Do I need to pay extra for a home monitoring service?

In most cases, the answer is no because many home security systems come with home monitoring service included. For example, ADT offers 36-month monitoring contracts with all of their home security systems. This means that if any of your home security system alarms are triggered, this information will be immediately reported to ADT, who will then notify the proper authorities without you having to do a thing.

On the other hand, there are other home security system providers like SafeMart that do not include monitoring with the initial security system purchase. In this case, you're only notified if you're inside the house when the alarm is triggered. If there is a fire or break-in, it will be up to you to contact authorities. This can be less than ideal, especially if you happen to be away from home when the alarm goes off. Because of this, it's a good idea to pay extra for a home monitoring service when it's not already included in the home security system package.

Although there's the obvious downside of having to pay a little more in order to get your security system monitored, there are many more benefits to doing so. First, you can probably expect an increased emergency response time because the monitoring company notifies authorities right away, whereas you might not be able to get to the phone as quickly. Then, there's the added peace of mind knowing your house is being looked after even when you're not home. The best alarm system in the world isn't going to do you any good if it's not monitored and something happens when you're away.

It also might interest you to know that many homeowners insurance companies offer a sizeable discount to homeowners with monitored security systems. This could be enough to make up for the higher prices for a monitored system compared to an unmonitored system.

Your home can never be overprotected and, in the event of a burglary or other disaster, even an unmonitored alarm system is better than nothing. However, if you want complete protection and security, a monitored system is definitely the way to go. If anything goes wrong, the monitoring company will take care of it no matter where you are.

How do I avoid home security false alarms?

Researchers Estimate 94-99% of Home Security Alarms Are False

In the early 2000s, police officers in Seattle were responding to 25,000 alarm calls per year, with an astounding 97% false alarm rate. Similarly, in Oakland, California, the police department responds to more than 20,000 false alarms each year. Researchers from Temple University estimate that between 94-99% of all burglar alarm activations end up being false. The resources required to respond to these false alarms cost municipalities millions of dollars per year.

The added protection afforded by security systems give you a lot of peace of mind and, over the past two decades, home security systems have become an increasingly common feature in U.S. homes. Responding to home security alarm activations is something that most city governments take very seriously, but due to the sheer volume of alarm calls, effectively responding to all of them has been difficult. This is particularly troubling because so many of these activations end up being false alarms.

In response to the challenge of false alarms, municipalities throughout the country have passed ordinances with the goal of ensuring police officers and other resources are appropriately utilized. These ordinances have resulted in significantly fewer false alarms, which gives police officers more time to focus on urgent matters. In 2004, Seattle introduced the False Alarm Program, an ordinance that required home and business owners to register security systems, and began billing companies directly for use of police services. Since the passing of the ordinance, false alarms have dropped from 25,000 to fewer than 11,000 each year. Many municipalities across the nation have passed similar ordinances and experienced comparable results.

The Problem With False Alarms

If you own a home or business with a security system, ordinances typically require you to register and/or obtain an alarm permit. Registration fees and/or permits typically cost between $10 and $40 and, in most cases, must be renewed on an annual basis. If your security system does happen to trigger a false alarm, the charges levied by municipalities to security system companies are often passed on to you. Many municipalities will not charge a fee for the first false alarm, but repeat false alarm offenders can expect fees anywhere from $70 to $500 (check local programs for exact fee schedules).

In addition to the fiduciary obligations, reducing false alarms result in better service and increased protection for you and your family. Since false alarms are so prevalent, and the resources necessary to respond are so expensive, the response time from police officers is not always ideal. If the number of false alarms are minimized, police officers are able to respond more quickly in the event of an actual break-in. The goal of all security system owners should be to minimize false alarms.

The 6 Most Common Causes of False Alarms

Faulty equipment: Despite the fact that most of the top home security companies utilize high-quality equipment from leading manufacturers, there is always the possibility of a faulty piece of equipment causing a false alarm.

Human error: Most home security systems are fairly easy to use and don't require significant training. However, following a new installation, some homeowners don't take the necessary time to familiarize themselves with the system. It's important that any person with permission to enter your home understands how to operate the system, starting with yourself.

Low batteries or inconsistent power source: Most wireless home security systems contain batteries that occasionally need to be replaced. These system components typically give audible warnings when the battery levels are low, but in some cases a low battery can trigger a false alarm. An inconsistent and unreliable power source can also be the cause of false alarms.

Unlocked or loose doors and windows: Door and window sensors are activated when the connection between the two sensors is disrupted. If a door or window is loose, it can easily be rattled by the wind and trigger an alarm. Doors that are locked with a deadbolt are typically more sturdy and can minimize unintentional sensor disturbances.

Incorrect installation: When a home security system is installed, it is critical that all sensors and detectors are appropriately aligned, and that all other equipment is installed according to the manufacturer's recommendations. If you're installing a do-it-yourself home security system, you may be particularly susceptible to incorrectly installing your new equipment.

Pets, rodents, and insects: Some motion detectors are triggered by pets, rodents, or insects. If you own a pet, be certain your home security system has "pet-friendly" sensors; otherwise, pets roaming around the house will trigger motion detectors and activate a false alarm. Rodents and insects can also trigger alarms, so it's in your best interest to clear your home of them as much as possible.

The 7 Best Ways to Reduce False Alarms

Choose the right home security system: Your individual circumstances determine what type of system is appropriate. For example, some home security systems are installed by licensed professionals, while others you can install on your own. If you have limited mobility, installing a do-it-yourself home security system may be rather difficult. If you own a pet, make sure the sensors and detectors are pet friendly. If you're not confident about installing equipment yourself successfully, get a professional's help to reduce the risk of a false alarm. Take the time to learn about the features of the best home security systems before making a selection.

Take advantage of a brief familiarization period: Following the installation of a new home security system, many home security companies allow a brief familiarization period. During this time, signals received at the monitoring center are not dispatched to the police department or other authorities. False alarms that occur during this period do not result in any repercussions, giving you a great opportunity to ensure everything is in good order. If a newly installed system is repeatedly broadcasting false alarms, reach out to the home security company for guidance and assistance.

Appropriately train those with access to the home security system: All family members, babysitters, relatives, neighbors, cleaning crews, repairmen, and just about anybody who has permission to be in your home should be appropriately trained on how to use the system. This includes understanding how to arm and disarm the system, knowledge of alarm codes and passwords, and the process for cancelling an inadvertent alarm activation.

Install a home security system with two-way communication capabilities: Some home security keypads utilize two-way voice technology that enables the dispatcher to hear what is happening in your home. This enables you to communicate directly to the monitoring center whether a police dispatch is necessary.

Require dual verification: Many home security monitoring companies have access to audio or video resources. Following an alarm activation, requiring the monitoring center to obtain an audio or visual confirmation before dispatching authorities helps reduce false alarms.

Conduct a short debriefing after a false alarm occurs: After a false alarm occurs, it's important to take the time to determine the trigger and to implement measures to ensure it doesn't happen again. If the cause of the false alarm cannot be determined, you should be particularly cautious and contact your home security system providers.

Perform occasional maintenance: You should perform occasional maintenance to ensure that all sensors, detectors, cameras, and any other home security components are secured, clean, and working as designed. Excessive dust, spider webs, and loose sensors and detectors can all be sources of false alarms.

Other ways to reduce false alarms:

  • Ensure all windows and doors are secure before setting the alarm
  • Ensure the home security company is licensed and reputable
  • Spray insect repellent around sensors and detectors twice a year
  • Periodically test the home security system to ensure equipment is working appropriately
  • Ensure that panic buttons or other emergency activation features are out of the reach of children
  • Make certain that the monitoring center has current contact information and that call lists and emergency contacts are accurate
  • Check the batteries of any wireless devices and the backup power to the primary keypad
  • Designate an area in the home for the home security user manual and ensure contact information for the home monitoring system is accessible
  • Be mindful of environmental changes (new pet, plants, HVAC systems, new home decorations, etc.) that may impact the home security system
  • Use deadbolt locks
  • Contact a professional exterminator if rodents, insects, or other pests are a repeated problem
  • Inform the alarm company or monitoring center if you expect to be away from the home for an extended period of time

Is it true there are scams in the home security industry?

Yes, it's true. These scammers often show up at your home unannounced, pretending to be door-to-door salespeople selling you a home security system at a very low price. They offer to give you "top-quality" equipment for free and try to create a sense of urgency by telling you it's a limited-time offer. Chances are they'll be pushy and may even refuse to leave your home until you've signed the contract they've brought with them. Scare tactics are another common sales practice. They'll tell you about a bunch of crimes that have occurred in your area, hoping you'll become so worried for your safety that you'll sign up without question.

If you already have a home security system, with the sign indicating you do so visibly perched in your front yard, you could also be the target of another scam where the salesperson pretends to be a representative from your current home security provider. Usually, they'll say they're visiting to update your system or they need to give you a new system because your company is going out of business. If you let them through the front door, you'll probably end up paying twice as much for a security system that only works half as well.

So how do you avoid becoming a victim of these home security scams?

A good first step is to ask for some identification before letting the salesperson through the door. If they're from a legitimate company, they'll have some form of ID on them listing their company information. That alone shouldn't be enough to convince you, though.

It's also important to do your research before you sign any documents. Go online, check out the company's website, and read what other people have to say about their experiences with the company. If the salesperson is claiming to be with your current home security provider or that your current company is going out of business, contact the company and verify. In most cases, a legitimate home security system company notifies you of any major changes or updates by phone or by mail. So, if someone just shows up at your door without any notice, you should proceed with caution.

Before you sign any paperwork, be sure to read the contract very carefully. Pay attention to the price, discounts, the length of the contract, and information about how to cancel your policy. Pushy salespeople may try to pressure you into signing the contract without really looking it over, but that could be a very costly mistake on your part. It's always a good idea not to take any chances.

If you do sign a contract you think might be a scam, you can still get yourself out of it if you act quickly. The Federal Trade Commission has a Cooling-Off Rule, which means that if a contract is signed in your home or anywhere else that isn't the seller's permanent place of business, you can cancel the deal within three days -- no questions asked. The seller then has 10 days to return any money they took from you.

What are the different types of home security systems?

Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Home Security Systems

As implied by the name, you install a do-it-yourself (DIY) security system on your own, independent of an installation technician. A basic DIY security system comes in a package that contains the main keypad and door, window, and motion sensors. Although it may sound like a daunting task to some, installing a DIY system is actually fairly simple. Window, door, and motion sensors have heavy-duty sticky pads you can stick to most surfaces and can be installed on the majority of windows and doors. The main keypad generally requires a phone line or Ethernet cable connection, but all sensors and detectors communicate to the keypad wirelessly. Many DIY systems also provide video tutorials and support via phone to assist you with the installation process.

One important aspect you should be aware of when selecting a home security system is the length of the contract. Generally speaking, out-of-the-box systems have shorter contract requirements. Another positive aspect of DIY systems is that you can take the system and install it at another location if you move to a new residence. Because DIY systems often sell hardware from major retailers, it is also easy to add additional equipment to the home security system.

Technician-Installed Home Security Systems

Technician-installed systems require a professional technician to complete the installation. The benefit of this type of installation is you won't have to worry about making errors as you install it yourself. The primary keypad is typically mounted on a wall in a convenient location, the power being delivered behind the wall. Detectors and sensors are also placed throughout the house and communicate wirelessly with the primary keypad. A typical technician-installed package includes a keypad, a few window and door sensors, and a motion sensor.

One unique feature of technician-installed systems is that the standard system hardware is given to you at no charge. You have the option to buy additional equipment if desired, and there is usually an installation or activation fee. Getting free, high-quality home security equipment is a great feature; however, bear in mind that free equipment is typically a sign of relatively lengthy contract requirements. It is not uncommon for contracts of this nature to extend for three to five years.

What is the difference between third-party monitoring and in-house monitoring?

All of the best home security companies utilize either third-party or in-house monitoring to respond to the burglar, fire, and medical emergencies triggered by your security system. When purchasing a security system, asking questions about what kind of monitoring the company uses is just as important as deciding which control panel, sensors, detectors, and other equipment should be included in the system.

Choosing between third-party or in-house monitoring can be difficult. Not surprisingly, experts tend to lean towards the particular monitoring method used by the company they're associated with. Understanding the different positions held by in-house and third-party monitoring can help you choose the type of monitoring you're most comfortable with.

Third-Party Monitoring

Many of the best security companies perform monitoring through a partnership with an outside organization. Throughout the U.S., there are several "super central" stations that collectively employ hundreds of agents dedicated to monitoring customers from a number of different security system companies.

Proponents of third-party monitoring believe that because third-party companies often specialize only in monitoring, they offer you a more reliable level of service. Advocate also feel that working with a third-party monitoring company enables the security company to focus on sales and marketing, which is essential for company growth.

It's not uncommon for companies to sell your contract to a monitoring company. Having limited control and often no knowledge of this transaction is something that may make you uncomfortable. Further, the majority of companies that outsource monitoring also sell equipment manufactured by an outside company. These kinds of security companies are essentially retailers, as they sell equipment manufactured by outside companies and contracts to third-party monitoring companies. Some feel that this retailer relationship results in the security company having less control over the customer experience, as they have a limited ability to directly alter the manufacturing or monitoring.

In-House Monitoring

A few of the top home security companies perform monitoring primarily through in-house teams. These companies typically have at least two monitoring centers located in different geographical areas. On occasion, some companies with in-house monitoring still sell monitoring contracts to third parties, but the majority of contracts typically stay in house.

Proponents of in-house monitoring highlight that the high cost of building and maintaining monitoring centers demonstrates the security company's dedication to their customers. These companies are willing to make the investment in an in-house center and keep up with the approval and licensing requirements in order to maintain control over that aspect of the customer experience.

The majority of equipment sold by security companies with in-house monitoring is designed and manufactured by outside companies, though there are a few that conduct their own research and development. Some detractors feel that security companies with in-house monitoring are taking on too much, and they won't have the capability to offer you the same level of service provided by the specializing third-party companies.