"People who have kids, pets, a home business or like to travel will have different security needs," says Bob Tucker, spokesman for ADT Security Services. Get three estimates before deciding on a company.
Go for 24/7 monitoring
Tucker recommends a monitored home protection system, as opposed to one that simply sounds an alarm if a window or door is opened. For a monthly fee, it will alert security personnel to call your home if something is wrong. If you answer, they will ask you if everything is OK. If you signal distress (by not answering, saying nothing, or saying that you hear footsteps or glass-break), police will be called.
"An old system can be retrofitted," says George Natale, general manager of Electronix Systems based in Huntington Station. "However, a wireless system can be installed more quickly." Natale cautions that homeowners should check if they are still under contract with another company before trying to switch.
Find a central location
The control panel is the "brain" of the alarm system. The control panel keypads are typically by the main exit doors and the master bedroom.
Choose a user-friendly code
"Make it memorable, like a birthday or anniversary," says Tucker. "But don't make it obvious, like 1,2,3,4 or 1111."
Get radio backup
"It pays to spend a little more and install a system that has radio backup," advises Natale. "It's a vital add-on feature that allows the alarm signal to survive a downed or cut cable/phone line during a break-in, storm, or blackout."
Buy a key chain remote
The device should be able to disarm your security system, turn on lights and unlock your door. If you lose your keychain, Natale says, "We'd deprogram the remote from our computer system."
Total Connect, available from Electronix, gives you the ability to see and control your keypad on the Internet or on your BlackBerry or your iPhone. That means if you forget to activate your alarm before you leave (or even while on vacation), you could arm or disarm your alarm system, says Natale.
Find a multitasker
Many systems can help detect other emergencies such as smoke, carbon monoxide and water damage. If you left food cooking, ran out to go shopping and a fire started, such a system would alert the fire department, says Tucker. There are even alarm systems that can detect frozen water pipes before they burst.
THE COST A typical wireless system costs $400 to $500 to install, plus $30 to $40 a month for central station monitoring, says Tucker.
LICENSING A burglar alarm permit is required in Nassau County ($75 for three years), but not in Suffolk. Says Natale, "Be wary if you have too many false alarms, because you could be subject to fines."
INSURANCE DISCOUNT If you install a security system with monitored protection, you can receive up to 20 percent off the price of your homeowner's policy. Be sure to get certification from your alarm company to submit as proof to your carrier.