There are those of us for whom turning on the TV when leaving the house is considered a security measure. Of course, with an American home burglarized once every 13 seconds, it could also be considered hospitality. In fact, security systems, the first centrally controlled integrated systems to make it into most homes, are branching out into fire/life-safety and the convenience/lifestyle sectors that are now becoming the backbone of home automation. So, if you really think “Three’s Company” re-runs will scare away potential burglars, you can program your TV’s routine, along with the rest of your security system, over your cell phone or the Internet while vacationing half the world away. Now if only you could get the vacuum cleaner to pick up your mail.
Like their A/V brethren, security home service providers are marketing themselves as the one-stop shop for your home’s central nervous system. No one company may be best at everything yet, but security is a natural place to start to smarten up your home.
  • A Host of High-Tech Options
  • On Cost
  • Getting Plugged In
  • What to Consider When Choosing a System

Options once reserved for technophiles, supervillains, museums or celebrities have become available to anyone. Closed circuit television (CCTV) can now be fed through your television or PC to eyeball for trouble, and monitored online from virtually anywhere. Sensors can be installed that detect motion, change in temperature, smoke and carbon monoxide, fluctuation of sound waves, broken glass or breeched barriers. When tripped, they transmit the offended sensor’s serial number to a central control panel, which in turn relays your home location and the point of alarm to your monitoring company. The monitoring company will immediately attempt to contact the homeowner to verify that a break-in has occurred. If there is no response, or the respondent fails to give the proper password, the police department or fire department is notified. In addition, some monitoring companies can dispatch their own personnel to check out the situation, either from the street, or, if keys are provided, from inside the home itself.
The explosion of cellular and wireless technology promises further protection and convenience to homeowners. Teamed with battery packs in the event of power failure, communication is fully safeguarded. Also, wireless modular components (touch pads) can be placed in convenient locations by homeowners themselves, as no cords or wires are needed. This is great for renters, too, who can take the wireless system with them when they move. Alarm devices range from the sounding of a voice wistfully repeating “fire” as if someone had left open a car door, to the crazed bark of a pack of 100-pound Rotweillers, to snapping on the lights in your home as if it were Giants Stadium. The best alarm is one that can be heard by your neighbor because, as security experts know, there is nothing as efficient as an annoyed New Yorker.
All of these functions are managed through a central control panel. In traditional home security and fire/life-safety, this consists of a keypad and display. But as this industry charges toward the home automation front, touch screens, or a platform on your PC, are increasingly becoming the way to go. This makes it much easier to program and manage your systems. You can keep tabs on the alarm history and security status, play back the sequences of which lights you turn on and off or kick on the a/c while driving home from work—and do it all remotely via computer or cell phone.
Choosing the right system for you is as much about the logistical characteristics of your location (i.e., apartment vs. house, rural vs. urban) and budget as it is about the degree of system integration you want in your home. The options range from an “I’m Protected” warning sticker on a window to a virtual HAL 5000. How sophisticated do you want to get? How intrusive? A homeowner’s personal circumstances and susceptibility should also be considered.

The cost of any security system depends upon the number of devices, the sophistication of the control unit, the degree of integration, the term and service of the monitoring and whether it’s cellular technology or hardwired. Basically, it’s the time and material for installation plus the monitoring agreement. Typically, the monitoring agreement covers three to five years. Shorter terms are available, aimed at renters, but these agreements may include higher-than-average installation costs. At the end of the term a monitoring agreement should be automatically renewable, with the ceiling for rate hikes spelled out in the contract. Payment can be made on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. If you break your contract, don’t be surprised to be held responsible for as much as 90 percent of the unexpired term as liquidated damages. You should, however, if moving away, be able to transfer your monitoring agreement over to the new homeowners.
Know the parameters of your monitoring agreement. Many people are involved in your security, and awkward mistakes will cost you. Security providers allow a familiarization period in which no signal will be acted upon. Use this time wisely. Once you’re up and running, you will be charged for false alarms by both the monitoring company and the city for wasting their time. They will also charge you to reprogram controls. Be absolutely sure you’re comfortable with the system setup and its use before signing the agreement. Warranties should cover parts and labor for one year and you can opt for a maintenance agreement that covers such extras as emergency service.
After you invest in a security system, check with your homeowner’s insurance company. You may be able to get a reduction in your insurance rate.

Finally, your security provider may need a permit, and certain components and installation methods may need to comply with local regulations. It’s the municipality’s call. The only preparations the homeowner must provide are permanent electrical access and permanent telephone connection.

  • Do you own or rent?
  • Is it a house or apartment?
  • How many entrances and windows?
  • Are there children or pets in the home?
  • How often are you around?
  • Who has access while you’re away (housekeepers, etc.)?
  • Is the neighborhood crowded or isolated?
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