Do I Need A Home Security System?
Out of 127.59 million households in the United States, only 36 million have security systems, about 30%, according to an article from the New York Times1. That’s a shockingly low number, considering that most people would want to know if they were being robbed. However, with so little education about home security, it can be difficult to know if one needs a security system, how effective they are in general, and which one to buy. But that’s what we’re here for!
This article answers the key questions about home security systems regarding effectiveness, necessity, and the pros and cons. It draws on academic studies as well as information from local police departments to make you the most educated you can be on home security systems. Let’s get started.
Home Burglary Statistics
You might be thinking,
“I don’t need a security system. I have never been robbed before and I feel like my area is safe. What’s the point of spending hundreds of dollars on a home security system?”
The point is, burglary happens, whether you want to admit it or not. According to statistics from the FBI2, there were 1.5 million burglaries in 2015, with a total loss of $3.6 billion and an average loss of $2,316— certainly not chump change.
Plus, over 70% of burglaries are of residential properties as opposed to commercial properties, so homeowners and renters should be particularly concerned about their humble abodes. Some people should be more concerned about burglaries based on what kind of housing they have, their income, and even their demographics like race, gender, and age— but we’ll get to that part in a bit.
Okay, so burglaries still happen frequently in the United States, and I’m sure you want to hold onto your money and property. But is a home security system an effective solution? Let’s find out together!
Are Home Security Systems Effective?
Between 2001 and 2005, researchers Rutgers University studied crime data from the nearby Newark Police Department. Their final verdict? Residential burglar alarm systems decrease crime. In fact, even having a burglar alarm at one house makes the surrounding area less enticing for burglars, without displacing the crime to other neighborhoods (in other words, burglars see a security system and tend to give up). Dr. Seungmug Lee, Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Texas at Arlington wrote of the Rutgers study3,
“In short, a burglar alarm as a target-hardening measure of situational crime prevention, not only protects the home without displacing burglary to nearby houses, but, in fact, also provides these other houses with protection from burglars.”
Talk about killing two birds with one stone!
Why Do We Need Home Security?
While home security systems are a clear-cut way to prevent crime, they have a few more advantages, as well as some disadvantages, that I’d like to discuss.
Pros of Having A Home Security System
Let’s start with the positives.
In 2018, a researcher from the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina surveyed more than 400 convicted burglars to get into the minds of real-life burglars. He wanted to know a few things, including how burglars access the homes they rob in the first place. What he found is that most of the burglars had either gone through doors or windows that were already open or that they forced open, according to the survey’s4 respondents.
A Special Report from the United States Department of Justice5 echoes this finding from UNC. About 70% of burglars enter their houses by damaging or removing a door, the report found.
Anyone at all familiar with home security systems knows how easy this problem is to fix. Entry sensors sit on a door or window’s frame and the door or window itself, notifying you when they are opened or closed. There are also glass break sensors if someone decides to break in forcibly, and motion sensors to capture human motion.
With smart security systems, you’ll be notified as soon as any of your sensors go off, making it easy for you to snap into action as soon as a burglary begins, god forbid. Then, you can livestream footage and record your criminal with smart security cameras and video doorbells. There, you’ve just saved yourself from 70% of all burglaries!
Discounts on Home Insurance
Many home security systems can get you a discount on home insurance. Obviously, home insurance companies wouldn’t provide this discount if they didn’t think that home security systems were actually an effective way to prevent burglaries, proving my point even further. Check with your insurance company to see how much you can save!
Prevents Crime Before It Happens
Let’s go back to that UNC study. Speaking to these criminals, the researcher found that when selecting a target home, the burglars considered the following factors:
- Proximity to other people: Burglars are less likely to rob a house if it’s in a densely populated area.
- Traffic: Although they may be in cars, burglars consider the traffic outside of a house as a possible hazard.
- People in the house: While most burglaries happen when no one is home, they still can occur when there are people in the house.
- Police officers: Obviously, burglars would rather not rob a house if there are police officers around.
- Escape routes: Many burglars planned their escape routes beforehand.
- Signs of increased security: Yard signs, outdoor cameras, alarms, dogs— these are all deterrents to burglars.
In fact, a whopping 80% of the burglars surveyed said they would see if there was an alarm before attempting a burglary. If an alarm was found, 60% of burglars would go somewhere else. Among the burglars who discovered an alarm mid-robbery, half would go back home, 31% would try to hide somewhere, and only 13% would actually continue robbing the house. So while having visible security system components outside is your best bet, burglars are also extremely skittish around any alarm, even if they’re already in your house!
Cons of Having A Home Security System
Of course, nothing is perfect and no home security system is 100% effective. There are a few main cons to having a home security system.
Cost of Equipment
Security systems on average cost around $400 for the equipment alone. But while this may seem like a lot of money to spend at one time, it makes sense as the average loss during a burglary was $2,316 in 2015. There are also more minimal options for as low as $30, although these only contain motion and entry sensors. Hey, it’s a start, especially when you consider how many burglars enter through your doors or windows!
Monthly or Yearly Costs
Services like 24/7 professional monitoring and cellular, landline, or battery backup, which keeps your system on in the event of a power outage, can cost anywhere from nine to sixty dollars a month, depending on which company you choose.
Another thing to keep in mind is contract length. While some companies force you to find multi-year contracts, some offer flexible, month-to-month contracting. In the same vein, some companies make you sign up for 24/7 professional monitoring, while some allow you to self-monitor through a mobile app. Make sure you take these extra costs into consideration, as they can be major drawbacks for a security system.
Of course, a false alarm is better than a real alarm, but we still don’t want them to happen. Why? Not only do they wake you up and make you scared for no reason, but they can also annoy the police, who may start charging you per false alarm. Fortunately for you, the Cleveland Country Sheriff’s Department put together an informative article on the causes of false alarms6, which include:
- Faulty equipment: It’s possible one of the components of your security system is defective. Make sure you choose one from a reputable brand!
- Human error: Maybe the owner of the home security system doesn’t know how to use it correctly and accidentally triggered an alarm. It’s important to educate yourself on your home security system, as well as anyone else in your home that would deal with it.
- Low batteries and/ or inconsistent power source: Sometimes a low battery warning or an unreliable power source can trigger a false alarm. Check that your batteries and power sources are up to snuff!
- Unlocked or loose doors and windows: Wind can shake loose doors or windows, setting off entry sensors unnecessarily. For the best results, I recommend using a deadbolt.
- Incorrect installation: As many home security systems have DIY installation, some are installed incorrectly. Make sure you follow the directions and if you need help, call the company directly.
- Pets, rodents, and insects: If you have pets, make sure you get sensors that are pet-friendly and will only detect humans. Of course, for those with rodents and insects in your home, you may want to call an exterminator. Just a thought!
As you can see, the pros really outweigh the cons when it comes to home security systems. They’re a common-sense way to prevent burglaries and stop them in the act!
Burglary by Household Type
Remember how, in the UNC study of 400 convicted burglars, they said that they consider proximity to other humans as well as police officers, escape routes, and traffic when deciding which homes to rob? This means that the type of housing you live in can greatly affect how likely you are to get robbed.
According to the Special Report from the United States Department of Justice that I mentioned earlier, those living in hotels, motels, or room services are most likely to be robbed when they’re not home at 36.5%. Mobile homes came in second at 32.4%, houses and apartments are 22.1%, 4.3% to students’ quarters, and 3.6% to all other types of units. So if you’re living in a hotel, motel, or mobile home, you’re more likely to get robbed when you’re not home.
The report also found that rental properties are more likely to be robbed as opposed to homeowners’ property. The least likely to be robbed when someone is home are those living in either single-unit housing or housing with 10 or more units. This is probably because, as the UNC report found out, burglars want an escape route where they won’t be seen by many people, difficult to find in these areas.
Burglary by Household Income
Sadly, how much you make in a year can correlate with how likely you are to be burgled. Higher-income households are less likely to be burgled than lower-income households, unfortunately. In fact, homes with an income of less than $7,500 a year were the most likely to be burgled when home, with the likelihood decreasing as the income increases.
Burglary by Household Member Demographics
Even who you are in terms of race, age, and gender can affect how likely you are to be burgled when someone is home. The most vulnerable are homes with single females and children. For burglaries when no one is home, the most vulnerable groups are single males with children at 59 out of 1,000 cases, and then single females with children at 54 out of 1,000 cases. Interestingly, single males are more likely to be burglarized when no one is home than single females, but if someone’s home, the genders have equal chances of being burglarized. The report also found that American Indian or Alaska Native heads of households experienced high rates of burglary at 57 out of 1,000.
Age also affects how likely a person is to be burglarized. If the head of the household is aged 12-19, rates of burglary are the highest out of any age range, while those 65 and older have the lowest rates. Of course, we can’t change who we are, so these numbers are important to know for your own safety.
No security system will protect you from burglaries 100%, but they are likely to deter burglars from even trying, especially if you have a sign from a known security company in front of your house. I recommend home security systems for every home, whether you live in a house or apartment, whether you live in a rural, suburban, or urban area, and whether you have kids or not. Most likely, you have something of value in your home that you want to protect, and security systems can help with that. Of course, you want to make sure that you’re choosing a quality system with the right features; otherwise, you’re wasting your money.
Even if you have a doorman or live in a gated community, security issues are still possible, and you know the saying— better safe than sorry! There’s also the misconception that renters don’t need home security systems, which is quickly changing with new security companies with flexible contracting, affordable prices and DIY installation. Regardless of whether you rent or own your home, if you want to protect what’s inside, you should definitely invest in a home security system.
New York Times. (2010). Weighing the Value of a Home Security System.
FBI. (2016). 2015 Crime in the United States. ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2015/crime-in-the-u.s.-2015/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/burglary
Rutgers University. (2009). Rutgers Study Finds Alarm Systems Are Valuable Crime Fighting Tool. news.rutgers.edu/news-release/rutgers-study-finds-alarm-systems-are-valuable-crime-fighting-tool/20090205#.XS49nZNKjVo
University of North Carolina at Charlotte. (2013). Through the eyes of a burglar: Study provides insights on habits and motivations, importance of security.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2010). Victimization During Household Burglary.
Cleveland County Sheriffs. (Retrieved 2020). The 6 Most Common Causes of False Alarms. clevelandcounty.com/sheriffs_office/documents/how_reduce_false_alarms.pdf