Choosing a home security system is an important but daunting task
A burglar damages a door. A thief steals a television in a neighboring house.
Often, it's only after an unfortunate event that homeowners decide something must be done.
With the wide array of home security options nowadays and more advanced technology than ever, the choices can be overwhelming.
"I think everyone, somewhere inside, knows they need some matter of home security," says Zac Sutton, the director of marketing for iSmartAlarm, which began shipping its systems last summer.
The tricky part may be how to choose between what's available. Here are three major options, and who may be the best fit for each.
Homeowners who want a comprehensive and customized security plan may want to invest in a system from an established alarm company.
Local companies, as well as home security giants like ADT and Brinks, usually send representatives who give homeowners detailed options based on house layout and lifestyle. For families with kids, that could mean a camera by the door that will allow parents at work to check that their children came home safely.
"People are looking for systems that are not intrusive to their lifestyle or to the aesthetics of the home," says Marshall Marinace, the owner of Marshall Alarm Systems in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and the incoming president of the Electronic Security Association. "Being able to remotely arm and disarm is the most popular."
Lewis Long, vice president of marketing communications for ADT, says roughly one out of every two systems the company sells has a home automation feature that allows for remote access.
A major advantage of going with an alarm company, he added, is their call monitoring centers that can ring police or fire departments.
"We have professionals in our call centers who are used to dealing with people in distress," Long says. "We have experience in calmly walking customers through how to protect and save their families."
On the other hand, there are monthly fees. For ADT, they start at about $48 monthly for a home automation system.
"We're not the cheapest guy in town," Long says, though he added that ADT representatives will work with customers' budgets because "they would like to see someone have some type of protection rather than not see anything."
Good for: People wanting home customization and constant monitoring that connects to police and fire.
Home security bundles
If you already have a company managing your Internet and cable services, it may make sense to add home security to the palette. It could prompt significant cost savings.
Xfinity Home from Comcast, for instance, offers its Chicago-area customers packages that include cable, Internet access and a home security system with a touch-screen controller, three door or window sensors, one motion sensor and a wireless keypad for $99 a month (with a three-year contract).
In comparison, just a television and Internet bundle from Xfinity in the same area would also cost $99 a month.
Users can mix and match their remote-access building packages that include controlling the alarm system while away from home, turning on and off thermostats, lights and small appliances like irons.
Marinace, of the Electronic Security Association, says bundles "sound attractive," but cautions people to make sure they're confident that customer service is adequately suited to their alarm systems. Costs and availability of security systems also depend on where you live.
Good for: People who want more of their home services on one bill and the ability to control several devices remotely.
The rise in remote access technology has prompted new do-it-yourself alarm systems to stream into the security market. They can be controlled via mobile app after installation.
For instance, Silicon Valley-based iSmartAlarm offers a $199 "preferred package," which includes a CubeOne (the system's brains), two door or window sensors, a motion detector and two remote tags that allow for tracking of kids and pets. The "premium package," which includes a surveillance camera, costs $349.
There are no monthly monitoring fees.
This kind of do-it-yourself, remote-access system is suited for "anyone and everyone who is put off by the long-term contracts and monthly fees charged by the kind of 'old guard' home security systems," says Sutton, the marketing director for iSmartAlarm.
The trade-off for the attractive pricing is the lack of a call-monitoring center. If there's an intrusion, a high-decibel alarm will sound, but it's up to homeowners or neighbors to call police and fire departments for help.
• Good for: People who do not want to pay monthly fees. People who want to move their alarm systems with ease.