It’s tempting to put off installing a home security system because, let’s be honest, who needs yet another monthly or yearly bill? It doesn’t put food on the table or keep you warm, so is it really a necessary expense?
In this piece, I’ll take a look at whether or not a home security system is worth the upfront and monthly costs, based on some of the risks of not securing your home. There are really two things at stake here: your finances and your physical safety.
Protect against crime
First, consider the cost of a burglary in your home. Victims lose an average of $2,119 in stolen items per burglary in the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). These numbers only reflect the cost to replace stolen goods, not the costs associated with replacing or repairing broken or damaged windows, doors, walls, floors, etc.
Most burglars want cash or items they can easily sell for cash, such as cars, bikes, or electronics, and they would prefer not to encounter or cause harm to any people in the process. Even so, in a periodic publication of property crime data, the BJS reported that from 2003 to 2007, 7% of documented home burglaries involved some form of violence against a victim. It’s difficult to put a price tag on potential medical and psychological costs that such violence might incur—not to mention loss of life.
A home security system can’t entirely prevent a domestic break-in, but it can act as a strong deterrent to would-be thieves, according to a study of convicted burglars jointly conducted by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation and the Electronic Security Association:
Nearly 60 percent of the burglars said they would consider the presence of cameras or other surveillance equipment when selecting a target, and more than 40 percent said that would be a factor in prompting them to choose another target.
Further confirming the correlation between security systems and decreased burglary, a Rutgers University study also found that, even controlling for other factors, neighborhoods with more security systems installed experienced lower rates of burglary than neighborhoods with fewer security systems.
A home security system really plays two roles, then, in protecting against theft and violence. First, it can alert you and/or the authorities of a break-in. With the right equipment, it can even record footage of the perpetrator(s), which could assist in prosecution and insurance claims, increasing the likelihood that you will be compensated for any items stolen or damage done. Second, just having a home security system installed makes your home less of a target, saving you the time, money, and hassle of dealing with a break-in in the first place.
Protect against the elements
In addition to protecting against burglary or home invasion, many of today’s home security systems can also monitor environmental threats, such as carbon monoxide, fire, flooding/water leaks, and freezing pipes. Every home is susceptible to these dangers, and while a security system can’t prevent a fire or a flood, it can detect problems early on, giving you a chance to head off the incident before it causes expensive damage.
In the United States, 37% of homeowners report losing money due to water damage. That number goes up in homes with basements—98% of basements will experience some form of water damage during the lifetime of the house. Even a tiny crack in a pipe, if undetected, can leak hundreds of gallons of water per day. The average water damage insurance claim is $6,965.
A flood sensor linked to your home security system sends you an alert if it comes into contact with water or increased moisture. For the earliest possible warning, Frontpoint recommends placing the sensor in the lowest point in your home—likely the sumpf—or the earliest possible detection. This early warning allows you address issues right away, thereby minimizing water damage and its associated costs.
Fire, while less common, costs home owners on average $45,109 in a house without sprinklers, or $2,166 in a house equipped with sprinklers. Expenses aside, U.S. fire departments responded to about 367,500 house fires in 2014, which caused 11,825 injuries and 2,745 deaths. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that having a working fire and smoke detection system in place cuts the risk of dying from a house fire in half.
A “smart” smoke detection system may not register problems any faster or slower than a non-interconnected system, but you’ll find out about it much more quickly. If you’re home at the time of the problem, and there’s smoke on the third level and you’re in the basement, the entire system will trigger rather than just the detector in that room, meaning you can address the issue before it’s too late. Alternately, if you’re away from home and your system triggers, you can get alerts on your phone so you can call someone to look into the issue.
You may already have smoke detectors in your home, but modern home security systems allow you to monitor these detectors remotely and on the same platform as your water detection or anti-theft systems. Every home is susceptible to damage and danger, but early detection can help you and emergency personnel respond before these factors cause astronomically expensive damage, serious injury, or even death.
Calculating the cost
The total cost of a home security system depends on the company you choose, the size of your home, the amount and type of equipment you require, your method of installation, and the level of monitoring you choose. When assessing the cost of your home security system, keep in mind that most companies charge additional fees beyond the basic package price; however, some will waive an activation fee or give you credit toward equipment purchase when you sign a contract. Here is a breakdown of the typical fees:
- One-time activation fee ($0 to $200)
- Equipment fees, which are usually one-time fees, but you may decide to purchase more equipment later ($22 to $400 per individual device)
- Monitoring fees, which are usually at a monthly rate (most plans range between $14.99 per month and $49.99 per month, depending on the company and tier of service)
- Installation fee, which depends on the type of system and your own needs ($0 to $300)
Remember, you’re investing now to prevent much greater loss in the future. If your home is at higher risk for burglary—if you own easily sold items, if there are elderly, disabled, or young members of your household, or if you live in a higher-crime area—it will be worth spending a little more. If you are operating on a tight budget, identify a few security priorities and focus on those for now. You can always add on additional equipment later.
Our top recommendations
For a full list of our recommendations, check out our “Best Home Security Systems” review, where we highlight our favorite professionally monitored systems (like Vivint, Frontpoint, and ADT) and more DIY options (like Scout and SimpliSafe).
Our recommendations (and your pick) vary based on your needs and what you value most from a security system. You may also want to consider the following to get you started on your research:
A worthwhile investment
A home security system with environmental sensors will cost you a few hundred dollars up front and about $600 per year in monitoring fees, but remember all those money-related statistics I mentioned earlier? To recap:
- A burglary costs the victim an average of $2,119 in stolen items
- The average water damage insurance claim is $6,965
- Fire damage costs homeowners an average of $2,166 (with sprinklers) or $45,109 (without sprinklers)
A home security system may cost you around $1,000 in the first year and another few hundred in each subsequent year, but consider the savings—not only in your insurance claims but also in your sense of security—with a trustworthy system. Whether you’re a renter or a homeowner, you already put a lot of money into your living space. More importantly, even if you live alone, your home is full of lives (we love our pets, too!) that an insurance claim can’t begin to compensate. A home security system may seem like just another monthly bill, but it’s an investment in preventive care for your castle.