The pros, cons and costs of a home alarm system

Consumer Reports News: August 11, 2011 02:15 PM

Considering an alarm system? Your own concerns about burglary—along with fire, floods, and other hazards—make a difference in what devices you have installed and monitored in your home. Typically the alarm company installs and maintains its own equipment. Owning your own hardware has its risks, such as replacing it when it breaks or becomes obsolete, but you might be able to contract for monitoring on a month-by-month basis without a multi-year commitment.

Of course, the security of your home starts with good locks. As we discovered in our recent door lock tests, many dead-bolt locks don't provide the level of protection you might expect. If you think you'd feel more secure with an alarm system, here are the pros and cons and what you'll pay for a basic, midlevel or high-end system. The approximate prices in the chart below assume that the equipment installed is the alarm company’s own.

Basic Midlevel High-end
Cost: $100 to $350 for systems, plus $20 to $45 per month for monitoring.
Cost: $700 to $800, plus $20 to $45 per month for monitoring.
Cost: $2,000 to $3,000 or more, based on home size and number of doors and windows, plus $20 to $45 per month for monitoring.
Features: Control panel, one or two sensors for doors and windows, siren, motion detector. Wired or wireless.
Features: Often adds infrared motion detectors, glass-breakage sensors, pressure mats, interactive services, a panic button. Some include smoke detectors linked to monitoring service. Wired or wireless.
Features: Typically includes same features as midlevel plus smoke, carbon monoxide, flood, and heat-loss detection linked to monitoring service. Priciest combine wired and wireless technology.
Pros: Covers a burglar’s common entry points, often with cellular station contact.
Pros: More doors and windows covered. Cellular primary or backup station contact may be optional ($8 to $15). Repair contract ($10 to $15).
Pros: Every vulnerable entry point is covered, maximizing protection from break-ins. Cellular primary or backup station contact may be optional ($8 to $15). Repair contract ($10 to $15).
Cons: Leaves many areas unguarded. Typically requires binding monitoring contract of 1 to 5 years. After warranty, repairs charged per visit.
Cons: More motion detectors increase chance of false alarms if they are inadvertently activated in vulnerable areas while you’re home. Typically requires binding monitoring contract of 1 to 5 years.
Cons: Added sensors further increase chance of false alarms, requiring added care by family members and guests. Typically requires binding monitoring contract of 1 to 5 years.

Ed Perratore


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