Pros and cons of home security systems

We just moved into a house that has an ADT alarm system. It’s probably at least 5 years old, and may be original to the house, 15 years old. I’ve just called ADT, and they’d want almost $40 a month (and at least a one-year commitment) to provide monitoring service, assuming that it’s still in good condition and wouldn’t need work or additional equipment.

I’m not particularly paranoid, and am inclined to think that it’s not worth almost $500 a year to have to deal with keying in a code every time we go in and out of the house, potential false alarms, etc.

I’ve found support for this impression online here, here, here, and here.

We’re in a nice neighborhood, and a lot of the houses here have alarm system signs on their lawn. We have the stickers in our windows. I’m thinking that may be enough.

What’s your opinion, especially if you have had experience – good or bad – with alarm systems.

A related question: can I use the existing hardware without ADT? That is, connecting it to some other (potentially less expensive) service, or, with some additional equipment, setting it up to notify me directly via my cell phone?


Depends. I wouldn’t get one, except for the following: I’m gone a lot and we live in a secluded area and my wife feels better having a security system. We have ADT and pay a littlem more than you were quoted. Not sure why. We don’t turn it on every time we leave the house, or every night. I like the app for the iPhone, it’s very easy and we can even look at the security cameras from wherever we are. I also like the “chime” feature that tells us whenever someone opens a door (we have a teenager and it’s nice to know when she comes home).

I can tell you they are not foolproof, and you can’t sue them if they screw up the monitoring or even installation. They have a very small ($250) limit on liability in their contract, and all kinds of language saying they’re not responsible if you get murdered because they alarm didn’t work.

Regarding your last question, I think you can connect to other less expensive monitoring services.

We recently went through this, having never had a home security system at all in the past. I wasn’t very interested for most of the reasons you (and the articles you linked) state.

However, in the end we did it for 3 main reasons: (1) significant insurance discount, (2) the door chime is nice with young and growing kids, and (3) it makes my wife feel more secure when I’m out of town (like I would be any help in a home intrusion, but whatever…).

We used a local company that quotes less than ADT, but still not cheap (~$30 a month since it’s cell phone only, I think they’re standard fee is $20/mo).

You can use the installed system with other monitoring services, most likely, with some sort of installation fee most likely.

You can get self-install systems that, for my money at least, seem to be worth the money.

When we moved into our house a couple months ago I spoke to a neighbor who’d been here for decades who recommended we get some sort of system. I researched online and found Frontpoint. The monthly monitoring fee is about the same as anywhere else, but you don’t have an installer/salesman coming to your house to upsell you on a bunch of extra expensive stuff you probably don’t really need, you buy exactly just what you want. You can go super deep with cameras and motion sensors and remote-automated-whatever, or just simple open/close sensors for your doors/windows. They had a deal on Angie’s list and we got all the doors and windows covered for about $100. You install the system yourself, it’s super easy, you just call them once it’s installed to set up the monitoring service, and the person you talk to is not a salesman, they just spend about 10 minutes to explain how it works and answer any questions you might have. They have never called us to try and sell us anything else, and we’ve never had a false alarm (but we do have a very basic, bare-bones system). It’s all cellular and you can get remotes so you don’t need to be entering codes every time you open the door, and you can set it up any way you want.

We’ve not had any problems with the system or the neighborhood, but it’s nice to know if something happens, there’s at least some level of protection in place, and that’s worth the $30 a month, to me. Frankly, if we were in a better neighborhood, I’d actually be more worried about it, but I don’t know what the OP’s situation is like. My parents have been in a nice neighborhood in a nice house filled with expensive things for going on 30 years with no security system and the thought has never crossed their mind (or mine).

My experience with alarms in London is that practically every house has one and while they seem to go off on a regular basis, I have not once seen a response either by ADT or the police. I’m 52 and have never been broken into so to me it’s money down the drain. The only times it has gone off is when something malfunctioned.

We had one in the house when we bought it and when we had it reinstated, OF COURSE the model was outdated, inadequate etc and a new one was put in. Because we have pets, the sensors are pretty much useless when we’re in the house at night.

I will say, having been the victim of arson in the past, having the fire alarm hooked up with ADT is the only selling feature for me. And I know they respond to that because I set it off cooking bacon :-/

The police have a policy in the UK that they NEVER respond to burglar alarms - even if members of the public telephone them to report several hours of alarm going off. They refer callers to the local council’s noise nuisance department!

We have one, every time we have used it when we were out of town on vacation the thing went off for no reason and we had to call a neighbor to go check it out. I travel a lot and my wife will sometimes use it when I’m away, but mostly the little yard sign is hopefully a deterent for the thief to go to the next house on the block.

I don’t know that it’s actually worth it, but we have a system for two main reasons: 1) I travel a fair amount and it makes my wife feel more comfortable (I’ve learned to accept “she wants it” as a good enough reason for many things) and 2) it has a smoke detector (and a carbon monoxide detector) and I’ve always had a weird worry that we were going to go away for a weekend (or an hour) and the house would burn down and no one would notice until it was too far gone. A few years back, a house in my neighborhood caught fire and the people in it (who were upstairs) did not notice until their neighbor saw the flames and ran over. I like the idea of the fire alarm calling the fire department early on.

Also, we get a decent discount on our homeowner’s insurance so the cost isn’t really as bad as it seems (although still fairly high).

You can probably get much of the deterrent effect more cheaply by having a fake alarm-company logo printed onto a little sign for you to put up in the front yard.

The trend lately among house burglary rings is to ring the doorbell and see if anyone is home. If it appears that no one is there, they will break in and if the alarm goes off, they know that at a minimum they have a minute or two before the alarm company calls, then another 5 minutes or so before the police come. So they have about 7 minutes to snatch and grab as much small stuff as they can (jewelry, cash, ipods, cameras, cell phones, purses, silver, etc.) and then head out. If there is no alarm, then they have A LOT more time to go through much more of the house.

This happened to us a couple of years ago. My son forgot to set the alarm when he left the house. So what potentially could have only been a few hundred dollars in items stolen, turned into several thousands of dollars of items taken.

We upgraded our alarm system so that we can remotely check via our smart phones if the system is set, set it remotely, etc.

Not necessarily. If you sign on your alarm system with the local PD, they will automatically respond without being contacted by the alarm company. Our neighbor accidentally set off his alarm by opening his garage before going in to disarm his system. The cop showed up within a few minutes, before we (as their ‘away’ contact) got a call from the alarm company. Now the problem with that setup is that the cops only give you one fuckup. After that, they charge you for the false alarm response.

I have ADT. For some reason I was paying about $70/month for a very basic system. I got fed up with the cost, called Comcast and they quoted $30 for the same setup. Went back to ADT and told them I was cancelling, at which point they met the Comcast rate. Shoulda cancelled the fuckers anyway, as they have been ripping me off for the past couple of years.

This as much as anything is the thing that makes me want an alarm system again. Not just for the house, but for pets, too.

For burglary, I’d really much prefer something that would lock the fuckers inside the house and anesthetize them until I can get there, but I doubt you can buy that off the shelf.

You may be able to use the system to alarm inside the house if a window is opened or whatever, without it being connected.

Our house came with a security system (set up by the former owner) and for the longest time we never activated it. We finally set up the subscription when our oldest (then 12) was going to be home alone by himself for 2 hours each school day; we had visions of a fire starting and him hiding under his bed due to the smoke alarm, rather than running outside. With the system activated, we figured at least the fire department would get called,and would know to look for an autistic preteen.

We’ve never actually activated the alarm-reporting part of it - I know we’d forget to turn the damn thing off in time. And we’ve got a guinea pig so a petsitter would need to know about it as well; my daughter was catsitting recently and messed up entering the code at the neighbor’s house, and it resulted in a lot of noise and a few phone calls :smack:

BTW - I personally LOATH ADT. About 20 years ago, when we were living in a townhouse, a neighbor was raped as she arrived home late one evening. The rapist grabbed her between her car and her front door. A security system would have done nothing to help her. But every other day for a week we came home to an ADT brochure stuck in our front door. Finally we called the HOA about it (solicitation was supposedly prohibited, but nobody cared much; this, however, was really over-the-top). I imagine the HOA called ADT and told them to back off.

Missed edit window, but the timing of that was especially atrocious: several months earlier a man was arrested for several rape charges in a nearby jurisdiction. After each rape he called the victim and TRIED TO SELL HER A SECURITY SYSTEM. Egad. One victim recognized his voice, which was how he was caught.

I have one. It’s from an independent local company, and if you count the discount on our insurance (which I do) it costs us about $40 a year. Which is why we have it. I never remember to turn it on, but I like knowing if I could if I wanted to. Plus the fire alarm is very good, and I like that. So, I think the service is nice to have, but I would never pay more than $50 a year for it.

Feedback from the other side - I work in a 9-1-1 center.

False alarm rates on burglar alarms are so high, around 94% of activations reported to 9-1-1 are false alarms, that many police departments do not respond to alarm calls as a priority matter. A study actually showed that police have a higher chance of catching a burglar in the act if there is not an alarm at the premises.

Most false alarms are a result of user error - entering the wrong code, forgetting to give the alarm code to the pet sitter, failing to close all doors/windows before setting code, and so on. If you are going to have an alarm system, please be a responsible user and be diligent with the procedures needed to minimize false alarms.

Many, perhaps most, jurisdictions prohibit alarm systems which directly dial emergency services. You could self install a system that calls your cell phone. It just cannot direct dial 9-1-1, the fire department, police department, and so on. Check your local regulations. Your local 9-1-1 center (sometimes called a PSAP) probably can point you in the right direction, just be sure to call them on their non-emergency line.

Some localities require permits. Some may charge fees for police or fire response to a false alarm.

I’ve felt comfortable with simply keeping the “Guarded by ADT” stickers left on a couple of windows on my house from the previous owners. I’m personally of the opinion that having an alarm system in my home is of no real value and only a money drain. However, if it lets someone sleep more comfortably at night, irrespective of any actual crime-deterring benefits, then having a house alarm system can be a worthwhile thing.