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Home security system: should you have one?

Home safety and security is a top concern for most consumers, so it's no surprise the home security industry is booming in this time of economic uncertainty and rising crime statistics. But while new technologies have made home security systems smarter and easier to use, how much protection do you really get for your money?

The answer is: it depends. Costs, services and benefits are as varied as the ways burglars try to break into a house. If you're monitoring the home security market for the right system to protect your family and your property, here are answers to the big questions about home security alarm systems.

How much will a home security system cost?

The cost of alarm systems ranges from next to nothing for basic components and a monthly monitoring contract priced between $30 and $50, to several thousand dollars for a more complex, advanced home security system. Different homes and homeowners have different requirements, and the cost of a security system ultimately depends on the features you include and the level of service you choose. Video surveillance, wireless motion sensors, smart-phone-based controls and carbon-monoxide detection are just a few of the elements that can increase costs along with security. Surprise setup and activation fees can also catch you off guard.

It's mission critical to do thorough research before you buy, making sure you've read the fine print and pushed past the flashy marketing that accompanies many bargain-priced security packages. What looks basic and seems to cover all your security bases may actually involve several additions that add up, like installation of supplemental smoke or heat detectors that are required by your local building safety code. An on-site assessment by your home security system representative is the best way to determine what you and your home really need, so don't make any big purchase decisions without it.

How does a home security alarm system work?

Security alarm systems vary, of course, but usually include a combination of motion sensors and door and window contacts that connect back to a home alarm device with at least one keypad control. When the system is armed and active, the sensors and contacts trigger the on-site alarm. If the alarm isn't immediately disarmed by punching the correct code into the keypad, the security company's monitoring center is notified, and they in turn will call you and the police. System additions like fire and flood detection will trigger other alert processes, and a reputable home security alarm company will work with you to develop every detail of detection, protection and contact for emergency situations.

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