The BBB advises consumers to investigate the purchase of a home security system with the same care as they would any major purchase.
Basic elements of a security system include perimeter sensors on outside doors and windows, motion detectors in key inside areas, a control unit to interpret and respond to signals from the sensors, a siren or other alert mechanism, and a connection to a central monitoring station to notify the police. Fire detection and medical emergency devices are other available options.
Security systems can be wireless or wired. Wireless systems use battery-powered radio transmitters to connect the various system components. They can be bought at hardware stores and easily installed by a homeowner. Wireless systems have the advantage of low cost, simple operation, and portability to a new home. They are limited in their capabilities, however, and most do not give the option of connecting to a network that will alert the police.
With a wired alarm, the system components are permanently connected by wires in the floors and walls. A professional company typically installs and services the system. A wired system is significantly more expensive than a wireless one but offers a wider choice of features, tighter security, and central monitoring.
The best home security system will be customized to your lifestyle, including your schedule and your family, and will take into account specific valuables you want protected. Carefully consider your security requirements and your budget. Your local police department may have a crime prevention unit that can recommend specific security measures.
If you decide to have a professionally installed system, talk to at least two or three companies. Find out if they are properly licensed and if they screen employees before hiring. Ask for references and check out companies with the Better Business Bureau and with the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association. Also talk to your insurance agent -- some systems may qualify you for a discount of up to 30% on your homeowner's premium.
Ask for an inspection, demonstration, and itemized written estimate. Read contracts and sales agreements closely to ensure you understand exactly what equipment and protection you're getting for your investment. When determining the best price, take into account not only the initial installation charge but also monthly monitoring or routine maintenance charges. Also consider the merits of leasing versus buying your system. It may cost less to lease if you plan to move within a few years.