The impact of having one's home burglarized goes beyond the dollar amount of the theft. Someone ransacked your home with impunity? That rattles your foundations and undermines your sense of security.
The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (bjs.gov) offers all kinds of burglary statistics. Reported burglaries in the United States have actually gone down in the last couple of decades, though the average dollar value of thefts has increased. "The rate of household burglary decreased 56% from 1994 to 2011, from a peak of 63.4 victimizations per 1,000 U.S. households in 1994 to 27.6 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2011," one report summarizes.
The FBI reported 1.7 million burglaries in 2014, and property losses averaged about $2,250 per burglary.
Stats indicate the most common time for a burglary is between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., the criminals typically get into the residence within a minute, and they're in there for roughly ten minutes.
It's difficult to totally burglar-proof your home, but you can put together several layers of defense that add up to too much risk for the burglar to make a run at your home, your apartment, garage, or the shed in your backyard.
Home security mainly relies on the individual having the self-discipline to put a collection of defensive behaviors to regular use. That means turning on the alarm every time you go out, checking and locking the doors and windows, always leaving a light on in the house, and varying the lighting pattern.
Other home security defenses include planting bushes with thorns outside vulnerable windows, using motion-activated lights outside to illuminate anyone approaching the house, not hiding outdoor keys in easy-to-find spots, and working with your neighbors to keep an eye out for unusual activity in the neighborhood.
With such basics covered, what kind of electronic monitoring and warning equipment can you add to protect your home?
Security options abound. You can use professionally-installed and monitored systems from private alarm companies as well as the cable and phone companies, or set up your own unmonitored installation.
Private Monitoring Companies
A monitored system offers the best security in terms of quick responses to an attempted break-in. For an installation fee plus a monthly fee usually starting around $30, one can link up with any of a host of private alarm companies that install and monitor the sensor equipment in your residence all day, every day. If the company's equipment shows a breach of your system, the company notifies you or contacts the local police if they can't reach you.
A visit to your police station will usually provide valuable information about which systems are most widely used in your area (and also give you a sense of how your local police will respond to an alarm). Some service companies, such as ADT Security Services or Adcomm-Vivint Home Security, are national companies using an established network of local installers.
The alarm business attracts a lot of fly-by-night installers, so it's important to try to get a handle on the company's local reputation.
The hardwired monitoring systems typically include a control panel that connects to the alarm company by phone line or a cellular connection. There's a touch pad for arming and disarming the alarm.
Sensors are attached to the doors and windows, and motion detectors installed inside as another defense if the window/door sensors are successfully breached.
This technology, which has been around for years, relies on a telephone landline. Sometimes the more sophisticated bad guys cut the phone lines before burglarizing the house, so that the alarms don't work and the alarm company isn't notified. Underground phone lines to the home increase the security of this system.
These days, hardwired, cellular, and Internet connections may all figure into a service provider's system. Both hardwired and wireless systems have their own vulnerabilities, but they'll do the job under most circumstances.
Combined with smartphones and computers, these systems offer a great deal of flexibility beyond security, such as water leak alerts, smoke and carbon dioxide monitoring, remote lighting, thermostat, and small appliance control, and remote door locking.
While it's being used for a serious purpose, the smartphone home security connection also opens up an avenue for fun. Wayne Pinard, a builder from Fairhaven, notes that one of his friends uses a two-way camera and microphone to check on his dog via smartphone. "He whistles and talks to the dog, and the dog will try to figure out where his voice is coming from."
Cable TV and Phone Companies
It’s a no-brainer for cable TV operators and the phone companies to offer their own home security services – they're already connected to your home.
Comcast's XFINITY Home (xfinity.com/home-security.html) offers a two-year contract on its XH Secure package for $20 a month for the first year, with free installation.
Comcast's Xfinity Home package includes three door/window sensors, a motion sensor, wireless keypad and touchscreen controller, and 24/7 monitoring.
A door/window sensor three-pack costs $130, and 24/7 video recording with indoor/outdoor cameras is available for another $10 per month.
If you have existing security equipment, it might be able to be integrated into the Xfinity system.
According to the Xfinity web site, other options that can tie into the system that include the leak and smoke alerts and remote control of lights, heating, and appliances. Xfinity's competitors offer similar options.
Unmonitored Alarm Systems
If a monthly home security bill seems grating, an unmonitored alarm system still offers better protection than no system at all.
Unmonitored alarm systems rely on annoying flashing lights and loud horns to provoke someone in the neighborhood to call the police. Alarm system kits are available in big box stores and on the Internet at various price levels.
Outside you can use simple motion detectors linked to lights that go on when movement is detected near the house. These can also be linked to your alarm system.
You can hire an installer to set up the equipment or install it yourself. In addition to the attention-getting lights and sirens, you can use software to connect your smartphone to your alarm system. This lets you change the settings on the system while you're away, and see what the cameras in the house are seeing.
Don't get too complacent and assume that your layers of home security are always doing their jobs. For example, savvy burglars may be able to use radio jamming gear to temporarily disrupt communications between the hub and windows, doors, and motion sensors, so that a system component appears to be connected but isn't. Periodically making a visual check of windows and doors to see they're secure is always a good idea.
For those who have an electronic security system in place, it's important to let thieves know there's a system in place. Putting up signs or stickers can be a real deterrent in a thief's risk analysis. This approach can be a double-edged sword: the security signs are a good idea unless you have a poorly designed system, so that by identifying your system you're giving a savvy criminal the information he needs to bypass it. Talking with the police and doing your research can help in this regard.
Beating the problem of maintaining a long-term defense against the ongoing burglar offensive comes through keeping up with websites and other sources of information that let users know about vulnerabilities that crop up with their systems. Yes, one more thing to do. But it's better than living with the anxiety created by having your home burglarized.