Home security systems evolve
Today’s systems cost much less, add lots of services
By Jay Fitzgerald | Boston Globe Correspondent
April 14, 2013
Deb Balboni (left) and her partner, Merle Balboni, use an iPad to check a security camera view.
Paul Apkarian, a Westborough architect, remembers when installing home-security systems required tearing out parts of interior walls for wiring and finding spaces for bulky cameras, video recorders, monitors, and motion-detection devices.
Above all, he remembers the costs — easily $3,000 and up for a multicamera surveillance and burglary alarm system, plus monthly fees for alarm call-center services.
“Ten years ago, it was a real pain in the neck to do — and expensive,” said Apkarian, owner of Paul Apkarian Architects Inc.
But the era of clunky black-and-white video monitors and recording devices crammed here and there, of blinking lights and keypads galore, has given way to slick, low-cost technology that homeowners control with just a few clicks — from wireless surveillance cameras that are monitored remotely, to door alarms that can be activated hundreds of miles away.
At their home in Plymouth, Deb and Merle Balboni recently installed wireless cameras, wireless motion-sensor alarms, wireless thermostat controls, and other remote-controlled gadgets, for about $1,500, and pay a monthly call-center fee of about $50.
“It’s awesome,” said the 56-year-old Deb Balboni, co-owner of Balboni Development Corp. in Plymouth. “We can go away for the day or even a week and can remotely check in on our mobile phones to see how our two dogs are doing, whether the cleaning service people came that day or whether there’s any trouble going on. It’s about peace of mind.”
Lewis Long, vice president of marketing at ADT Corp., the security company that installed the Balbonis’ system, said even he’s amazed at how remote technology has driven advances in the last few years. And the technology allows ADT to offer more than just home-security features; property owners can also buy “home automation” options such as remote control of lights and heating systems, automatic text and e-mail alerts when someone arrives at a home, and integration of entertainment devices into a house’s wireless network.
Long said more baby boomers are buying the full suite of electronic options as they downsize from larger homes to smaller residences after their kids have grown up and left the nest.
“Empty nesters find the technologies very useful and very easy to use,” said Long.
The wireless cameras available today are tiny and range from $100 to $500 each, and your smartphone and tablet doubles as a video monitor. Joe Prentiss, owner of Yankee Electrical Co. of Shrewsbury, remembers when each surveillance camera alone used to cost $500 or more, while black-and-white viewing monitors went for $600 to $700.
“The popularity of camera systems has just exploded,” said Prentiss.
ADT’s Long said his company’s most basic surveillance-camera system starts at about $500 for installation, while monthly fees for call-center services begin at around $50.
Integrating the home-security system into other “smart home” features also cost more, such as for additional mobile controls for thermostats, lighting, air-conditioning, and other electronic appliances in a house.
The Balbonis’ package in Plymouth includes many of those extra “home automation” options, increasing their installment bill to about $1,500. But that’s still half what they would have paid for a far less robust system 10 years ago.
Homeowners can also choose a hybrid systems that still uses hard-wired devices mixed with wireless gear. The combination provides a failsafe in case, for example, a power outage cuts electricity to the house, or the batteries in the remote system die. Many new homes have both wired and wireless systems to ensure reliable security services, though hybrid systems do cost more to install, $3,000 or higher.
For those who don’t want bells and whistles, there are still basic burglary alarm systems available, and indeed they remain quite popular. These usually include sensors and alarms attached to ground-floor doors and windows, wall-mounted keypads and remote-control devices that can be activated with key fobs.
Unlike a decade ago, those basic systems can be installed for much less; the beginning price of ADT’s most basic burglary alarm system, for instance, is $99 for installation and $36.42 per month for call-alarm services.
Prices climb depending how many windows and door sensors, as well as motion-detection devices within individual rooms, are integrated into the system.
From modest to fully-kitted, today’s home security systems can offer peace of mind and many practical benefits — and at least one intangible.
“They’re just plain fun,” said Apkarian, the Westborough home architect. “Everyone I talk to loves them. You can be hundreds of miles away and use your iPhone to view what’s going on in your home, activate the security system if you forgot to do so before leaving, change the thermostat temperatures. The technology is fun and fascinating.”