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  • Writer's pictureDave

Is a Home Security Alarm Worth It?

IMHO... the response is always YES! In my last post Home Security Camera Considerations, I noted that security cameras are like the police, and mainly just deal with things after the fact. Not saying that cameras don't have preventative capabilities, as some intruders will avoid them, but alarms have shown to be very effective, hence the segment stamina. A burglar simply doesn't want to burgle a home with a 105 dB siren blaring... along with the attention it draws from neighbors & others. Additionally, while cameras can be easy to defeat at a distance with IR floods, lasers, etc., alarms generally require direct (up close & personal) intervention. The combination of both well selected alarms & cameras can make for a good overall system. Today we'll chat about:

  • Wired / Wireless

  • Monitoring... "self" vs "professional"

  • Communications

  • Modes... Home & Away

  • Sensors, Components, and Configuration

  • Brands & Equipment

  • Make Informed Decisions

I seem to talk about wired vs. wireless a lot (in tech). However, IMHO with a home alarm, the decision is often easy and based mostly on price. Wired systems generally cost more, especially for management and monitoring. So, if you have the money to afford +/- $50/month in monitoring fees, you probably don't need to continue reading and will find a local provider to manage & monitor your wired system. For this reason, the post here will focus on OTS (off the shelf) wireless packages. Often times the initial cost of wireless equipment is more than a "professionally" installed system, but since the equipment should last a number of years, you should measure the total cost of ownership (TCO) over years rather than up front.

So, then you'll ask, what's this monitoring stuff all about and do I need it? First let's chat about types, starting with "professional" monitoring... which is generally a term used by companies to describe the situation that when your alarm activates... a paid service will notify you, and depending on your response, or possibly if you don't respond, will dispatch law enforcement, security, or other party to investigate the alarm. The other type is generally called "self" monitoring... where you take responsibility for your own system including managing alerts, conditions, maintenance, etc. (i.e. everything). Many systems offer some type of professional monitoring, but not all allow self-monitoring. The choice is often very personal... for the elderly or vulnerable, professional monitoring could be key in response, especially if the system is used for other capabilities like fire, smoke, water intrusion, or even panic / distress / fall notification. With self-monitoring, it's up to you to act if you want and/or require emergency response. Either way, monitoring choices could affect your buying decision, so be sure to educate yourself on what your target systems offer up before purchase.

You've now decided on a monitoring strategy, so what about how the system communicates? In pre-Internet days, it was generally via telephone (wire), which was not always the most secure as a simple wire cut could defeat the communication system and prevent monitored response. Modern systems will generally use your Internet connection, typically via Wi-Fi. Obviously, that's also easily defeated, so a good feature to look for is a device that also includes an automatic backup / failover cellular (i.e. 4G / 5G) connection. Keep in mind though... a backup cellular connection always comes at a cost, and you'll likely be required to pay both a monthly and setup fee for such. For me, safety is key, and I'm always happy to pay a few dollars per month for peace of mind. Another very important consideration is power... namely backup power, in case your power is cut or there's an outage. Again, most modern systems come with a built-in backup battery, so be sure to double check capability. If not, you can always purchase a UPS (i.e. backup battery) from APC, Tripp Lite, or another reputable provider.

Ok, wireless... check, monitored... check, cell backup... check, battery backup... check. Now what? Well, lets chat about configuration decisions. Most home security alarms are configured to be used in two general conditions; a] "Home" mode - to alert you of unwanted intrusions while you're home, and b] "Away" mode - to notify you of intrusions while you're not at home. While I don't want anyone to jack my decade old Plasma TV or what other little stuff I have (being a minimalist), my primary decision for a home alarm is for the Home mode. I want to know the instant some fool decides to violate my security by entering my home uninvited. My ear-piercing siren will not only alert me and the intruder, but also my neighbors, along with research teams studying penguins in Antarctica. And, if I'm away, burglars are less likely to steal that old plasma... not wanting to hang around knowing they've been made. Related to configuration modes are user security codes. Best practice is to assign each individual in the household a unique code so there's an understanding of who's coming and going... children, vacation caretakers, pet sitters, all should have unique codes.

Ok, now you have the basics, and hopefully it's all been easy to understand, the last main topic is on system components and devices. Most alarms protect using a combination of contact sensors (for doors / windows), motion detectors, and possibly glass-break sensors. Personally, I prefer motion detectors over glass-breaks, but some utilize both. "Motions" do just what the label implies, detect unwanted movement, usually via PIR technology, and often have settings to block out small pets / animals (i.e. your cat), only detecting that of a certain size and/or weight. Glass break sensors generally listen for specific frequencies and/or vibrations... but many can be defeated by cutting / avoiding the glass. Door / window sensors generally have two magnetic components and send an alert once the magnets have separated a certain distance, generally a few millimeters.

So, what's the best approach? While each home will need it's own specific design (related to layout), the ideas of redundancy and coverage should always have precedence. Combining both contact sensors and motion detectors is a typical and good scenario. For my "home" mode, the alarm sets all doors & windows along with a few motion detectors in certain rooms. For my "away" mode, obviously, everything is set and the house is blanketed in redundant coverage... if an intruder somehow bypasses a contact sensor, the motion detector will likely get them. I've found that most modern systems are quite flexible in the sensor arrangement for each mode. Besides detecting intruders, alarm systems can provide other great detection features, including; CO2, fire / smoke, water intrusion, and freeze detection. Camera integration and managing multiple systems from one App is often a selling point from multiple manufacturers, but here's where you'd want to weigh convenience vs security. Me, personally, I prefer my alarm and camera systems to be from different vendors using different apps. That way, if one system is down / out / hacked, I have redundancy with the other.

Ok, now that you have the basics... what about the actual equipment? As you may have learned from previous posts, I'm all about quality brands & equipment, and like with cameras, personally I think the brand and product you choose is a key part of the purchase decision. I only buy systems from trusted and proven brands like SimpliSafe, Ring, Abode, and just a few others. Also, most of the big brands can be found on display at retailers like Best Buy so you can get and in-person and hands-on impression. Last time at my local Best Buy they had displays up for SimpliSafe, Ring, and Nest... along with a reasonable informed tech to help with purchase questions.

To wrap up here... yeah - finally! Choosing a home security alarm is a very personal decision, generally reflecting how you live and what you really need. A bit of research diligence, review perusal, and brand scrutinizing will go a long way. A home security alarm is not guaranteed to keep you and/or your family / things safe, but combined with cameras, and other prudent security and lifestyle measures, it's a well recognized and often proven measure.

Finally... don't be afraid to put up the stickers and yard signs that come with your system... let others know you're protected and proud of it. You may remember the popular "The Club" security devices made for car steering wheels... popular in the 80's & 90's... while not entirely difficult to defeat, it did save a lot of cars from being targeted as the extra hassle was simply not worth it for many potential thieves... especially amateurs... causing them to simply move on to other vehicles without The Club, being easier and less hassle. Your home security alarm should hopefully have a similar effect.

Always feel free to e-mail me comments. You can find my info on the "Team" Page.

DISCLAIMER: I'm just a guy who's been around tech and knows some stuff. I always remind others that what I say is purely FWIW, IMO, FFT, FYI, and many other acronyms... so while I strive to convey quality deets... you get no promises on accuracy or validity. I'm sure a lawyer would say; information not guaranteed, actual results may vary, and use at your own risk.


Dave - IT/BA, Stocker & Watts, Inc.

Real Estate Reinvented | Sacramento CA


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