We hear about home burglaries and home invasions all the time. Rumor has it that seniors are more vulnerable to both than younger adults. While most reliable statistics are either too old or too general to confirm that fact, no one wants to face either one, regardless of age.
A home security system is one way to make our house less appealing than the one next door that has no security system. Today these systems are evolving rapidly, going from the old landline-based, hard-to-install traditional packages to light, easy-to-install cellular-based pieces of technological genius. The trick is to understand everything that is available, select what makes sense to you, and then find the company that makes it all happen affordably and seamlessly.
Home security systems make sense for anyone who wants to avoid being the target of a burglary or, worse, a home invasion. In 2016, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 8.8 percent of U.S. households were affected by property crimes. That is one in twelve households. However, another study confirmed the value of a home security system: 60 percent of convicted burglars said the presence of an alarm system influenced their decision to target another home.
If we can afford it, the question is not ‘if’ we get a home security system; instead, it is ‘which’ system do we get. Then the question becomes whether the system should be monitored or not. If monitored, the monitoring center will notify you and the authorities in case of an incident. If not monitored, you will have to notify the authorities yourself. In case of an emergency, you may want the notification to be automatic, although the service does come with a fee.
From there you look at your needs and budget to decide what home security package is best for you. An introductory package gives you basic monitoring at little expense. A mid-priced package lets you check your home from a distance, but requires remote web and mobile access capabilities, with email and text notifications. A high-end package will add different forms of home automation, plus video live streaming.
Whatever system you decide on, be sure to put yard signs and window stickers from the alarm company at every approach to your home, not only at your front door. You want to take advantage of the deterrent effect your system provides.
Lastly, since the U.S. Department of Justice reports that a household member is home in nearly 30 percent of burglaries, you want to keep your alarm armed even when you are home. The idea is not to feel imprisoned in our homes; it is to feel safe.
Seniors, whether living alone or in a couple, want to maintain their independence for as long as they can. Having a way to stay safe is part of that desire. A home security system can provide peace of mind while seniors are active, still traveling to visit with children and grandchildren or to enjoy all the places they could not during their work years.
Once they are older, less active and more home-bound, the same system provides a feeling of safety. Even in cases of declining health, the system can replace some of the functions of a medical alert system.
Some of the benefits include:
- Being able to run a house from a distance if the system has remote access and home automation, even remotely controlling lights, temperature settings and locks;
- By having cameras, being able to see who is at the front door when someone knocks, or to confirm that the noise late at night is a raccoon and not an intruder;
- Allowing us to sleep more soundly when we feel more vulnerable with age and acknowledge we are not as strong and agile as we once were;
- Being able to look in on an ill spouse when we must be away from home, by using live streaming; and
- In the absence of a medical alert system, having the home security system’s key fob panic device on the night table beside us as a welcome substitute.
When you first look at home security systems, they seem to have infinite options. Before you delve into each system’s details, a first filter can be to determine how easy the entire transaction is likely to be.
Comparing services, you want to know the amount of the monthly fee if you select a monitored system and if the monthly fee includes monitoring plus a paydown on the equipment. Also, the amount of upfront cost if you are paying for the equipment outright. You want to know their policy on returns or replacement, and how easy the system is to put into use. Knowing their cancellation policy in the case of signing a long-term contract is vital, as is the accessibility of their customer support in non-emergency situations (that is, not the monitoring service) such as setup, billing, returns, cancellation, and so on.
You then want to know about the system itself: monitored versus not monitored; how the monitoring center is reached; the reputation of the monitoring service; professional versus Do-It-Yourself (DIY) installation; what a basic package includes; what ‘smart’ features are available; and portability in case you move.
In selecting a home security system, ideally you will want to achieve the four basic levels of protection:
- Intrusion: sensors for all vulnerable doors and windows, plus motion and glass-break sensors;
- Life protection: panic buttons and a medical alert aspect, if possible;
- Surveillance: cameras inside and outside the house, plus integrated into doorbells; and
- Environmental: sensors for carbon monoxide, fire, freezing and flood.
The decision of whether to contract for monitoring comes first. If the decision is yes, then how should the system communicate with the monitoring center? Each method has pluses and minuses: A landline-based system uses a telephone line. It is more vulnerable to tampering, as it can be cut, but it may be the only option in rural areas where internet and cellular services are spotty. While it has been outdated by today’s technology, landline does offer the least-cost basic system for tight budgets.
Broadband uses your internet connection to reach your monitoring center. While it is safer than a landline, if your internet is down your home security will be, too.(A landline backing up broadband may be the solution, at a slightly higher cost.) Cellular connection is the most popular, the fastest and the easiest to install, as it requires no wires. However, it costs the most and requires good cellular coverage.
The quality of the monitoring center counts, too. Ideally, a company will operate its own fully certified center. Response times will be very short, and the connection will be made directly with a live person through the system’s console.
Next comes installation. You may feel more comfortable having a professional install the system,so you know it has been done correctly. Where wiring is required, the installation might be beyond your physical and technical skills. Besides, the installer can make knowledgeable recommendations for placement of sensors and devices and can explain the system’s use to you. However, there could be a fee involved for the service.
Today, most systems are DIY, cellular-based and easy to install. You take all the purchased components out of a box and decide where to put sensors and devices. You could have the system installed in as little as 30-60 minutes. The company may provide video instructions online, as well as printed, plus a toll-free number you can call with any questions. Best of all, you avoid an installation fee and probably understand how your system works better than if someone else installed it.
As you design the specific package to purchase, in addition to the number of basic sensors you need, you want to consider what else you want the system to do. A home security system can turn your home into an automated ‘smart home,’ but that requires a comfort level with technology and a higher price tag. The length of battery backup that comes with the system is critical; if a power outage lasts longer than the battery life, your system will be useless until the power comes back on.
Another consideration is whether you own your home or are a renter. If you are likely to move, a hardwired system will require uninstalling and reinstalling.Some companies charge another installation fee and may want to restart your monitoring contract back at Month One. Others transfer service for free, especially the DIY cellular systems. Check the fine print in your contract before signing.
Two areas differentiate what seniors prioritize when taking on services such as home security systems: age-friendliness and health-related value.
Regardingagefriendliness, a senior’s interaction with the service will be the same regardless of one’s age. If the company is easy to deal with, the administrative process should not be an obstacle once it is set up. Communications options should include at least one you are comfortable using, such as phones. Also, contacting the monitoring center in case of emergency must be immediate and uncomplicated. If alarms are loud enough and buttons are large enough, you and the system should age well together.
As for the health-related value of home security systems, the more our health declines, the more valuable the system becomes. What may need to change is the configuration of the equipment, possibly adding more doorbell cameras and remote alarm devices if mobility becomes an issue. Remote viewing by loved ones using video live streaming may also be a good use of today’s technology.
Upfront and ongoing fees can vary tremendously with home security systems. Some very basic cellular systems can be purchased online for a hundred dollars or more, and be installed without a professional. Any alarm incidents will ring on your smartphone instead of going to a fee-based monitoring center, and you will have to notify authorities if needed. There is no monitoring fee.
At the opposite extreme is a full-scale, complex system that requires professional installation, including running some wires through walls. Installation alone has been known to run up to $1,500. Check for activation fees as well. Upfront costs for sophisticated equipment can reach into the thousands, either paid upfront or financed over the life of the monitoring contract.
Many systems require 3-year contracts with hefty early-termination penalties. If you are a renter facing the possibility of moving, or of moving in with loved ones sometime soon, be certain to understand the commitment you are undertaking when signing a contract. Early termination can result in extremely high penalties.
Monthly monitoring fees can range from $10-60, depending on the sophistication of the system and the service.
The initial evaluation criteria in selecting a home security system include the cost (the monthly fee and any upfront fees you need to pay); the ability to return or replace; how easy the system is to install; cancellation policies if needed; and the accessibility of the company's customer support.
Monthly cost: The monthly fee covers the cost of the monitoring service provided by the company. If you are leasing and not purchasing the equipment, there may be an equipment fee included in the monthly amount. If you purchase the equipment, paying for it could also be spread over the life of the monitoring contract. Automatic monthly payments will usually be set up through a debit card, credit card or bank account. Pricing plans should be uncomplicated, with no hidden fees, although contracts for such services rarely are.
Upfront cost: This initial fee might cover any costs for equipment, shipping and handling. It can also include the cost of activation and installation if professional installation is required
Warranty: Initially, you want the flexibility of returning equipment for a full money-back guarantee if it either does not work correctly in your house or lifestyle, or in some other way does not meet your needs. The best protection is a fixed-term risk-free trial, say for 30 days. Also, whether you own the equipment or not, you want to know you have access to free repair or replacement from the company for at least the length of the monitoring contract.
Ease: Where DIY is an option, equipment should be easy to install. The company should provide extensive video-based instructions online for each step of installation, and offer a toll-free number you can call with questions. The ease of use of the system itself will depend on the number of bells and whistles selected; they should not be overwhelming to the user. Overwhelm will lead either to not setting the alarm at all, or to triggering far too many false alarms.
Cancellation: Simple DIY cellular systems will have nothing to cancel if they were purchased outright and have no monitoring activated. Still, some providers offer month-to-month monitoring where you can turn monitoring on when you travel, then turn it off when you are back home. Conversely, some of the full-service home security systems require 3-year monitoring contracts with heavy penalties of 75 to 100 percent of the remaining monitoring fees in case of cancellation.
Customer support: The better the customer support, the more confident we feel about a good or service. A call to the home security company you are considering will give you an indication of future service: how long do they take to answer, how well do they answer your questions, and what is the representative’s attitude? Online reviews can be useful for general trends, as long as you consider that more people are motivated to write when they are upset than when they are happy. You will be at the start of a long-term relationship in many cases, so it should be a good one. You have the right to expect to interact with knowledgeable, caring representatives.
In addition to the extra capabilities you want to add to your basic home security system, there are a few considerations specific to seniors.
As agility decreases, a senior would benefit from a system that can be activated or deactivated from anywhere in the house, thereby not requiring going to the central keypad. Even bedridden seniors would be able to use the system effectively.
To people with normal hearing, the sound an alarm makes appears high-pitched and loud. However,to seniors who remove their hearing aids at night, it could be silent. Some form of visual aid, such as a bright strobing light, should be set up as an alternative alert.As vision and dexterity decline, large backlit keypad buttons could also be helpful.
Probably the most useful add-ons would be those elements found in traditional medical alert systems, including automatic fall detectors, pendant or wrist band alarm buttons and highly sensitive central keypads that might pick up the voice of a senior in distress to know the nature of the emergency.
As with a medical alert system, the quality of the monitoring center should be investigated. It should be U.S.-based, UL-certified, and highly rated by a trade association such as The Monitoring Association (TMA, formerly the CSAA). The more certifications, the better.The company must provide 24/7/365 access to top-notch emergency response operators who are highly trained and, ideally, able to communicate in your preferred language. Emergencies are not a time to be struggling to be understood.
Online research is a good place to start looking for candidate home security providers. Also ask for recommendations from friends and neighbors, particularly those who are seniors and have some of the same concerns as you.
Here is the bottom line: avoid selecting a company that does not offer a risk-free trial of at least 30 days. You need to be able to try out a new system. If it does not suit your needs, do not hesitate to return it. Remember that the goal is for you to ‘age in place’ with the greatest degree of independence and safety. You need to get this decision right: it is that important.