No one likes things that go bump in the night. But how much are you willing to pay for peace of mind?
An intruder sneaking into your home while you sleep is a terrifying thought, yet it rarely happens. More common are burglars snatching valuables from open garages or empty homes.
If the thought of an intruder has you alarmed enough to join the 17 percent of American households with a home security system, here are basic questions to consider:
_Should I buy a burglar alarm?
When a neighbor is burglarized or the media reports frightening crimes, many people think of investing in a home security system.
"It pushes people to come in and want to do something," said Mike Blake, president of Alert Security in Colorado Springs, Colo.
National security companies are smart enough to use fear in their marketing. "In the time it takes you to read this sentence, one burglary will be committed in the U.S.," reads the Web site for ADT Security Services, the largest security system company in the country. ADT and others are selling the feeling of security to their customers, which is certainly worth paying for.
The only problem is that a good system may cost you $1,000 to $1,500, plus ongoing monthly monitoring fees. For some people that's a small price to pay to reduce their worries, but for others it is prohibitive. (You may save some money, often 10 to 20 percent, on homeowners insurance.)
Crime-prevention experts say there are simpler, cheaper ways to deter crime. Leave your porch light on. Close the garage door and lock the doors. Put wooden dowels in the windows and sliding glass doors. Install dead-bolt locks. Such easy steps may keep you from being the vulnerable target on the block.
"The sound of a big dog barking is a really good deterrent, too," said David Husted, crime prevention officer for the Falcon division of the CSPD, when asked if he'd spend his money on an alarm or a canine. "I don't know, I may just go with the dog, if it's got a pretty good bark."
A Consumers Union study in 2002 found that dogs and alarm systems are the most effective ways to keep intruders out.
Crime experts agreed there are no downsides to buying an alarm system, other than the cost. From the police officers' experience, they are effective as long as they are turned on and working.
"I think alarms are good, and there's plenty of good, reputable companies out there," Husted said. "If it goes off and makes noise, the burglar is probably going to run away."
Dave Gilman, crime-prevention officer for the Stetson Hills division of the CSPD, thinks the systems can even be a deterrent before they start blaring.
"If you're the bad guy and you're looking at two homes, and the one on the left has an alarm system and the sign's up, and the one on the right doesn't, which one will you choose?" Gilman said.
"It's another tool in the toolbox. I would not say that they're required or I highly recommend them. You have to look at what you're willing to spend. It is a viable tool and I wouldn't tell anybody to not buy one."
_What should I look for in a system?
Let's say a burglar alarm is worth the cost to your family. How do you go about buying one? What questions should you ask?
Even people within the industry advise customers to be wary.
"In the state of Colorado, you can be anything you want and be in this industry," said Blake, of Alert Security.
Blake said you are giving out personal information, phone numbers and credit cards to these people, so make sure they have a good track record.
Colorado Springs has addressed the issue by requiring city licensing for alarm systems, said Cliff Stoker. He runs American Bell Security Group, with 38 years in business locally.
"City licensing ... got rid of a lot of the trunk slammers who were coming in here and selling cheap, shoddy equipment," he said.