CONSUMERS' CHECKBOOK Home security alarm installers
Have good deadbolts on all your doors? Strong latches on your windows? Do you always lock your doors and windows? Have a barky dog?
If you can answer "yes" to the first three questions, you're way ahead of most when it comes to home security - and get bonus points if you have the dog. Because most burglars enter homes through unlocked doors or windows or by forcing open locked ones, even the most basic measures of protection will greatly improve your security.
The odds of your home being burglarized are actually quite low: Only about 1 in 50 U.S. homes is broken into each year. But over time, the odds can turn against you. And given the financial, physical and psychological damage that can result from a burglary, it makes sense to do more to become more secure.
In addition to having good locks on your doors and securing other entry points, other simple steps include setting up lighting systems and improving your own habits (consistently locking doors and keeping track of keys, having someone pick up newspapers and mail when you are away and keeping valuable items out of sight).
Another option is to buy a home alarm system and pay to have it monitored. There is evidence that these systems do make a difference: Homes with security systems are about one-third as likely to be burglarized as homes without them. Although part of the difference no doubt has something to do with the home's location and other protections in place, electronic alarm systems clearly matter - the discounts offered by homeowners' insurance companies to customers who have them attest to their effectiveness. But while an alarm system will improve the security of your home, it may not be worth the cost if:
- You live in a very low-crime neighborhood.
- Your house is well-secured physically (with locks and other measures).
- Someone almost always is at home.
- Your neighbors will keep an eye on your house and call the police if they notice anything suspicious.
- You possess little of substantial value that could be stolen and have good insurance coverage.
- You don't worry much about break-ins.
- Children, houseguests, or others are likely to frequently trigger false alarms.
- The hassle of setting the alarm and avoiding false alarms might make you avoid using it regularly.
Choosing a good installer is essential to making sure the system is effective, convenient and unobtrusive; minimizing false alarms; and controlling costs. Some companies are twice as likely as others to obtain top service quality ratings from their surveyed customers.
Have several companies come to your home to propose system designs and quote prices. Some will be much better than others in designing a system that meets your needs conveniently and at a reasonable cost. Even for the same basic design, you will find substantial price differences. For one particular job, Checkbook's shoppers got quotes ranging from $1, 304 to $4, 961.
When pricing a system with a central station monitoring, take into account the cost of monitoring. Some installers will lock you into using their monitoring services for several years. Checkbook found monitoring costs can vary substantially: from $999 to $1, 359 for basic landline monitoring for three years. If you already have an alarm system, keep in mind that with most systems you can switch monitoring companies if you find a better deal elsewhere.
Editor's note: The Chronicle is partnering with Bay Area Consumers' Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org, a nonprofit consumer group that rates various types of local service firms and professionals, to help you find the best services in the Bay Area. Chronicle readers can find Checkbook's full article, with advice on home security, choosing an alarm installer, price comparisons, do-it-yourself tips and - for the next four weeks - use Checkbook's ratings of Bay Area home security companies for free, at