You've probably seen the TV commercial where a mother hears someone breaking into her home and runs for cover with her child. Or maybe you've seen the one with the "date" who leaves, only to break back into the home, on the attack. There are plenty of advertisements that alert home owners to the importance of a home-security system.
Luckily, protecting your home and belongings doesn't have to be expensive or require a lot of equipment. Webcams allow for do-it-yourself security, and cable and phone companies are offering security packages built into your TV-Internet-phone bundle.
When thinking about home security, home owners have a variety of options from which to choose. What do you want to protect — your bedrooms, your house or the entire property?
Secure the parameters
"The most important aspect to think about is flexibility and expandability of the core system," explained Jamie Haenggi, chief marketing officer for Protection 1, a home-security company in Wichita, Kan. "For example, protection can vary widely from spot-perimeter to full-perimeter-intrusion detection, and then move to life and safety as well as interactive services."
Some companies will offer a free home security analysis.
"The evaluation can help identify what type of system can fit not only [the customer's] budget, but also their lifestyle," Haenggi said.
Once you decide what you want the home security system to keep track of, the next step is setting up a camera system. For the true do-it-yourself person, a simple webcam hooked up to an otherwise unused, working, networked computer is all you need.
Sedgrid Lewis, founder of Spy Parent, an Atlanta-based website that offers security-monitoring devices and software, pointed out a number of camera options that parents use to keep track of their children that can also be used to keep watch of the home in general.
For example, a "bullet"-style camera costs about $75. Digital footage can be recorded to a computer or to an external hard drive.
Some security companies also provide inexpensive systems that are easy to use and to install. The Aurora, Ill.-based home-safety company First Alert offers a wide array of security cameras and receivers that require very little time and almost no technical background to install.
"We have options available with DVRs [digital video recorders] for easy recording and playback, as well as options for remote access," said Deborah Hanson, First Alert director of external affairs. "We call our installation process 'plug and play' — just set up the camera and receiver with the included mounting kits and follow the instructions to hook up the A/V cable or DVR box.
"Most configurations are ready to go in just a few minutes," said Hanson. "And because there is no outside monitor, there is no monthly fee."
You're on candid camera
Perhaps the most important feature to consider for the budget home-security system is the ability to record and play back images. You'd like to go about your day without worrying about what is happening at home, which means you likely aren't going to spend your workday watching a live stream of your living room.
"Install a camera with motion detection that will automatically begin recording at 30 frames per second in the event it is triggered, while simultaneously sending an email alert to the homeowner with a JPEG attached," said Sergio Collazo, sales director at Toshiba America Information Systems in Irvine, Calif.
"Motion detection works by the camera sensing video pixel movement. This will trigger the recording, thus saving storage space and the time it would take to search/playback the video," Collazo said. "Once motion is no longer detected for a programmable amount of time, say 30 seconds, the recording stops."
Collazo said that if you want to add an extra layer of security for your system, consider storing the video in the "cloud" — the massive amount of storage space available on the Internet. If there is a burglary in the house, there is a good chance your computer — and the surveillance video — will be among the items stolen.
Trust the cable guy
If you don't feel comfortable with the DIY model of home security, the cable-TV providers Comcast and AT&T have recently introduced security options with a monthly subscription that can be monitored through the Internet or mobile devices. These options are attractive especially to existing customers of these companies.
There are plenty of ways to use a professional home security service and still save money.
"Homeowners can find coupons online for a dollar amount or a percentage off, or for free shipping," said Jon Lal, founder of BeFrugal.com, a Boston-based coupon website.
But Lal warned that customers should always use caution when considering such offers.
"If an offer seems too good to be true, do a bit of investigating before making a purchasing decision," Lal said. "In particular, pay attention to ongoing monthly fees and lock-in — it is usually helpful to calculate the total cost over the period of the contract. And always, search online to check the reputation of the website, merchant or security service provider."
Finally, if you prefer a more personal touch to home security, you can always turn to the people in your neighborhood. But since many of us don't know our neighbors that well, you can instead use a social media site such as Nextdoor, which lets neighbors help keep an eye out in the neighborhood without worrying about personal interaction.
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