Alarm systems protect your budget—and your holidays

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It’s one thing to tell children about a jolly old man in a red suit who will sneak into the house at night carrying a sack full of goodies. It’s quite another when someone actually come in uninvited.

Instead of presents, burglarized households wake up to missing valuables, property damage and a lost sense of security. Sixty percent of victims say their home feels tainted afterward, while one in four question their ability to keep their families safe. Oregon resident Rob Miller, called his home burglary “the most violating thing” he’d ever experienced.

FBI data suggests that home burglaries spike during the holidays. In some places, burglars reach their peak criminal activity level in the weeks before and after Christmas. While most homeowners are out finishing their shopping lists, these anti-Santas are making a list of their own—a list of homes they can easily slip into and take valuables instead of leaving them.

While insurance may help you recover some of your monetary losses, it won’t restore your lost sense of security—or salvage your ruined holidays. That’s why an increasing number of homeowners are turning to home security systems to safeguard their families, valuables and peace of mind.

Just one in six American households are protected by alarm systems, but that number is on the rise. Homes with security systems are three times less likely to be the target of a break-in.

A home security system can save you money, too. Burglars who break into alarm-protected homes get away with an average of $2,000 less in stolen property. Plus, insurance companies typically offer discounts on homeowners insurance, with discounts ranging between 2 and 20 percent, depending on the type of security system you install. The better protected your home is, the more money you’ll potentially save.

Home security system technology has advanced rapidly in the past several years. The simple burglar alarm of the past has been surpassed by full-service systems that detect smoke and carbon monoxide, while also allowing you to adjust the lights and thermostat from your smartphone. To choose the right system for you, there are three main options to think about: monitoring, wiring and home automation.

Do I Need Monitoring?

The most basic alarm systems make a loud noise when someone tries to break into your home. But what happens next?

That depends on whether your system is monitored. A monitored system alerts your security company whenever a problem is detected. If there’s a break-in or fire when you’re not home, they can call the police or fire department for you. A monitored security system means you’ll always have someone keeping an eye on the place for you. Depending on the police response policy in your city, a monitored system may be necessary, as some police departments will not respond to burglary alarms without someone checking for false alarms.

Without monitoring, your home’s alarm system will sound but it’s up to you—or a neighbor, if you’re not home—to call the police. This can add extra seconds or even minutes to the time it takes for help to arrive.

Monitoring typically requires a monthly service fee and an annual contract. Because it statistically reduces your likelihood of suffering costly damage from theft, fire and even flooding, insurance companies usually offer a bigger discount for a monitored security system.

Wired vs. Wireless?

The world is going wireless, and security systems are no exception. Today’s wireless systems can include all of the same features as a hard-wired alarm: door contacts, glass-break detectors, infrared motion detectors, lighting controllers, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and closed circuit cameras.

Since a wireless system doesn’t require drilling holes or adding electrical wiring, homeowners can save hundreds of dollars on installation costs. Many wireless security systems are simple enough for DIY installation.

The drawback of wireless is that it’s potentially less reliable. Like a cell phone, a wireless security system is subject to interference from nearby appliances, devices and even parts of your home’s structure. Make sure you get a powerful enough system to maintain wireless contact with the sensors throughout your property; a 1-GHz receiver is sufficient for most single-family homes, while a one-acre property will need 2 GHz or more. Wireless systems also require batteries at most of the device points, so consider your willingness to change out batteries on a more frequent basis.

What About Home Automation?

Interactive home automation represents the future of home security. With this feature, you can turn your security system into the brain of your house and control it through an app on your smartphone.

For example, some systems allow you to remotely arm and disarm the alarm as well as watch footage from a security camera. More sophisticated systems may connect the alarm system with other devices so that you can remotely control your home’s lighting, thermostat and small appliances.

Whether you go for all the bells and whistles or stick to a basic alarm system, having a home security system will make you far less likely to fall prey to a holiday burglary. It’s an effective way to keep unwanted intruders out—and the holiday cheer in.