Choosing a security system for a home or business can take some detective work. Security systems can be as simple as a single surveillance camera or as elaborate as a wired system covering an entire house, garage and maybe even a swimming pool. The equipment can include cameras, motion sensors, control panels, alarms and keyboards, all designed to help detect intrusions, heat, smoke and carbon monoxide. A monthly fee is charged for linking the system to a company that can alert emergency services.
What can you expect to pay? If your choice of a system is based on what you can afford or are willing to spend, here are some rough guidelines:
Less than $500
Some do-it-yourself equipment, available from such retailers as Lowe's or RadioShack, can start at about $70 for a simple device that can monitor a doorway.
RadioShack, for example, has a variety of surveillance cameras and wireless systems in the $100 to $150 range. Some of those come with an automated dialer that when triggered can call as many as four phone numbers with prerecorded messages.
Advantages: Retail products can be easy to install and understand, and having a surveillance camera or two might help you identify an intruder later on.
Disadvantages: Such a system might not be suitable for large homes, there's no backup in case the phone lines go dead, and they might not prevent a break-in. Also, wireless devices such as cameras can be monitored by eavesdroppers unless encrypted.
$500 to $1,000
In the middle ground, a consumer can pay a professional company to install a basic system for about $600, which might include a control panel, keypad, perhaps three door contacts and a couple of motion detectors, says Bill Cooper, a security expert who works with ADT Security Services, a nationwide chain. Tack on $22 to $30 a month to have an outside company monitor it.
Advantages: This can provide more peace of mind and adequate protection for many homeowners by covering more options and territory.
Disadvantages: It can place more of a burden on homeowners to learn how to use the system properly.
More than $1,000
On the higher end, how much you spend will be determined by how much area you want to cover, how much equipment you need and how elaborate a system you want.
Advantages: In addition to guarding against break-ins, you can buy sensors to detect heat, fire and carbon monoxide, even whether pipes are starting to freeze.
Disadvantages: "A high-priced system may be so complicated you can't use it. Or, if there are so many things to keep you from doing things, you have to wonder, 'Can I live this way? Do I need to protect every door and window?' It's how much comfort are you getting by giving up convenience," says Ed Perratore, an associate editor at Consumer Reports in Yonkers, N.Y.
Whether to have a professionally installed system or one a homeowner can install is up to the homeowner, says Perratore, who has researched home security systems.
Consumers might consider protecting just the first-floor doors and windows if higher floors are difficult for an intruder to access. Cooper's recommendation for basic, minimum security is to have all doors covered and motion detectors for interior traps, such as hallways and foyers.
Enhancements can include smoke, fire and broken-glass detectors.