Exterior Home Security

Your Most Common Home Security Questions, Answered

Protecting family and property is of primary importance to homeowners. Security systems can be valuable allies in this quest, but don't discount other important factors, including appropriate landscaping, ample lighting, effective exterior door locks, and good safety habits, that can affect your home's security. Read on to learn more.
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Safe and secure


Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about home security, and with good reason. According to FBI data, there were an estimated 1.4 million burglaries in 2017—that’s about one crime every 13 seconds. The good news is that burglaries have been on the decline for a number of years, and that homes protected with a security system are less likely to be targeted by criminals. Because installing a home security system does make a difference when it comes to safeguarding your home, the number of Americans seeking this form of protection is on the rise. About 30 percent of all U.S. households will be covered by a security system by 2020, according to research firm Parks Associates. But as these systems become more popular, there are many questions, myths, and concerns around the subject of home security. Here are some of the most common questions and considerations surrounding home safety and security.

Is a home security system effective?


Most experts agree that burglars almost always target homes without security systems. According to a study by University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 60 percent of burglars say they look for an alarm system before breaking into a house, and most will move on to another target if an alarm system is in place. A study by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation found that 83 percent of home invasion offenders say they check for the presence of an alarm before targeting a house. Similarly, the FBI reports that burglars are 2.7 times less likely to hit homes with home security systems. These different surveys all say the same thing: While even the best home security systems can’t ensure that your home will never be a target, installing one (Vivint and ADT are top options) does considerably reduce the risk of home invasion. 

How much does a security system cost… and is it worth it?


The cost of a home security system varies widely, and rates depend on the type of protection you seek. The cost for a basic package typically ranges from $50 to $600, and monitoring can cost anywhere from $10 to $35 a month. So, are the upfront and ongoing costs worth it? Homeowners can determine what’s worth it to them by performing a cost-benefit analysis. To assess your options, take into account the value of any cash, jewelry, firearms, electronics, antiques, and other valuables  kept in your house and weigh it against the cost of a security system. Keep in mind that while homes with security systems are not fully immune to break-ins, the average loss for a home with a security system is approximately $2,000 less than the loss sustained by a home with no protection. Also, when evaluating the pros and cons of investing in a home security system, be sure to factor in the value of your family’s peace of mind. If having a home security system will help you sleep a little easier, that’s certainly worth weighing in the balance.

Related: 35 Easy Ways to Protect Your Home from Break-Ins

Does posting a home security services sign truly deter thieves?


You might be tempted to think of yard signs and window stickers as a ploy on the part of the security company to drum up a little free advertising—but think again. Data indicate that there is a real benefit to advertising the fact that your home is protected by a security system. In fact, studies have shown that robbers will often bypass a secured home and move on to hit an unprotected house. That being said, posting a fake sign may work against you: Many thieves are adept at determining whether a house is actually protected with a security system or simply sporting a sign.

Can a security system save me money on insurance?


Having a home security system can save you as much as 20 percent on your homeowners insurance, depending on what type of security equipment you install. The biggest discounts are reserved for 24/7 monitored systems that include security as well as smoke, fire, water, and freeze sensors, but even simple systems qualify for discounts from most major insurance companies. Check with your insurance company to see what discounts it offers.

Is a security system tax deductible?


Unfortunately, in most cases home security systems and monitoring fees are not tax deductible, according to the IRS. If, however, you have a home office or regularly use a portion of your house for business, you may qualify for a federal tax deduction for a security system and monitoring fees. Check with your accountant or tax preparer to determine if you can claim this deduction.

Related: 13 Free Ways to Keep Thieves Away From Your Home

Should apartment dwellers invest in home security?


Bad news for renters: Apartments are 85 percent more likely to be robbed than single-family homes, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Given this sobering stat, renters may want to consider installing a home security system. The many portable, wireless systems available today are ideal for renters because they require no permanent wiring and can be taken with you when you move. But short of installing a security system, there are plenty of things renters can do to deter thieves. For starters, never leave your apartment door unlocked, even if you’re just stepping away to take out the trash; criminals will take advantage of the briefest of moments to make their move. Keep windows locked, too, and dress them with curtains to prevent strangers from scoping out your possessions. To the extent possible, keep valuables out of sight when you leave the apartment—for instance, tuck your laptop away in a drawer rather than leaving it out on a table near a window. Finally, consider investing in an automated lighting system that can switch the lights on and off even when you’re not home. Would-be thieves will often try to learn the routines of their marks before they strike, so by switching on the lights randomly throughout the week, you can foil their efforts to learn about your movements. 

Do "smart-home" add-ons compromise my home security?


Advances in technology have made it possible for you to use your cellphone to control a wide range of functions, including door locks, cameras, thermostats, lights, appliances, lawn sprinklers, smoke alarms, and security systems. But the very features that give you greater convenience and functionality also make your home more accessible to those who would do harm. If you do choose to invest in smart-home tech, learn about the vulnerabilities of the devices before you buy and install them—even smart plugs and lights have their vulnerabilities. Once the devices are installed, take steps to protect your home from hackers or intruders by changing the password from the default, being sure to choose a secure password that will not be easy to guess—no names or birthdays of pets or loved ones. As an added protection against hacking, set up two-step authorization on all devices that allow it; this will help you see if anyone else is trying to access your account and devices. Always keep tech protected by updating software whenever available. While you may consider updating software to be an occasional inconvenience, doing so is crucial to improving functionality and addressing issues in the programming that can leave you vulnerable to attacks. Finally, for maximum protection, disable any features that you don’t intend to use, and limit your use of smart-home devices to those that you consider essential.

Can thieves break into a smart lock more easily than a traditional lock?


Whether through personal experience or regular viewing of heist movies, you probably already know that traditional locks can be breached by industrious burglars. Smart locks, which are supposed to offer a heightened level of security against thieves while providing greater accessibility to residents, are no different from traditional locks in that they too can be cracked. So, is one type of lock more prone to attack, and should homeowners opt for the devil they know (traditional locks) or the devil they don’t (smart locks)? While WiFi-enabled locks have gotten more secure since they were first introduced to the market, they are still vulnerable to hackers and break-ins—and unlike traditional locks that thieves have to break into on-site, this new generation of net-powered locks can also be hacked at a distance. While some of these vulnerabilities are the fault of design and software, others can be traced to user errors that can be likened to the virtual equivalent of locking the door but leaving a key under the mat. Given the vulnerabilities, should homeowners buy a smart lock? That’s up to each homeowner to decide after weighing the benefits of convenience and accessibility against potential security risks. If you are considering switching to a smart lock, research the security issues of the model you intend to buy, and learn what you can do to mitigate any risks. If you want the accessibility and can live with the risk, you have your answer!

Related: 10 Low-Cost Ways to Improve Your Home Security

Should I choose a monitored or passive system?


Unmonitored systems, also known as passive or self-controlled systems, are less expensive than monitored systems, but what you gain in cost savings you lose in service. Passive systems don’t automatically call the authorities, which may result in delayed response times. With a passive system, you and your family would be alerted by an audible alarm or by an app on your mobile phone and would then need to contact the police or fire department yourself. Monitored systems are more expensive, but they are connected to remote call centers that have specially trained staff on hand 24/7 to contact the proper authorities in the event of an emergency or alarm event. In choosing between the two systems, homeowners need to weigh considerations such as budget and lifestyle, and should add the benefits and limitations of each system to their list of pros and cons. 

Related: 10 Things a Burglar Doesn’t Want You to Know

Should I get a dog?


There are a lot of reasons to bring home a furry friend, and yes, home security is one of them, but you probably shouldn’t put all your trust in Fido. While many burglars say they won’t enter a home that has a dog, there are areas where your canine companion falls short. Dogs can be distracted, they can’t alert the authorities when there is a problem, and they could be injured or even killed by burglars. So, while dogs can have some impact on your home security, they’re much better at doing the job they were bred for—serving as companions, sources of unconditional love, and an impetus for your daily walks. In short, dogs are great, but leave home protection to a reliable security system.

When do most home burglaries occur?


You might think that home burglaries are most likely to occur under cover of darkness, while you and your family are snug in bed, but in reality burglaries are most likely to occur during the day. In fact, 65 percent of home invasions occur between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., during the times when family members are most likely to be at work and school. Summer is an especially active season for home burglaries, when many people are vacationing far from home, and the holidays are the next most common time for break-ins. You can protect your home by keeping the lights on when you’re away, or using an automated lighting system to switch on lights randomly in your absence. If you’re leaving for an extended period of time, contact the postal service to stop your mail until your return, and don’t forget to stop the newspaper and any other regular deliveries. Have neighbors come by to mow or water the lawn (a neglected or overgrown yard advertises your absence), and ask if they’d mind parking a car in your driveway from time to time to give the impression that someone is home. While a home security system is a great line of defense against break-ins, good neighbors are valuable allies. You might not want to tell the entire block that you’ll be away (after all, not everyone can be trusted), but having a few friends watching out for your home while you’re gone can make all the difference; they may even be the ones who call the police if they see someone entering or exiting your house while you’re away. That said, be sure to let neighbors know if you’ll have house sitters, pet sitters, plant sitters, or housekeepers coming in and out of your home so they don’t call the cops on your friends!

What choices am I making that could attract thieves?


While home security systems can be a prime defense against break-ins, they’re not the only way to fight crime. Choices you make about landscaping and home design can contribute to your safety and security. For starters, installing security lighting and keeping shrubs and trees a little bit away from the house make it harder for potential burglars to hide from view. If your front door has windows, or if you tend to leave your front door open while you’re home (instead relying on a locked storm door for security), make sure that you do not leave keys, electronics, or valuables sitting within sight in order to reduce the temptation for burglars to grab what’s within easy reach. Keep your garage door closed when no one is in the garage or driveway, even if you’re just stepping away for a moment, and never leave a car running while unattended—not even to warm up the engine during the coldest months of the year. Instruct children not to open the house to friends, solicitors, or delivery personnel without your permission to prevent forced entry. There’s no need to live a life of paranoia and dread, but you should never underestimate the power of commonsense measures in safeguarding your home. 

Related: 9 Ways to Safeguard Your House Before a Vacation