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If you have a large, vulnerable home or priceless possessions inside it, it makes sense to consider installing a home security system.
There are do-it-yourself home security systems, such as an exterior perimeter alarm that will shriek when your home is broken into.
However, this type of alarm system has you relying on your neighbors to take action should a break-in occur.
The sound might scare off some burglars, but thieves today are hip to the fact that many law-abiding people, jaded into complacency by the daily wail of false car alarms, tend to turn a deaf ear more often than they pick up their cell phones to call the authorities.
And should an intruder enter your home while you're inside it, such exterior home security systems (along with indoor sirens and infrared motion sensors) will certainly alert you to an intrusion the second it happens.
Still, they won't summon outside help for you.
A professional system, on the other hand, calls your home moments after the alarm is triggered. And if you don't respond, most companies will immediately dispatch a call to the local police requesting a home safety check.
While self-installed systems are usually less expensive than the professionally installed and monitored variety, they're also much less effective in your family's moment of need.
That being the moment an unwelcome intruder breaches your home and you need help - stat.
Another drawback to do-it-yourself alarm systems is that many require some technical know-how to install correctly.
Though most such systems do come with detailed installation and use manuals and offer technical assistance by phone, expect the do-it-yourself installation to be a big job.
Today's improved technology and the competitive marketplace has made professional home security systems more affordable than ever. And what do you get if you do decide to bring in the security pros?
Most systems include magnetic door and window contacts that trip the alarm when separated, a control keypad, and a siren alarm.
In these systems, the central feature is an around-the-clock monitoring station that responds to any security breach by calling you. If you don't answer the call and provide the correct password, the police will be sent to your home to investigate.
Should an intruder break in while you're there and force you to turn off the alarm, you can key in a unique code that will send a silent call for help.
Most alarm systems are simple enough that a visitor or school-age child can learn how to operate them.
Some systems allow you to assign temporary codes so that houseguests can use your security system without knowing your master code.
If you're ready to take the plunge with a security professional, you can contact a crime prevention specialist at your neighborhood police department and ask for a list of qualified companies in your area.
Friends, neighbors, and insurance agents may also be able to give you names of a few reliable companies. Installation costs are usually based on the number of door and window contacts you have requested for your home.
Ready to get started finding the perfect alarm system for your home? This guide to compare and review home alarm security systems from Consumer Affairs can help.