Shopping around for a home security system

Protecting your home from unwanted intruders is serious business. Recent FBI statistics reveal that nearly 9 million property crimes take place in the U. S. each year. A burglary occurs every 15 seconds! That has many of us installing home alarm systems at an alarming rate, but how do you know which one is right for you?

A modern alarm system with high-quality wireless equipment can be installed for about $700, but the real key is who is on the other end of the alarm.

"When considering a home alarm system, the monitoring is the most important. You can install an alarm that is just going to make sound in your house if somebody trips it, but the real value of an alarm system is it being tied to the police and the fire in case of an emergency," said Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.

When you meet with a home security company, find out what company they use for their alarm monitoring. Make sure it is U.L. certified or has a 5-star Diamond rating from the Central Station Alarm Association. You will pay a separate monthly fee for this, which could range from 15 to 60 dollars depending on how sophisticated your system is. Once you're satisfied with that, it's time to decide on the equipment you need to adequately protect your home.

"We always recommend multiple layers of protection, perhaps a perimeter security with cameras or motion lights," said home security professional Kirk Booher. "Then the next level would be window sensors that detect glass breakage, the window opening; of course, door sensors. And then another layer may be interior motion sensors on interior doors so we have multiple layers of coverage."

Get several referrals before choosing a home security company and check that it is properly licensed. Once the equipment is installed, make sure you understand exactly how to use it to keep from setting it off accidentally.

"You don't want to have false alarms on your alarm system because if it's connected to the police and the fire department, you might actually get charged for them to visit in case of a false alarm," Hick said.

A quality system requires virtually no maintenance and should last as many as a dozen years. Hicks says to also check with your home insurance company, which may discount your annual premium by as much as 15 percent once the system is installed.