress. About one in six homeowners have installed such a system, which represents a 40% increase in the past five years. Statistics show that security systems definitely do deter burglars. The National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association claims that unsecured homes are three times more likely to be robbed than homes equipped with a system. Multiple surveys of convicted burglars have found that up to 80% to 90% of them will avoid even attempting to break in to a visibly secured home.

Basic Home Safety Components

If you’re going the DIY route, there are at least three components you should consider for your home’s security: motion sensor lights, surveillance cameras, and door and window alarms.

Motion Sensor Lights

Landscaping and lighting can provide an initial stage of deterrence by simply making burglars more visible. Motion-sensing lights are available in two basic types: active sensors and passive sensors.

  • Active: These sensors emit a signal that’s reflected back by the objects in the surrounding environment. If an object or person moves or enters into that area, the sensor notes the time change in the sending and receiving of the signal, triggering the light. This is the more basic of the two types, and is triggered more easily. For that reason, active sensor lights are most often used for their energy efficiency or for outdoor safety lighting by garages, sheds, etc.
  • Passive: Used in passive infrared (PIR) sensor lights, these sensors monitor changes in infrared radiation within their field of view, particularly the infrared energy associated with human body temperature. Security lights of this kind are more discriminating than active sensors, responding only to human bodies rather than pets or wind-blown objects.

Installing a wired or wireless security camera (or multiple cameras) is a practical, affordable alternative to paying a home security company, especially with the many monitoring and access features now available. These cameras can be set up indoor or outdoor depending on the model, providing constant or motion-activated security, night vision, auto emailing, and in some cases even live video and audio streaming to your remote computer or smartphone.

The primary decision to make here is wired versus wireless. When installing a wired camera you’ll need to run cable, which can make for a trickier installation, but avoids the signal loss problems that can occur with wireless systems. A wireless camera offers easy installation and discreet placement, though you may need to change the broadcast channel to avoid interference with your WiFi router or wireless phone.

Your camera system can be monitored live through a TV, monitor, computer, or smartphone, but is most effective when paired with a DVR or video capture card to record video.

Door and Window Alarms

Door and window alarms help protect your home’s primary points of entry, providing a low-cost alternative to centralized alarm systems.

  • Door: About half of all burglaries are front door break-ins, and another third occur through the back door. Adding an easy-to-install magnetic or wireless door alarm will deter most intruders, emitting an ear-splitting, high-decibel alarm when triggered. Magnetic sensors consist of two parts: the sensor housing and the magnet. These are placed adjacent to one another, with the sensor on the edge of the door and the magnet on the edge of the frame. In alarm mode, breaking the magnetic connection by opening the door will set off the alarm. Some models include a chime setting, which can be useful for notifying parents when young children are trying to go outside. Wireless door alarms typically feature a four-digit keypad for activation and deactivation.
  • Window: Wireless window alarms that work much like door alarms are one option for homeowners, but glass break detectors are often a better choice (for example, if a window were broken instead of forced open, a magnetic alarm’s contact sensor might not detect the break-in). These wireless devices can detect the sound of breaking glass within a given radius, and can be applied either directly to a glass pane or within adequate proximity, depending on the model.
Recommended Steps for Home Safety
  • Increase the deterrent effect of your devices by installing home security signage in prominent places, e.g. a high-visibility yard stake or front window decal.
  • Decoy systems with flashing LED lights can provide criminal deterrence at a very low cost.
  • A surprisingly large number of people leave windows or doors unlocked or security systems turned off when they leave the house. Many home break-ins are unplanned, random acts by thieves looking for an easy target. Check your doors and windows to help prevent burglary “walk-ins.”
  • Keeping your valuables in a home safe and installing a safety film on your windows will keep prowling thieves from spotting items that would invite a burglary.
  • If you plan to install a home security system or multiple safety devices, check with your insurance company to see if this would make you eligible for a discount on your home insurance.