Keeping Your Home Safe During Your Summer Vacation

Before you take off for the summer, make sure you’re not leaving your house and valuables vulnerable to burglary.

Years ago, when I lived in a brownstone in New York City,  I came home one evening to find that my apartment had been burglarized. My multiple dead-bolt locks had provided little deterrence; the enterprising burglar had simply punched a hole through the hallway wall to enter through.

While thieves continue to devise clever ways to breach homes, today’s new technologies are enabling people to keep closer tabs on their property than ever before. So with vacation season fast approaching, now’s a good time to address your home’s security gaps.

A basic burglar alarm system consists of door and window sensors, along with motion and glass-breakage detectors. Security Sales & Integration, a trade publication, reports that in 2012 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), a typical residential alarm system cost $1,159 to install, although systems for larger homes or those with expensive components (such as multiple high-end video cameras) can require as much as $15,000. If you’re considering installing any such system, security professionals strongly advise that you include fire and carbon monoxide detection, which adds about $200 per detector to your installation cost. Security Sales & Integration says the typical monitoring cost for a burglar alarm system in 2012 was $26 per month.

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Alternatively, if your system is more than a few years old, you may want to think about upgrading. Experts agree that the most significant recent innovation in security technology involves the way information travels from your home to your provider’s central monitoring station. “Prior to the last four or five years, people’s alarms were monitored through dial-up service,” says David Raizen, president of Scarsdale Security Systems, adding that this method is becoming obsolete. Newer monitoring systems generally involve cellular or Internet pathways, which are widely considered more reliable than conventional phone lines. 

Marshall Marinace, president of Marshall Alarm Systems in Yorktown Heights, estimates that three-quarters of his customers are still monitored through conventional phone lines, but, he says, increasingly, they are switching over. He estimates that upgrading to cellular costs about $300 and adds an average $15 to $20 to your monthly fee.

 Another new option is interactive monitoring and operation, which allows you to operate your security system via an app on your smartphone. While some pros see these apps as gimmicks, others disagree. “It’s helpful if you’re away, and you want to let someone in to feed the cat or water the plants,” says Stu Feldman, co-owner of Perfection Detection in Somers, pointing out that it eliminates the need to give out or hide house keys. “You disarm the system to let the person in, and you can later re-arm it. It puts you in control.”

It’s also possible to retrofit doors with locks that can be operated remotely, although Feldman warns that if a door isn’t closed properly and you try to lock it remotely, you may think it’s secure when it’s not.

What else in your home can be operated remotely? Plenty, says Marinace of Marshall Alarm, who notes that you can turn lights on and off via your smartphone, or view images from mounted video cameras. You can also elect to receive remote alerts if the system detects gas, smoke, carbon monoxide, or a temperature change that could indicate a power failure or furnace or air-conditioning malfunction.

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Interactive service may require some work in the house, but the biggest charge is to your monthly bill, which can rise by $10 to $30, depending on the services. 

And while you’re thinking about security, bear in mind that a low-tech staple—the safe—can work in conjunction with your high-tech alarm system to help keep thieves and your valuables apart. Security pros note that safes should be bolted to the floor or fixed inside a wall so they can’t be whisked off. Bolt-able safes start at about $150.

Now that I know what’s available, I can’t help but wish that some high-tech features existed back when I lived in Manhattan. No, they may not have stopped my apartment break-in; but it might have taken some of the sting away to  have been able to see how ridiculous that burglar surely looked squeezing through a hole in the wall.

Maximum Security

Products and service options to keep your home well protected

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A basic burglar alarm system

What is it? A network of door and window sensors, and motion and glass-breakage detectors, combined with a communication system that transmits information to a central monitoring station

Cost: In 2012, a typical system cost $1,159 to install; systems for larger homes or those that include high-end video cameras can be as much as $15,000.

A safe bet? Experts suggest avoiding low-ball deals that don’t provide enough coverage and lock you into a long-term monthly service plan. They also strongly recommend adding fire and carbon monoxide detectors.

Upgraded communication technologies

What is it? An Internet or cellular communication pathway between your burglar alarm system and its providers, replacing the use of conventional phone lines to relay information

Cost: An upgrade can cost $300 to install and add $15 to $20 to your monthly security fee.

A safe bet? These technologies are far more reliable than conventional phone lines, and are routinely included in new installations. Some pros advise adding two pathways, in case one happens to fail. 

Interactive monitoring

What is it? A means of controlling your security system remotely—to arm or disarm the burglar alarm, control the door locks or lights, or monitor video images—using your smartphone, tablet, or computer

Cost: While you may need some work done to your system to add interactive monitoring, the expense mainly affects your monthly monitoring fee. Typically, upcharges range from about $10 to $30.

A safe bet? Interactive services can be convenient and worthwhile—if you actually use them.

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