Several measures of securing your home are more effectiveand much less
costlythan alarm systems: Secure all doors with good deadbolts; secure
all windows that are accessible from the outside; set up lighting systems
that deter burglars; and improve your own home security habits. Good habits
include consistently locking doors and keeping track of keys, having someone
pick up your newspapers and mail when you are away, and keeping valuable
items out of sight.
While an alarm system will also improve the security of your home, it may
not be worth the cost if
You live in a very low-crime neighborhood.
Your house is well-secured physically (with locks and other measures).
Someone almost always is at home.
Your neighbors will keep an eye on your house and call the police if they
notice anything suspicious.
You possess little of substantial value that could be stolen and have good
You dont worry much about break-ins.
Children, houseguests, or others are likely to frequently trigger false
The hassle of setting the alarm and avoiding false alarms might make you
avoid using it regularly.
If you decide you want an alarm system, choosing a good installer is essential
to making sure the system is effective, convenient, and unobtrusive; minimizing
false alarms; and controlling costs. Our Ratings Tables show ratings
of area alarm system installation companies, most of which serve all or
large portions of the Puget Sound area. Some companies are twice as likely
as others to get top service quality ratings from their surveyed customers.
Have several companies come to your home to propose system designs and
quote prices. Some will be much better than others at designing a system
that meets your needs conveniently and at a reasonable cost. Even for the
same basic design, you will find substantial price differences. For one
particular job, including three years of monitoring service, our shopper
got quotes ranging from $1,099 to $5,513.
When pricing a system that will have central station monitoring, take into
account the cost of monitoring. Some installers will lock you into using
their monitoring services for several years. Many installers give hefty
discounts off equipment and installation costs to customers who sign long-term
Dont agree to pay more than half of the cost of a system installation
before the work begins. Ideally, arrange to hold back at least half of
the payment until two weeks or a month after the system is up and runningenough
time to see if the system needs any fixes.
If youve ever locked yourself out of your home and had to play burglar,
you know it doesnt take a lot of smarts to make a living as a thief. Most
burglars enter homes in one of two ways: (1) Test doors and windows, find
an unlocked one, open it; or (2) Test doors and windows, find a vulnerable
one, push and kick it until it opens.
So while the bad news is it doesnt take a genius to get at your stuff,
the good news is the incidence of burglaries is slim: Only about one in
50 U.S. homes gets broken into each year. But over time, the odds can turn
against you. And given the financial, physical, and psychological damage
that can result from a burglary, it makes sense to do what you can to become
For millions of American households, one component of a home security plan
is an electronic alarm system. There is evidence that these systems do
make a difference: It is estimated that homes with security systems are
about one-third as likely to be burglarized as homes without them. Although
part of the difference no doubt has something to do with location and other
protections alarmed homes have in place, electronic alarm systems clearly
matter. In addition, these systems can help prevent fire damage, and some
will alert you or a central monitoring agency to power outages, water leaks,
and other problems.
The discounts homeowners insurance companies give households that have
alarm systems is one indication of their value. Many insurers discount
policies from two to 10 percent (most typically five percent) for homes
with systems that have central station monitoring.
This article evaluates alarm system installers for quality and price (including
prices for central station monitoring), and describes alarm system features.
It also discusses many possibly more important and much less expensive
measures you can take. A report on locks and locksmiths is available
Whether youre considering an electronic home security system or not, its
important to evaluate your homes overall security. There are many things
you can do to enhance protections that cost much less than an alarm system
but do just as much good.
Almost all intruders are male, and more than one-third are in their teens
or early twenties. Professionals capable of picking locks and circumventing
alarm systems commit a very small portion of burglaries.
Although it is commonly believed that illegal intrusions are primarily
a risk during summer, rates actually vary by less than 10 percent from
month to month. It is also widely presumed that most intrusions occur at
night, but about half occur during the day. Intruders usually dont have
to force open doors or break windows; most burglars enter through unlocked
doors and windows, or with the unauthorized use of a key. And not all thieves
are strangersex-spouses, relatives, and acquaintances commit a significant
portion of break-ins.
The most common points of entry are exterior doors and ground-level windows,
sliding glass doors, doors to an attached garage, and basement windows.
Burglars most commonly enter by opening unlocked doors or windows, lifting
sliding glass doors off their tracks, and prying open locked doors and
windows. Few intruders break windows to enter homes if they cant get in
through unlocked doors or other methods. They prefer visual obscurity,
silence, easy entry, and quick exits. Your primary objective when planning
security for your home, then, is to beef up its locks and latches. More
on this later.
Despite the best precautions, your home might still be penetrated. Homeowners
and renters insurance policies do not provide reimbursement for personal
injuries suffered during assaults, but they do cover property losses due
to burglaries. The coverage limit for personal possessions is usually 50
to 75 percent of the amount of coverage purchased for the dwelling, but
certain items (jewelry, silver, cash, computers, and guns) usually are
covered at low limits.
In addition, unless you purchase a replacement cost provision, homeowners
insurance policies cover only the market value of personal property,
not replacement value. Market value is defined as the replacement cost
minus depreciation. Insurance companies offer the option of covering the
full replacement cost (with no deduction for depreciation) for about 10
percent more than the standard policy. If burglars clean out your home,
coverage for full replacement cost could save you thousands of dollars.
Most companies also offer riders that increase coverage on jewelry and
other items covered at low limits under standard policies.
(See our article on homeowners insurance for more information on insuring your home, including ratings of local insurers for quality and price.)
If you suffer a major loss from burglary or fire, an inventory list will
help you get compensated. Ideally, the inventory should include a brief
description of each possession, its purchase date, and price. Unless you
have taken a vow of poverty, preparing a list like that will take days.
An alternative is to list expensive items, and record the number of smaller
itemsfor example, 12 miscellaneous cooking utensils. If you do have
to file a claim, the list could jog your memory for the additional details
that your insurance company might request. Or make a video of possessions,
with a voiceover providing details about each item.
If you own antiques, expensive jewelry, original paintings, or other items
of substantial value that require authentication to establish value, get
written appraisalsbut first make sure your appraiser is acceptable to
your insurance company. Because some appraisers are also dealers, specifically
tell the appraiser that you want the evaluation for insurance purposes.
If they think you want to sell the items, they might lowball the estimate
of their value.
Keep copies of the inventory, videos, and appraisals in a secure place
outside your home, such as a safe deposit box or a friends house. Because
appraisals indicate your name and address, in the wrong hands they can
invite burglary. Update your inventory every couple of years.
A home security audit is a good start in the battle against intruders.
Most police departments provide such services. Call your local police department
and ask for the crime prevention or community services unit. Ask for an
officer to come to your home to assess its vulnerabilities and recommend
additional security measures. There is no charge for the service, and evening
appointments usually can be arranged.
Many experts recommend participating in Operation Identification, which
involves engraving an ID number on your valuables and putting a decal in
your window. The decal will deter some potential intruders because clearly
marked items are harder to sell. Although only about 10 percent of burglarized
homes recover any stolen items, positive identification improves your chances.
Most police departments recommend engraving your drivers license number.
Metal engravers cost from $8 to $25. Some police departments lend them
out; call yours to see if one is available. You can use a large nail or
kitchen knife to engrave on wood, plastic, and aluminum, but on steel such
devices make a shallow score that can be obliterated by 30 seconds of sandpapering.
There are also various ways to fingerprint fine art, jewelry, and other
items without damaging them. An appraiser or jeweler can provide more information.
Households often open their front doors to strangers and near-strangersthe
pizza delivery guy, Jehovahs Witnesses, the sketchy home improvement salesman
whos doing work in the neighborhood and wants to give you a big discount,
and others. So it makes sense to place articles of ostensible value out
of the view of anyone at your front door.
The layout of some houses makes it easy for strangers on the sidewalk to
look through windows. Keep your valuables out of their line of sight.
Tradespeople working in your home also represent some risk. While they
are unlikely to steal anything youre likely to notice right away, they
might grab a single piece of jewelry from a full box. Always hide away
One of the most effective and least costly ways to protect all the homes
in the neighborhood is for community members to get involved in crime prevention.
Involvement can range from making sure neighbors keep an eye out for suspicious
activity to setting up shifts for foot patrols.
Neighborhood Watch groups can be organized to cover a single block of 10
or 12 houses or dozens of blocks with 1,000 houses.
Neighborhood Watch groups usually set up a system for members to exchange
information. Typically, leaders (or block captains) work with police
and neighbors to compile activity occurring in the neighborhood and distribute
the information to members via newsletters, emails, or listservs.
Neighborhood Watch groups get started when police officers train neighborhood
residents on security measures, ways to spot suspicious activity, and
ways to keep in contact with the police. Neighbors also are asked to define
the geographical boundaries of their neighborhood. After these initial
steps, block captains and residents take responsibility for keeping the
Members typically develop a map of the neighborhood listing addresses and
phone numbers of group members, distribute crime alert information, and
regularly welcome new neighbors into the group. Some Neighborhood Watch
groups bond further with regular meetings and social events.
Some neighborhoods even form Citizen Patrols, a cadre of volunteers who
walk or drive a designated area looking for suspicious activity that they
report to the police.
Most burglars strike when no one is home, so make sure your house appears
to be occupied.
When You Are Away During the Day or Evening
Leave a radio or television on. Silence suggests an unoccupied house.
Dont let your phone ring for a long time. Either turn down the volume
of ringers or lower the number of rings before voicemail or your answering
machine picks up. A long-ringing phone tells passersby and prowlers that
Consider removing your address from phone listings. There is no extra charge,
and if you have this type of listing potential thieves who dial random
numbers looking for unoccupied homes wont find out your address. Similarly,
someone who cases the neighborhood and learns your name from the mailbox
wont be able to obtain your phone number. An alternative is an unlisted
phone number: Your name, address, and phone number are omitted from the
phone directory, but directory assistance provides your number. Or have
a non-published phone number, which means your name, address, and phone
number are omitted from the directory, and directory assistance does not
reveal your number.
Always leave your garage door closed. An open door to a car-less garage
indicates that at least some occupants are away.
Plug a light or two into timers. The timers should turn lights on at dusk,
and off at bedtime.
When You Are on Vacation
Dont let newspapers and mail pile up. Have a neighbor check your mailbox
every day and pick up anything left on the porch. You could have mail and
newspaper deliveries stopped, but be aware that these stops reveal your
absence to several people at the post office and the newspaper.
Arrange for someone to mow your lawn if it is likely to become overgrown.
Park a car in your driveway.
Ask a neighbor to put some of his or her garbage in your garbage cans.
Leave blinds, shades, and curtains closed unless that departs from your
normal pattern. Even then, close off windows that are particularly vulnerable
to observation and leave other curtains open.
Do not let more people than necessary know you are leaving.
Consider hiring a trusted house sitter.
Intruders prefer to invade unseen. They favor entrances through doors and
windows hidden by garages, bushes, fences, and trees. Keep areas around
your doors and windows visible from the street, to your neighbors, and
from within your house.
If its impractical or unattractive to hack back your homes jungle, consider
planting thorny varieties close to the house so prowlers wont hide behind
them. You can get advice on what to plant, and help planting it, from
landscapers, and landscape designers.
Large trees may provide access to upstairs windows or, more often, to a
porch roof with access to a window. Consider pruning them.
A high fence is a double-edged sword. It can make it more difficult for
an intruder to get in and out, but it also can hide a burglar. If you have
a gate, keep it locked so an intruder knows the fence would slow his escape.
Crowbars, hand tools, or yard tools lying about outside the house or in
open garages are inviting trouble. Lock up any implements that could be
used for prying or bashing. Also secure ladders: If they wont fit in a
locked garage or tool shed, chain them to a tree, fence, or other immovable
object. Ask your neighbors to secure their tools, too.
Most nighttime prowlers flee the moment indoor lights go on, but bolder
ones might hide until you go back to sleep. On the other hand, an outside
light will chase away all but the nerviest.
You can use outdoor lights to illuminate the entire exterior of your house
or just a few vulnerable areas. In either case, they can be set for all-night
operation or to go on only when a prowler is detected. Some incorporate
heat and motion detectors that turn the lights on whenever someone comes
within about 25 feet of the lights.
For the greatest security, external lights should have break-proof lenses,
strong mountings, hidden wiring, and tamper alarms. Security lights are
available at some hardware stores, electrical equipment suppliers, and
Professional installation of a whole-house security light system costs
$1,000 to $3,000and increases your electric bill. A do-it-yourself installation
at one point of vulnerability may cost less than $200. Unsecured outdoor
lights with outdoor sockets (which usually take reflector lamps) cost much
less, but a careful intruder can remove the bulbs before attacking the
Place the switch for any outdoor light or lighting system intended to provide
security in a convenient location away from the light. You probably wont
want to go down to your basement to turn on a light when a prowler is breaking
through the door.
Signs in many affluent communities have proclamations like Warning: Houses
in this community are protected by an integrated alarm system. Some of
them are bluffs.
Similarly, you can post a Beware of Dog sign at the front entrance of
your house even if you have no dog or the dog you do have is scared of
strangers, cats, the wind, and pretty much any moving object. If you want
the bark but not a barky dog, you can buy electronic dog barkers that emit
barks for a few seconds when triggered. Hang a vibration detector on a
doorknob so the device barks when the door is rattled, or hook up the device
to motion detectors hung outside the house. They cost about $60 to more
Most alarm system companies provide decals for doors or windows indicating
that your home is alarmed. Some homeowners purchase fake decals. But
be aware that knowledgeable burglars claim they can identify fakes. Also,
if you have a decal on your home and live in a neighborhood where most
houses do not have alarm decals, it suggests your house has more valuables
than your neighbors and may attract intruders without providing any real
Dogs can offer several levels of protection from intruders. First and least
is the family pet with no particular training in sounding an alert. Performance
varies tremendously, depending on its breed and genealogy, gender, individual
idiosyncrasies, and life experiences. Dobermans and German Shepherds get
a lot of respect from intruders. A concern, of course, is that your untrained
dog will attack innocent strangers, your neighbors, or their children.
The second level is to train your dog to bark at strangers but not attack.
This will usually require the assistance of a professional trainer.
The third level is a personal protection dog professionally trained to
attack on command or when he or she thinks a family member is being assaulted.
Unfortunately, even after such training most dogs have trouble distinguishing
between a friendly slap on the back and a real assault. Many are unreliable
except when handled by their masters.
Since most intruders break in through doors and windows, youll want to
make yours as difficult to penetrate as possible. Intruders prefer unlocked
doors or windows; however, many burglars can quickly and almost silently
pry open locked ones. Some break a pane of glass so they can reach in and
unlock the window or door. Only a few really determined burglars break
out enough glass to walk or crawl through, or bash in a well-secured door,
and they seldom try to pick locks.
Good locks are essential. Our locksmiths article describes various
types of locks, how they can be strengthened, and how to find a good locksmith
to do the work.
The locks on sliding glass doors are notoriously flimsymany doors can
be lifted right off their tracks. If you have a sliding glass door, consider
paying a locksmith to evaluate its vulnerability and, if necessary, install
Figure 1 shows several do-it-yourself ways to secure sliding glass doors.
One door is usually fixed (screwed or bolted at several points to the track)
so you have to worry about only the other door. A sliding glass door can
resist a pry bar attack if you place a broomstick or piece of lumber in
the lower track to prevent the door from sliding open. Aluminum Charley
Bars mounted waist high function the same way. Well-designed ones require
moving one or two parts before they can be lowered, making them somewhat
more resistant to persistent intruders than wood in the track. Charley
Bars cost $20 and less.
Figure 1Securing Sliding Glass Doors
If both doors slide, secure them by drilling two 9/32-inch holes where
their frames overlap at the top and bottom. Drill through the inside doors
frame and halfway into the outside doors frame; then insert 1/4-inch bolts
in the holes (see Figure 1). This will prevent intruders from prying the
doors open, and make it difficult to lift the doors off their tracks. The
danger is that if your drill hits the glass, the glass may break. Usually
the glass extends less than 1/2 inch into the frame, so position the hole
as far from the glass as possible while keeping the drill perpendicular
to the door.
To prevent burglars from lifting a sliding door off the track to open it
fully, drill vertical holes through the overhead track every 12 inches
or so, and drive screws into these holes just far enough so that the doors
slide under their heads but cant be lifted off the track (see Figure 2).
Before trying this, use a pencil or piece of wire to feel whether the top
of the door frame is solid or hollow. This technique will not work on some
Figure 2Using Screws to Prevent Sliding Doors from Being Lifted
Although hinged doors are much safer than sliding glass doors, intruders
can get through even securely locked ones.
Hollow wood doors are usually made of two 1/8-inch sheets of plywood separated
by cardboard spacers. You dont have to be Jackie Chan to punch through
them. And for outward-opening doors, hinge pins located on the outside
can be pulled out with a pair of pliers.
Exterior doors should be solid wood (usually plywood surfaces over wood
planks) or foam-filled steel. If doors do not open inward, the hinges should
have non-removable pins. Hinges should also be installed so that the screws
attaching them to the door and frame cannot be removed when the door is
closed. Doors should fit snugly within the door frame, with no more than
a 1/16-inch gap on either side.
If you replace a glass door with a wooden one, you do not necessarily forgo
an opportunity to view whoever rings your doorbell. Wide-angle peepholes
are available, but before you buy one look through it at objects two feet
to five feet away. The focus should be clear and the view at least as wide
as the distance.
The last word in door security is a heavy-duty steel door in a steel frame
with a high-security lock. These cost $800 to $2,000, installed.
One step down is a metal bar door installed a few inches outside an existing
door. Set into a brick or concrete block structure, defeating them generally
takes a lot of time and makes a lot of noise. On wood frame houses their
resistance to attack depends on the strength of the framing to which they
are attached. The simplest kinds of metal bar doors, which are usually
installed along with bars over the windows, make your place look like a
prison. But some fabricators make attractive, decorative ones, and a few
custom-build them as individual pieces of art. These doors typically cost
$400 to $1,200, when professionally installed.
Intruders love unlocked attached garages. They enter the garage, close
the door, and can then work at breaking into the house without fear of
being seen or heard.
Standard twist handle locks on overhead garage doors can be easily defeated.
Most electric door openers ($150 to $300) provide more resistance, but
because even these may yield to a crowbar attack its good to have a backup
lock. One simple and inexpensive solution is to drill holes in the track
on each side just above the closed door and put U-bolts or padlocks through
the holes. This arrangement permits the door to be secured only from inside
the garage when the door is closed. Alternatively, the door can be secured
from the outside with a right-angle hasp and padlock (see Figure 3).
A preference for hidden entries leads intruders to also favor utility rooms
and enclosed porches. Make it difficult for them to get inside them; and
if thats not possible, make sure a solid-core door with reinforced locks
separates one of these areas from the rest of your house.
Intruders also invade homes by using an unauthorized keynot one the intruder
painstakingly fabricates, but rather a key hidden under your doormat
or on top of an adjacent window frame, or kept by a contractor, or held
by a friend of the prior occupant, or made from a key loaned to a plumber
or since-dismissed housekeeper, or found on a key ring with an ID tag with
your name and phone number, or copied by a parking lot attendant, or...you
get the idea.
You can easily guard against these risks. Dont hide spare door keys in
any obvious placeswhich means any place thats convenient. Instead, give
a spare to a trusted neighbor. Or put an unmarked spare key and some childrens
trinkets in a jar or can, and bury it near a permanent landmark.
When you move into a house or apartment, consider having all the lock cylinders
replaced or re-keyed. If you must give a house key to anyone you dont
fully trust, install restricted key cylinders in the doors that they will
be using. Duplicates of restricted keys, which require unusual key blanks
and special key-cutting equipment, can be made only with the written authorization
of the homeowners.
Never put identification on your key ringeven a phone number is risky
because someone might get your address by doing a reverse match.
There are five common types of windows:
- Double-hung (sash) windows open vertically; sometimes the top half is fixed and sometimes not. Frames may be wood, vinyl, or metal.
- Horizontal sliders are like small sliding glass doors and usually have metal frames.
- Casement windows swing outward and are usually opened and closed by a lever attached to a geared hand crank.
- Jalousie windows are a series of panes about four inches wide set in metal frames interconnected by levers.
- Fixed pane windows do not open.
To secure a window, you must make it resistant to being pried open. In
addition, it should be difficult to open the window frame after a pane
of glass has been broken. Most intruders are not keen on breaking glass,
but it still happens often enough to justify concern. For the highest level
of protection, the window should have unbreakable glazing or steel bars
The most difficult-to-secure type of window is the jalousie. Even when
closed tight, someone can quietly remove a pane. If you have this type
of window anywhere accessible to intruders, consider replacing it, adding
bars over it, or attaching an alarm to it.
Casement windows, when closed, often will withstand a prying attack. The
geared hand crank mechanism resists prying, and most have an additional
lock on the window frame. If a casement window is open a few inches, however,
someone can easily reach in and turn the hand crank to fully open the window.
You can make that more difficult by removing the handle, but intruders
can still substitute a pair of pliers for the hand crank. If you have a
ground-level casement window that you commonly leave partially open, back
it up with bars or cover it with an alarm screen.
Locks on horizontal sliders are often flimsy enough to be snapped with
gentle prying. Auxiliary locks for these windows include small devices
that clamp onto or bolt through the track. However, the former may not
resist prying, and the latter generally are unsuitable for securing windows
in partially open positions because attackers can reach through openings
to remove the bolts.
A homemade stop that works well on some frames is drilling a 1/4-inch hole
through the inside rung of the bottom track, then placing a small padlock
through the hole. A hole drilled as far as five inches from the fully closed
position can still prevent an intruder from entering when opened. Figure
4 shows this technique.
Figure 4Securing Sliding Windows
Double-hung windows are relatively easy to secure, but many commonly available
locks are not effective. A simple way to secure this type of window is
to pin the two frames together (as shown in Figure 5). Drill a 9/32-inch
hole on each side where the lower and upper frames overlap. Drill entirely
through the inner frame and three-fourths of the way through the outer
frame. Use a 1/4-inch bolt as the pin. To allow the window to be left slightly
open, drill a second hole as far as five inches up from the fully closed
position. Unfortunately, intruders can remove such pins easily after breaking
the glass once they notice them. Also, with the windows partially opened,
intruders can use a stick to reach in and knock out the pins.
Figure 5Securing Double-Hung Windows with Pins
The same basic arrangement, using smaller diameter holes and two-inch,
#14 screws, would require the intruder to have a screwdriver and patience.
You can even obtain screws with strange heads that cannot be removed without
a special socket.
The next level up in window security is to get impact-resistant glazing.
Two types of plastic material are commonly used: clear acrylic plastic
and clear polycarbonate plastic. The best-known brand of acrylic is Plexiglas,
and the best-known brand of polycarbonate is Lexan, but there are several
other comparable products.
For moderate-sized windows, the acrylic should be 1/4-inch thick; polycarbonate
is stronger and can be as little as 3/16-inch thick. Premium grades of
acrylic are virtually free of visual distortion and are more resistant
to abrasion during cleaning. The polycarbonate will weigh less. These materials
cost $2 to $5.50 per square foot. Follow manufacturers instructions for
mounting these glazing materials. Temperature increases make them expand
more than glass, and intruders can bash in an entire improperly mounted
Unfortunately, plastics are subject to scratching and slight losses of
transparency. At considerably greater cost, you can have a professional
replace particularly vulnerable windows with the type of glass used in
automobile windshields, which is not difficult to break but is difficult
The ultimate in window protection consists of protective metal bars. These
bars (also called grates and grills) come in straight prison-issue and
various decorative versions. Most are fully welded on a semi-custom basis
by local installers who do not sell them for do-it-yourself installation.
Hardware stores, however, often stock bar sets that can be adjusted in
size to fit your windows; they come in several heights and expand up to
42 inches wide. These bar sets cost $20 to $80. Although they wont resist
attack as well as fully welded bars, if properly installed they will discourage
all but the most determined intruders. Some hardware stores have begun
to stock fully welded window bars, although the selection is limited and
may not be suitable for your windows. If the width doesnt fit exactly,
you can cut the fasteners with a hacksaw.
Both expandable bars and fully welded bars should be installed with large
one-way screwsor with carriage bolts, as long as they are punched with
square holes and the nuts would not be accessible to intruders (see Figure
Figure 6Hasp Fasteners
Custom-fashioned bars vary not only in decorative patterns but also in
quality. Some are heavier gauge than others. Some put the pickets (vertical
bars) through holes in the spreaders (horizontal bars), which is stronger
than just welding them to the sides of the spreaders. Some have better
welding than others, some have more coats of paint, and some can be more
securely attached to the wall.
Be sure to check how the bars will be attached to the house. They should
be attached with bolts or screws positioned parallel to the wall (see Figure
7), and then welded to the bars. This kind of installation makes it very
difficult to remove the fasteners and also difficult to pry off the bars,
because prying away from one wall tends to push the whole bar assembly
against the other wall.
Figure 7Steel Window Bars with Installation Bolts or Screws Parallel to
Professionally installed, fully welded bars cost about $100 to $300 for
a 30-inch-by-60-inch window if you get bars for several windows at one
Dont Block Emergency Escape Routes
Metal bars on windows or doors or difficult-to-remove locking devices (such
as screws in window frames) pose hazards in the event of fire. Most building
codes specify that any sleeping room without an exterior door should have
an easily opened window. Window bars with hinges on one side and a lock
on the other are risky because the keys can easily be misplaced. Hinged
bars with an extended mechanical latch release are safer: No one outside
can reach them, but they can be easily operated by someone inside.
If windows are secured with screws, make all occupants aware that to escape
through the window theyll need to knock out the glass, place a blanket
or other padding on the bottom frame, and carefully climb out. Even then,
escape through broken glass will be hazardous.
Once you have taken care of your doors and windows, you have secured against
95 percent of all entries. But a burglar might still get in through an
attic hatch or skylight, or by removing a window air conditioner.
If someone could conceivably enter your attic from the outside, lock the
attic hatch or door. Instead of glass, most skylights are now a thin plastic
that is easily broken. Consider shatter-resistant glazing or adding metal
Most window air conditioners can be removed easily from the outside or
by pushing the unit in. The first precaution is to secure the partly raised
window frame tight against the A/C case by pinning or screwing the frames
together (as shown in Figure 5). Resist pivot attacks by filling any gaps
between the bottom of the case and the windowsill with lumber. The easiest
way to prevent pushing attacks is to screw a piece of lumber to the top
of the windowsill. You can improve the aesthetics by extending the board
from one side of the frame to the other and painting it the same color
as the sill.
Even if you have strong physical barriers, an intruder may still penetrate
your perimeter. There are several things you can do to protect yourself.
A phone in your bedroom is a real asset. Its the room where most of us
spend about half of our time when at home. You may also want to put a solid-core
door with a heavy lock on your bedroom entrance. If you dont have kids,
you can then sleep with your bedroom door locked. If you have kids, sleeping
behind a solid, locked door probably sounds like a fantastic idea in terms
of getting more sleep and privacy, but its a bad idea in terms of safety.
On the other hand, if you have a bedroom door that locks you can retrieve
your kids and use it to lock out home invaders.
Safes provide secondary security against burglary and fire. Small fire-resistant
ones with about one cubic foot of storage space cost $100 to $200. A safe-cracker
can open these units, but most other burglars will not be able to. These
units weigh 60 to 100 pounds and can be screwed to the floor. Highly securebut
much more expensivesafes are also available.
Other ways to secure your possessions inside your home include hiding cash
and expensive jewelry in unlikely placesfor example, in a large manila
envelope, among many paper files, in the toe of a shoe, at the bottom of
a bag of thread and sewing materials, or in a hollowed-out book. Be sure
to select containers no one will accidentally throw away.
Securing valuable possessions in a safe deposit box may be inconvenient,
but it provides a level of security against theft and fire that cannot
be duplicated at home for less than several thousand dollars. A small safe
deposit box costs $15 to $40 per year; some banks throw in use of a box
for free with some accounts.
Burglaries are major sources of guns for criminals, although estimates
of the percentage of crimes involving stolen guns vary widely. Each year
more than 100,000 guns are reported stolenno one knows how many more gun
thefts are unreported (some studies estimate over 60 percent). Trigger
locks can prevent accidental shootings but not thefts. If you have guns,
store them in locked gun boxes or on gun racks that cannot be easily removed.
Bolt gun boxes and racks to solid timber with several three-inch, #14 screws.
If you keep a gun for personal protection, you may be reluctant to do anything
that would impede access to the gun in an emergency. One solution to this
dilemma is a Simplex lock that is opened by pressing five buttons in a
specific order, a process that can be done quickly even in the dark. Steel
gun boxes with Simplex locks usually cost $150 and up. Another option is
to keep guns locked up when youre away from home and unlocked when youre
home. But that does not guarantee that children wont get their hands on
We recommend that homeowners first improve physical barriers to intrusion,
as discussed above, before considering alarm systems. Alarms can add protection
against intrusions, but they also involve a significant expense and create
some inconveniences. Should you get a system? We think it depends on several
How well is your house physically secured against intrusions?
What is the rate of burglary and other crime in your neighborhood?
Is your house regularly unoccupied during the day or evening? Do you take
Do you have neighbors around most of the time to keep an eye on your house
and call the police when they detect suspicious activity?
How much are you likely to lose in a burglary? Is it replaceable? Is it
insured for replacement value?
Are children, frequent houseguests, pets, or forgetful family members likely
to trigger false alarms?
Does your family worry about break-ins?
An alarm system is an especially good option for people whose homes have
limited barriers for aesthetic reasons or who want easy egress during fires.
And discounts on homeowners insurance for burglary and/or fire alarms could
make alarms less expensive.
Home alarm systems provide several kinds of protection. They notify you
when doors and windows are inadvertently left open. Publicizing their presenceeven
the possibility of their presencewill deter some intruders. The sounding
of an alarm will cause most intruders to flee and notify occupants of a
present danger. The sounding of a siren will notify neighbors to call the
police, and systems hooked up to a central monitoring station will notify
the company to call the police.
The amount of protection provided by a burglar alarm system depends on
how well you have secured the physical perimeter of your house, the design
of the alarm system, the quality of the installation, and how often you
activate the system.
Basic alarm protection should cover all exterior doors (including sliding
glass doors) and any windows easily reached by intruders. The system should
also activate a siren and/or notify a central monitoring station. Professional
installation of a system meeting these criteria usually costs $800 to $2,000.
Some companies give steep discounts to customers who agree to sign long-term
monitoring contracts. With these companies, you can get a basic system
for less than $200 if you sign a three-year monitoring deal.
Moderately heavy alarm protection covers other points of potential entry,
including second-story windows, attic doors, and skylights. It will also
use motion detectors, pressure pads, and sensors on cabinets and bureaus
to detect intrusions past the perimeter when the family is asleep or away.
Such systems usually cost from $1,500 to more than $3,000.
Although the more time an alarm system remains in operation the more protection
it provides, homeowners continually turn their systems off to prevent false
alarms. Every time a person opens a monitored door or window, the system
has to be reset, and motion detectors must be turned off when any human
or pet is likely to enter their view. Living with an alarm system is at
best an inconvenience, at worst enough of a hassle that a family doesnt
use it regularly.
False alarms are not merely inconvenient: They cause fear, erode neighbors
goodwill, and in many jurisdictions result in fines. According to various
estimates, 80 to 98 percent of alarm alerts are falsea serious problem
for police departments.
Most local jurisdictions have ordinances to minimize false alarms by prohibiting
alarm systems from directly contacting the police. Instead, the system
must notify a third party, usually at a central monitoring station, which
is supposed to verify the emergency before calling the police.
In addition, most police departments fine homeowners for excessive false
alarms. Although fines are seldom assessed for the first two or three mishaps
in a calendar year, most police departments begin issuing fines for each
subsequent occurrenceand increase the fine for each additional false alarm.
Several ways to reduce the chances of false alarms are summarized below.
An alarm system has five main parts: sensors, control panel (the brains
of the system), keypads and other inputs used to deactivate the system
and adjust control panel settings, alert mechanism, and a means of connecting
There are dozens of sensor types. Some detect the opening of doors or windows,
some detect broken glass, and others detect an intruders body heat or
Magnetic contacts are the most common type of sensor. A pair of magnetic
contacts is installed with one contact on a door or window and the other
on the adjacent frame. Contacts are separated when a door or window is
opened, sending a message to the control panel, which in turn triggers
an alarm (see Figure 8). With a third contact, magnetic contacts can be
placed on sash and horizontal slider windows so that the windows can be
left in either of two positionsclosed or partially openwithout setting
off the alarm. A false alert can occur if doors or windows are opened by
family members while the alarm is on, or if heavy winds rattle a loose-fitting
window. These sensors provide no protection if an intruder breaks the glass
and crawls through. Contacts cost between $3 and $15 each. More expensive
miniature versions are also available.
Figure 8Magnetic Contact Sensor
(Note: Prices listed in this discussion apply to parts purchased for do-it-yourself
installation. Professionally installed systems and components generally
cost much more.)
Glass breakage vibration sensors are glued to glass panes. About the size
of a quarter, they detect the vibrations of rattled or breaking glass.
Acorns hitting windows, strong winds, truck vibrations, and earthquakes
can trigger false alarms. While still available (from $5 to more than $20),
their susceptibility to false alarms makes them less popular than they
Glass breakage sensing devices trigger an alert when they detect the sound
of breaking glass. Unlike vibration sensors, one of these devices can cover
all the windows in a room. A broken wineglass or bottle may trigger a false
alarm. Many installers consider these devices unreliable, others consider
them useful. Glass breakage sensing devices cost from $25 to more than
Wired window screens are fiberglass screens with fine metal wires woven
within. An alarm sounds when the screen is broken. Except when accidentally
broken, these screens seldom trigger false alarms. They are the most practical
way to place an alarm on windows you often leave open. These screens are
sold mainly by professional alarm installation companies for $150 to $200
There are two kinds of motion detectors: passive infrared and dual technology.
Passive infrared motion detectors are equipped with an eye that detects
moving heat differentials within their field of vision. They are normally
turned on when the homeowner is not in the house or asleep. Midnight snackers
or unwary houseguests can cause false alarms. Other changes in room environment
also can cause false alarmsfor example, a dramatic shift in light from
a blown curtain or a bug crawling on the lens of the device.
A dual-technology motion detector combines passive infrared detection with
microwave technology. In addition to looking for moving heat differentials,
this type of motion detector bounces sound waves off everything in a room.
When something interrupts the consistency of the sound waves returning
to the device, the detector checks the passive infrared detection. Unless
both technologies are tripped, the alarm will not sound, enabling the dual-technology
detector to verify a change in environment and be slightly less prone to
Some motion detectors can be specially set to accommodate pets, creating
a pet alley. Basically, the eye of the detector is aimed at a level above
the pets normal path so that it will not detect the pets movement. While
convenient in theory, pet alleys are far from foolproof because pets dont
always stay low. Cats climb on things, and dogs jump up and interfere with
the detectors line of sight.
There are many brands and models of motion detectors. They range in price
from $20 to more than $200.
The control panel receives and processes signals from the sensors, and
activates one or more alarm mechanisms. It also communicates with the keypads
and other inputs to turn the system on and off and make adjustments. Whenever
a sensor detects an opened door or window, or broken glass, or movement
of a warm body, the control panel is alerted. If someone inputs the correct
code or uses an appropriate key fob or remote 10 to 30 seconds before or
after the alert, the system presumes it was caused by authorized occupants
of the house. Otherwise, it activates an audible alarm and notifies a central
Control panels usually have from six to 32 zones. A single sensor or multiple
sensors can be grouped into individually identified zones, allowing the
control panel to indicate more precisely the location of a tripped sensor.
The fewer sensors in a zone, the easier it is to pinpoint what caused an
alarm. In a burglary, you seldom need to know more than which room an intruder
has entered, but in order to identify a malfunctioning sensor it is preferable
to put each sensor on a separate zone.
The panel should have a self-recharging backup battery that allows the
system to continue operating during power failures.
Panels are available with various other features, including fire detectors,
flood detectors, and medical alerts. And some trigger different-sounding
alarms for each type of problem.
Some panels can be set so that frequently used windows will not trigger
an alarm if they are closed quickly upon opening, or if they are opened
so that they align a third set of contacts. Its a convenient feature because
you dont have to enter a code every time you open these windows.
Most panels can produce a pre-alarm warning, a moderate-level sound indicating
that an alert has been received; unless canceled within 15 or 30 seconds,
the full alarm will be triggered. This gives homeowners a chance to cancel
alerts caused by their own mistakesa good way to prevent false alarms.
The pre-alarm warning should be audible throughout the house and outside
all doors. A buzzer in only the control panel is insufficient.
The pre-alarm feature also notifies intruderswho usually flee, but may
instead try to destroy the control panel or prevent it from sending a signal.
Good practice places the control panel in a securely attached locked metal
box with no exposed wires. Alternatively, install it in a locked closet
or a difficult-to-find place.
Many control units are now equipped with self-silencers. After a siren
has sounded for five to 15 minutes, it automatically turns off. Your neighbors
will love this feature, and local ordinances may demand it. Some units
automatically re-arm the system after the self-silencing; if an intruder
leaves a window open or a malfunctioning sensor causes an alert, the siren
will cycle on again until the alarm system is reset. The best compromise
often is for the system to automatically silence the siren, turn off the
triggered zone, indicate that the triggered zone has been turned off on
the keypad, and leave the other zones active.
Very simple control panels start at $100, but models offering a moderate
array of features cost $250 and up.
Keypads and Other Inputs
Keypads and other inputs allow you to control your alarm system. Some keypads
come with alphanumeric readouts, meaning that the keypad can be programmed
to display words such as back door to indicate a particular zone. Alphanumeric
keypads cost slightly more than those with readouts such as Zone 1, which
require users to refer to a small panel listing areas of the house and
their respective zones.
Keypads cost $50 to $125; the more expensive ones generally are equipped
with more features.
In addition to keypads, several other options are now available to control
systems, including remotes, key fobs, and smartphone apps.
Keypads or key fob readers should be installed near all frequently used
exterior doors so occupants can enter the code or use their key fobs each
time they go in or out. Many families place keypads in their master bedrooms
so they can arm their alarms before going to sleep at night and disarm
them in the morning. In addition, if an alert sounds at night they will
know which sensors triggered it without going elsewhere in the house.
Some controls and keypads are easier to operate than others. Ask the company
representative to show you how your system is controlled (or at least to
show a picture of it), and explain exactly what you need to do to set the
alarm, cancel it, reset it, and get information on alerts for specific
Most keypads allow occupants to manually trigger a burglary, fire, or medical
alert by punching a clearly marked panic button. Some control panels
can also receive signals from ill or elderly occupants wearing small wireless
medical alert pendants.
The most popular alert mechanisms are sirens or horns mounted inside and
outside the house. Outdoor devices more likely to attract the attention
of your neighbors, passersby, and the police are also loud enough to be
heard within the house. But if your false alarms are more than rare, an
external siren will antagonize your neighbors.
Mount your outdoor siren as high up on the front of the house as possible.
If you will not be using central station monitoring, place the siren in
a steel protective enclosure with hidden wiring and a tamper switch that
triggers an alert if anyone tries to disable the siren. Sirens cost between
$15 and $50, not including the protective enclosure.
Systems that include fire, flood, or medical alert sensors should have
multi-tone sirens that distinguish between various kinds of emergencies.
Since it is easy to forget which noise indicates which type of alert, some
systems feature enunciators that alternate a loud blaring noise with a
verbal description of the emergency.
Although central monitoring stations will inform the police of your address,
some homes do not have street numbers prominently displayed. Because the
sound of an external siren often echoes, making it difficult to know which
house is emitting the alarm, many experts suggest also mounting a strobe
light on the front of your home.
The components of an alarm system can be hardwired to the control panel
with low-voltage wires or wirelessly communicate via small battery-powered
radio transmitters and receivers.
Wiring for hardwired components may be fully hidden, partially hidden,
or fully exposed. Fully hidden wiring is common practice but expensive
to install in houses without unfinished basements or attics, and impossible
to install in houses with concrete slab foundations and solid masonry walls.
Have representatives of companies that propose to install hardwired components
show you exactly where the wires for each component will run, and specify
who will be responsible for the cost of any carpentry, plaster work, or
painting needed to repair the damage incurred by the installation process.
Some wireless components are supervised, which means that each transmitter
periodically sends a test signal to the control panel; if it fails to send
the signal, the homeowner or central monitoring station is notified of
the malfunction. Otherwise, you have to test the transmitters by going
around and activating them, a chore few homeowners perform as often as
Both types of components wind up costing about the same: Wireless components
initially cost more, but hardwired components have higher installation
While ease of installation is a big advantage of wireless components, disadvantages
also exist. There is the expense and bother of periodically replacing batteries,
although batteries for most components should last several years. Another
disadvantage is that wireless transmitters at doors and windows are more
conspicuous than hardwired sensors, though the devices have become much
smaller as technology has improved.
Most control panels communicate with central stations by transmitting signals
via landline or cellular phones. Central station monitoring provides only
limited additional protection if your home is usually occupied or you have
neighbors who are usually home and will call the police or fire department
when they hear your alarm siren. If that is not the case, monitoring is
the only effective way to make police and fire departments aware of problems.
Although burglars usually flee soon after sirens go offand well before
police arrivethe police will come by to close any open windows and doors,
and the monitoring station will notify the homeowner. Central station monitoring
provides extra protection against determined intruders who defeat the siren,
locate and destroy the control panel, or simply disregard the alarm.
Different jurisdictions have different policies for what central monitoring
stations are supposed to do when alerted about potential intrusions, and
policies change over time. Before signing a contract for monitoringand
then periodically during the monitoring contract periodcheck with the
monitoring company and local police on the current rules. Possible policies
1. The monitoring company calls a prearranged numberusually your home phone
numberwhen an alarm is triggered. If no one answers and gives the correct
password to confirm it is a false alarm, the alarm company notifies the
police, who are expected to respond.
2. Same as 1, except that the monitoring company calls several numberstypically
the home phone number, your cell, and a neighbors numberbefore notifying
3. The monitoring company is required to verify that an intrusion has taken
place before notifying the police. It might verify by reaching you or a
neighbor by phone, sending a monitoring company representative to the site,
watching a video monitor, or other means. Without verification, the police
will not respond.
4. Same as 3, except that the monitoring company is expected to notify police
even if verification is not successful, the police are expected to notify
patrol officers, but the patrol officers are expected to respond only if
In some jurisdictions, your monitoring status might go from numbers 1 or
2 above to 3 or 4 if you are responsible for more than a certain number
of false alarms in a year.
If your monitoring service is set up to call you before calling the police,
test the services response by deliberately triggering an alarm and seeing
how long it takes the station to call. Some control panels have a test
mode in which a siren emits a low-level noise or silences it so it wont
disturb your neighbors.
Just as the alarm industry is upgrading its technology, professional burglars
are improving their bags of tricks. If you live in an affluent neighborhood,
or are known to have valuable possessions, ask alarm installers about the
precautions you can take to protect central station communication.
Also, consider enhancing your system with video monitoring. Set up cameras
to either record or transmit to a central monitoring station a video of
activity around the outside and inside of your home. Systems can be set
up either to start recording or transmitting only when some other sensor
has been triggered or on a continuing basis. If the video is being transmitted
to a central monitoring station on a continuing basis, the station will
not ordinarily monitor the signal unless a sensor activates an alarm notification.
The large national alarm companies operate their own central stations.
Some have stations in each major metropolitan area, while others have a
single station. Large independents may also operate their own stations,
but most of the smaller independents contract with a station for this service.
Before contracting with a monitoring service, make sure the communications
will work. In the past, some systems had problems receiving alarm notifications
from homes with phones that use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or
DSL. And if your phone service is set up to reject unidentified callers,
make sure your monitoring service can get through to verify an alarm.
Underwriters Laboratory (UL) lists equipment that meets specified standards.
Equipment UL-listed for safety means that it has been tested and proven
not to cause harm or injury when used in the appropriate manner. Equipment
also can be UL-listed for a specific purposefor example, alarm equipment
might be UL-listed for intrusion detection.
Because new and more technologically advanced alarm equipment is constantly
coming onto the market, not all quality products will be UL-listed. It
takes time to test some of the newer devices. While purchasing products
with a UL-listing is desirable, it is not essential. It is better to select
an alarm installer with a track record of satisfied customers than one
using UL-listed equipment.
If an alarm system uses wireless sensors, their transmitters must, by law,
be approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
UL also certifies alarm installations in individual homes based on specified
standards. The certificate for Basic Systems requires contacts only on
external doors and one motion detector. Since the motion detector usually
is turned off when the house is occupied during the day, easily accessible
windows are left vulnerable during those hours. The certificate for Extended
Systems requires extensive protection. Because UL certification involves
random inspection of installations, it is expensive for installers and
few participate. And even among those that do participate, not all their
installations are designed to meet the standards.
If you use an established installer with high customer satisfaction ratings,
you probably dont need to worry about UL certification. But if your house
is a high-profile target for intruders, Extended Systems certificates provide
extra assurance of adequate protection. If you want this assurance, inform
installers when you call them, and make sure the contract specifies that
the installation will be awarded a UL certificate for Extended Systems.
You will probably pay a premium for such an installation.
UL also certifies central security stations that monitor alarms, with UL
standards for the building, equipment, and staffing, and inspections to
ascertain continued compliance. A facility can be certified as a Central
Station Burglar Alarm (CPVX), Central Station Fire AlarmFull Service
(UUFX), or Central StationMonitoring (CVSU). There are only a few such
facilities in this area. Again, while we would prefer UL certification,
we would still do business with a station that has generated high customer
satisfaction even if it is not certified.
When hiring an installer, consider several points:
Our Ratings Tables list ratings of area alarm installers, most of which
serve all or most of the area. The ratings come from surveys we send to
area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers) asking
respondents to rate companies they had used inferior, adequate, or
superior on various aspects of service, including doing work properly,
starting and completing work promptly, letting you know cost early,
advice on service options and costs, and overall performance. Our Ratings Tables list all companies that received 10 or more ratings on our surveys,
and reports the percent of each companys surveyed customers who rated
it superior (as opposed to adequate or inferior) on each question.
Our Ratings Tables also report the percent of each companys surveyed
customers who rated it adequate or superior (as opposed to inferior)
for overall performance.
(Click here for more details on our customer survey and other research methods.)
As you can see, two companies were rated superior for doing work properly
by more than 90 percent of their surveyed customers, but others received
such favorable ratings from less than 60 percent.
The main problems reported by customers: systems that dont work right,
installation-related damage to property, messiness, and slow response to
requests for service.
For firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, our
Ratings Tables also show tallies of complaints we gathered from the
Consumer Protection Division of the Washington Office of the Attorney General
for a recent two-year period. Where we were able to, we have also reported
on our Ratings Tables complaint rates, calculated by dividing the number
of complaints by our measure of the number of full-time-equivalent alarm
installers performing residential work for the companies. The complaint
rates take into account volume of work and the fact that companies that
do more work are exposed to a greater risk of incurring complaints.
Another potential source of complaint information is the Better Business
Bureau (BBB) that serves the Puget Sound area. At www.bbb.org, you
can search for the BBBs report on any company. The report will show the
number of complaints the BBB has received for the company during the past
three years. You can check current customer survey ratings by clicking
on the companys name on our Ratings Tables and, in the details under
our listing for the company, click a link to go directly to the BBBs most
up-to-date report on the company.
When using the complaint information, keep in mind that complaints are
not always justified; sometimes customers are unreasonable. Also be aware
that some companies are at greater risk of incurring complaints than others
because of the specific types of work they do. And remember that the measure
of business volume we use in calculating complaint rates (the number of
full-time-equivalent alarm installers performing residential work) is at
best a very rough indicator.
We did not prepare price index scores to compare companies average prices
because no two companies offer exactly the same installation approaches,
options, or materials. Instead, to illustrate the range of prices you might
encounter, we had a shopper get bids from companies for an installation
job at a home that needed a system. Although our shopper asked each company
to bid on exactly the same job, there would certainly have been differences
between what each company would have done if they actually did the job.
Table 1 shows the prices for the systems and companies charges for three
years of central station monitoring. As you can see, price differences
were large, ranging from $1,099 to $5,513. Keep in mind that one reason
for the big price differences for equipment and installation resulted from
discounts and package deals some companies provide to new customers who
sign long-term monitoring contracts.
Table 1Prices Quoted for Alarm Installations and Central Station Monitoring
|ADT Security Services
|Froula Alarm Systems
|Guardian Security Systems
|Home Safety Research
|Island Security Systems
|My Alarm Center
|Puget Sound Alarm & Guard Assurance
|Shopper requested prices for a system with the following components: 1 control panel, 1 battery backup, 1 keypad, 3 door contacts, 1 siren, 1 infrared motion detector, 1 smoke detector, and landline monitoring. Some companies may have intended to install different equipment than requested.
Other business policies and approaches that may affect your choice of installation
In our experience, expertise of home security representatives varies greatly.
Some appear to know little about actual alarm installation, spend minimal
time inspecting homes, and have no clear idea of how their installation
crews will complete the work. Many representatives seem more interested
in explaining their home security products and systems than figuring out
how to give customers what they request. Youll find that with some salespersons,
it takes considerable time and energy to get an explicit price for your
job. With these salespersons, when you finally get an estimate, you can
only hope that the representatives understand the nuances of the job and
will communicate them to their installation crews.
On the other hand, some companies representatives are true experts. Many
salespersons have personally performed installation work in the past and
some install the alarm systems they plan themselves. These representatives
take a good look around the house, check inside closets, inspect the basement
and other unfinished spaces, and bang on walls. They seem to know exactly
what the customer wants and what it takes to do the job.
Choice of Monitoring Service
Once equipment is installed, some companies allow you to contract with
any service you choose for monitoring, while others require you to use
their monitoring service for a specific period of time (usually two or
three years). If youre not satisfied with the quality or price of a company
that locks you into its monitoring service, it will cost plenty to take
your business elsewhere because youll have to continue paying for the
duration of the original contract or pay a hefty cancellation penalty.
When getting bids for alarm system installation, discuss payment terms.
The more you can pay after the job is complete, the better. The best arrangement
is to pay a chunk of installation costs 15 or 30 days after completion:
It gives you maximum leverage if any problems need to be corrected.
Dealing Appropriately with Paperwork
Many jurisdictions require homeowners to register their alarm systems.
Whichever company you use should provide the required paperwork. Most registrations
either are free or require a nominal administrative fee. Some registrations
must be renewed every few years. Your installer should inform you of the
requirements in your area.
If you want your system connected to a central station monitoring service,
you will have to choose a service. If you already have a system, it makes
sense periodically to shop the alternatives. Some companies lock you into
a contract for as long as three to five years, but you can check out others
before renewing. If you are getting a new alarm, keep in mind that some
companies give big breaks on equipment and installation costs if you sign
on with them for monitoring.
With most types of equipment, it is easy to switch companies. The new company
just has to come to your home and reprogram the device that communicates
with the central station. Most companies dont charge for switchovers;
others charge a one-time setup fee of $25 to $150. Companies that offer
term contracts often waive setup fees if customers commit to a long-term
Our shopper collected monitoring prices from the companies that provided
estimates to install an alarm system. Table 1 shows monitoring costs for
three years. Most alarm installation companies do not actually perform
the monitoring service, but simply act as sales agents for monitoring companies
sales agents. Monitoring costs vary widelyfrom $900 to $1,438 for three
years for our sample home.
Special concerns and resources pertain to apartment dwellers.
Door person. Buildings with security personnel posted at the front entrance
are safer. While door persons are generally not trained as security guards,
they monitor the comings and goings of residents and their guests, and
their physical presence deters would-be thieves.
Call box. If your building does not have a reliable call box system, ask
management to install one. Guests use call boxes to call the person they
are visiting to get buzzed in. Call boxes make it easier to distinguish
between legitimate guests and others. In buildings with call boxes, guests
generally will not be waiting for someone entering or exiting the building
to be let in.
Entrance etiquette. Most apartment dwellers are familiar with the often-awkward
etiquette of entering and exiting their buildings. Do you hold the door
open for someone right behind as you enter or exit? If someone is waiting
at the front door (perhaps even using the call box), do you let the person
in? Unless you know the person, its better to close the door behind you
without letting him or her in. This is easier in theory than in practice,
however, since closing the door on someoneeven a strangercomes off as
rude. But this is a security issue, and a simple nothing personal, but
I cant let you in should suffice.
Get to know your neighbors. Find out whether there is a Neighborhood Watch
group; many buildings have their own.
Get a security audit. Ask your local police department to perform a security
audit of your building. If there are weaknesses, such as poor lighting
around an entrance, the officer will write them up and submit them to the
building manager or owner.
Consider using security devices. There are inexpensive do-it-yourself ways
to secure your apartment, such as wireless motion detectors that you arm
at night for the front entrance area. You can also attach wireless contact
sensors to vulnerable windows or doors.
Remain vigilant. Never assume that your buildings hallways are any safer
than the streets outside. Always lock your front door and avoid poorly
lit and communal areassuch as laundry roomslate at night.
Failure to enter the required code or use key fob to turn off alarm before
or after opening a door or window.
Failure to close a door after entering or exiting the house.
Failure to close all doors, windows, and other protected points before
activating the system.
Entry by human or pet into room with an activated motion detector.
Someone accidentally hitting panic button.
Vibrations and noise setting off glass-breakage sensors.
Strong winds rattling loose windows or doors and swelling window frames
triggering contact sensors.
Electrical noise, power voltage dips, brownouts, and blackouts.
Use an experienced, skilled, and reputable alarm installer.
Read instruction materials thoroughly. Show family members, housecleaners,
babysitters, and guests how to use the system and check their operation
Place a keypad or other input device close to each frequently used door.
Make sure the pre-alarm signal is audible throughout the house and outside
frequently used doors.
Use a central monitoring station that calls you to verify an alert before
it calls the police.
Install a central panel with at least eight zones and preferably twice
that number. Place each frequently used door on a separate zone. Place
glass breakage detectors and motion detectors in separate zones.
Use only high-quality motion detectors and glass breakage detectors. Dual-technology
or cross verification between two detectors enhances effectiveness.
Make sure that all doors and windows equipped with contact sensors fit
tightly and do not rattle. Make sure contact between sensors is maintained
when doors and windows swell. Set motion detectors to a sensitivity level
that accommodates the shifting of curtains and other objects likely to
move. Aim detectors so pets are unlikely to trigger them.
What if all your locks and alarms fail to thwart an invasion?
If you return home and find signs that your house has been entered, dont
go in. Call the police and wait for them to arrive. If you inadvertently
surprise an intruder already in your home, dont antagonize or stall him.
Most intruders want only to grab a few valuables and make a quick exit.
Let him take the goods and leave.
Most burglars avoid houses they think are occupied; if mistaken, they will
flee as soon as they realize their error. But if your prowler does not
scare off easily, prepare for the worst. Do everything you can to scare
him away. Turn on exterior and interior lights, hit the panic button of
your alarm, and call the police.
If you cant scare him off, you may have several options. Exiting the house
and running to a neighbors is your best bet. Or retreat into a room with
no vulnerable window and a strong door and lock and barricade the door
with furniture. A third option is to grab your best weapon and take a stand
where you think the prowler will enter; it may be easier to overpower the
intruder at that point, but any confrontation is dangerous.
If the intruder confronts you, unless you have a loaded gun in your hand
and the intruder is unarmed, cooperate until it becomes clear he intends
serious harm. This advice is not only for the timid; its what many martial
arts instructors and police officers advise.
Intruders who attack you or break through your barricaded bedroom door
probably intend bodily harm. Unfortunately, in these cases there are no
general guidelines on what you should do and whats likely to happen. Some
victims manage to talk assailants out of doing them harm; others further
antagonize assailants with the same approach. Some submit and avoid further
harm; others are brutalized. Some fight off the assailants; others are
killed while trying.
Courts have generally held that, when confronted by an intruder, victims
can use only as much force as a reasonable person would believe is necessary
to protect themselves and their families. Rarely would the law excuse anyone
for shooting a burglar in the back, but there is considerable ambiguity
about many other situations, including:
Can you attack potential intruders before they enter your home?
Can you attack an intruder who has entered through an open door? What if
they havent revealed intent to take anything or harm anyone?
Do you have to warn intruders, or can you surprise them with a bullet or
a baseball bat? (A warning might cause intruders to leave without injury,
but also give them a better chance to hurt you.)
How much force, if any, can you use to apprehend an intruder who is escaping?
Does it matter whether he is taking anything?
A home burglary is more than just upsetting; it leaves your family with
a list of important things to do.
First, call the police. Even though chances are only about one in 10 that
you will ever recover any of your possessions, that is better than nothing,
and a police report is usually necessary for filing an insurance claim
(ask for the report number before the officer leaves your home). Notifying
the police also provides crucial information about crime trends in your
Next, re-secure your house. If you had been careless, this could be as
easy as locking windows and doors. If you have been cautious, you will
have to do more. Half-inch plywood attached on the inside of broken windows
or doors with two-inch screws every foot act as strong temporary barriers.
If you cant do it yourself, some locksmiths do this type of work.
Most burglarized families live in fear that the intruder will return. This
seldom happens, but burglars often attack nearby houses within a few weeks.
So if youve had a break-in, alert your neighbors, and if you learn of
a break-in nearby, be extra vigilant.
If your loss exceeds the deductible in your homeowners or renters insurance
policy, report it to the company and gather information on the value of
the possessions to file your claim.
You dont have to open your door to a strangerdont let anyone pressure
you into doing it. Your first concern is safety, not making strangers feel
welcome. If you decide to open your door, do so only after seeing adequate
identification. If the person represents a company, he or she should have
a company-issued photo ID.
If an unknown meter reader shows up at an unusual time, or a building
inspector, fire inspector, or cable TV repairperson makes an unscheduled
visit, call the employer to verify the visitors status before you let
him or her in. Look up the employers phone number; dont rely on one provided
by the person at your door.
When a delivery person arrives, dont open the door until he or she gives
you the name of the addressee. If the delivery person doesnt know the
name, call his or her employer.
If a stranger asks to make an emergency phone call, dont let him or her
in. Instead, make the call yourself and relay the requested information.