Does an alarm system in my home make it significantly safer?

Putting an alarm system in your home has some downsides.
a) It costs X dollars a month in obvious costs

b) It makes every entrance and exit a stressful activity.
“Do I have everything together so I can make it out the door in 15 seconds?” (followed by “Oh crap, I left X behind and now I have to go back inside.”)
“Can I put down this bag of groceries and punch in the correct code?” (followed by “Oh crap, I hit the wrong button. How do I cancel and put in the right code before the alarm speaker right over my head goes off and makes the police come?”)

c) It makes it much harder to give somebody access to your house when you want to.

d) (This may just be a personality quirk of mine) It actually makes me feel less safe. It is a daily reminder that you just can’t trust anybody these days. It makes me want to crawl down in the basement with my tinfoil hat and wait for the end of the world.
All of which would be worth it, provided that having an alarm system actually reduced my chances of being burgled by a significant amount.

Has anybody done any studies on this? How about comparing homes with alarms to homes without alarms but with alarm stickers in the windows?

Surfing the web, I found this article. It claims on page 4 that alarms reduce burglaries by 60%. But the study was funded by the “Alarm Industry Research and Education Foundation”, so I question their objectivity. In addition, it says that the most effective part of the alarm system is the yard sign.

[sub]My apologies if this has been hammered on before. I searched, but only came up with a discussion of car alarms.[/sub]

The answer will be more IMHO than absolutely factual because there are many external factors you haven’t mentioned. It’s all well and good to look at wide crime statistics but what are the specifics of your neighborhood now? How is your house situated? How is your street laid out? Are you more worried about burglaries when you are away or your safety when you’re home.

IMHO the first and best thing you an do is be more aware of your surroundings. Live in condition yellow, a phrase that was around a long time before the Dept of Homeland Security. Learn to think like a criminal for the purposes of anticipating what they might do. Look at your house objectively. Have you ever locked yourself out? Did you have to call a locksmith or did you find as most of us do it’s often trivial to break into a house.

An alarm system may serve as a deterrent but remember that locks only keep out honest people and unmotivated criminals.

We have an alarm that is so ludicrously loud, it should scare anyone from entering. If not we have a Dog named Grisshom who would light up anyone who enters that is not my wife or I.

Aside from the monthly cost, I feel much much safer with the alarm. All of our downstairs doors, and windows have sensors, including motion detectors for when we are away. Our Dog sleeps upstairs and knows not to venture down unless with one of us.

Like Padeye said, where do you live?

I live in CT most of the year, but I live in Phoenix when I am not here. Our house in Phoenix was broken into so many times, that we had to move to a safer neighborhood. Oddly enough when we moved some of our stuff was recovered and it turned out to be the mexican lawn crew, who was there every week, scoping out the scene…little bastards

I live in a “recovering” neighborhood. Fifteen years ago, there were crack houses on the street. Now it has been relabelled a Historic District, and an infusion of money and tax breaks has really cleaned things up.

Things now look pretty good for the most part, but I am probably a half mile from some really sketchy areas.

My street is not a throughfare for cars, but it is picturesque, so foot traffic is pretty common.

I’d say that I am more concerned about a break-in while I am not home than for my safety. Break-ins are not uncommon in the area. (I think the cop at the neighborhood meeting mentioned 3 in the month of January for an area of about 1000 homes).

I meant to ask the cop at the meeting, but I had to leave early.

One problem with any statistics on this: People buy alarm systems because they have more valuable things/houses, but valuable things/house are more likely to be stolen/robbed.

Obviously any alarm visible on the outside of the house will deter the opportunist thief so yes that does make it safer but I doubt it deters a ‘professional burglar’. You can then argue that just mounting a ‘dummy’ alarm on the outside of the house will have the same effect and would certainly save the hassle of the 15 seconds time delay you describe. It could be just as effective especially if all windows, doors etc have decent locks on them. FWIW I have a dummy alarm and I’ve never been burgled but then again maybe I’m just lucky…

This is not based on fact or formal research, rather from speaking with police officers who respond to alarm calls.

An audible will definitely deter burglars. Who’s going to stay around when an a loud, high-pitched, and usually painful alarm is going off. Signs showing that you have an alarm is also a good deterrance, but not such a sure thing.

You might want a silent alarm, thinking the cops will be able to catch the crooks. In reality cops take a very long time responding to alarm calls. They are very low priority since there are a GREAT MANY false alarms. Around 97% of alarm calls are false. Police are going to respond to the higher priority calls first or even perform traffic stops for outrageous traffic violations on the way to a call. It’s all because of the crazy number of false alarms.

The best protection from invaders are large dogs, whether they are actually aggressive or not. There are a few large breeds, that don’t really take up much space at all. One of the (if not THE) top reason for burglars skipping a house is the presence of a dog.

That’s what the cops say…and well, they’re the experts.

IMO, you sound like you’d just be better off with just stickers and signs. Unless the burglar is specifically targetting you and something they know you have, then they’ll just move on.

From a conversation with a self confessed former burglar I discovered:

  1. If he knows you’ve got stuff he wants an alarm will not stop him. He often did more damage to doors and windows getting in at multiple points to find a safe path to the goodies.

  2. If he doesn’t know what you own the appearance of an alarm will cause him to usually choose someone else’s place unless your home looks better than all the other houses around. Then he assumes you have need for your alarm and 1 applies.

  3. If you have security shutters or bars on your front windows he will go elsewhere. He actually said not to bother with the back windows because he wouldn’t look.

  4. Trained dogs means no go. He throws the dog a treat. If the dog eats it you got burgled.

  5. Audible alarms are only useful if someone close by is at home. He said you can easily find suburban streets particularly in growth areas where every house in the street will be empty during the day. He had broken in to 17 homes in one street on the same day without seeing a single person. During the course of this he set off alarms at the last 2 places he robbed but was not caught.

You cannot rely on alarms solely for security, they are just part of an overall defense.

I don;t know if it would make your house significantly safer, but it should significantly reduce the cost of your house insurance.
Talk to them and see how much it would take off your premium. And then decide if it would be worth.

Throw a doggy treat at my pup, and he’ll eat it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get by him. They type of dog we own, a Rhodesian Ridgeback - was initially raised to fend off lions and protect the family - so loyalty and fierce growl would most likely deter a burgler.
I am mostly concerned about the safety of my family, not the stuff in the house…

Not quite. The best protection is loud dogs. A dog’s contribution to security is essentially the same as the audible alarm’s. No dog, no matter how large or agressive, will be able to fight off the burgler all by himself. But the dog most certainly can wake you up.

We were burgled twice in one week. It was kids…we could tell because they took only items that could be easily explained to parents (1000 CDs, leather jackets, beer, change, etc.). My husband went ballistic and got an alarm system. I was absolutely against the idea, mostly for the reasons cited in the OP. But you DO get used to it. It’s no longer a pain to get in the house and unset the alarm. We don’t have it set when we’re just hanging around. Only when gone or sleeping. It costs about $25/mo. for the police hook-up, but they are very lax about responding. I was halfway through cutting my grass one day before they showed up. False alarms are common. My cats can trip it by knocking something on the floor! All in all, I don’t think we really need it, but my husband feels better, and I’ve gotten used to it, so I don’t really care.

I heard a story on NPR about false alarms. Basically the Los Angeles Police Department wants to stop responding to bugler alarms because they waste so much police time.

I was hoping that somebody had done a scientific survey of average dollar loss due to theft for houses with alarms vs. houses without alarms, independent of or for given values of neighborhood quality, home quality, yadda yadda.

I guess the fact that insurance companies give you a break for having an alarm is a strong indication. Either it is really helpful, or they are getting a payoff from Brinks et al.
Given the responses, I still don’t think it is worth the pain in the ass factor. Until somebody makes one with a simple key fob, like my car alarm, I guess I will be dog shopping.

Thank you all.

Here is a topic I’m actually qualified to respond to. I was “in” the business of security systems.

There are many things you can do to make your home less of a target. There are many things you can do to minimize your losses if your home should ever become a target.

The vast majority of home burglars come in right through the front door. Your neighbor could be out watering the flowers and not even notice. The pro burglar will typically call your phone number from their cell if they can get it and listen to see if you pick up. Either that or they ring the bell and if you answer they’ll pretend to be a salesman or ask if you’re interested in insurance, etc. If you don’t answer the door, they’re going in. Flat bars usually work best and they usually bust the door jam. The first place they’ll head is the master bedroom. Thanks for the pillowcases, they’ll hold all the loot. Jewelry, cameras, guns, cash all in one convenient location. They’ll toss the dressers, the mattress, the closet. Then, if you’ve got good taste, they’ll get the silverware, small electronics, etc. That’s it. In and out in under 5 minutes.

Alarm companies want the monthly fee for “monitoring”. Which is crap because the burglar alarm, if audible, will scare them off. Unless you’re really wealthy, you don’t need a monitored system and LA is an example why. The cops won’t even respond anymore because the false alarm rate is so high. If you are rich, then you need a high end system, apprx. $10,000 installed and $50 a month to watch your house on CCTV and through a dedicated phone line. Most homes that are hooked up through regular phones…sorry charlie, that phone line is soooo easy to cut it ain’t funny.

If you are not rich, just worried about safety, get a good noisemaker system with loud horns and flashing lights. They’re reasonably priced at Radio Shack, etc. and you can install them.
OH! Screw the yard sign. Get the window stickers. Protected by ADT, premises electronically monitored by Brinks, etc. They’re hard to get but not impossible. Invest your money in a good door with good hardware and locks. Use common sense. Dogs work good too, except for the ones that eat their own poop. Any more questions just ask me. I’ll be happy to try to help you out.

From Keeper0 :

I just met with my home security company this week to have a new system installed, and one of the features they offered was a key fob. One came free with the system, and each additional was about $100.