Homeowners have plenty of reasons to be afraid these days. A few weeks ago, there was that story about a bear rambling into the sunroom of a Florida home and falling asleep. Wildfires over the summer have threatened thousands of homes in the west. In 2011, there were an estimated 9 million property crimes – everything from burglaries to car thefts – in the United States, according to the most recent statistics from the FBI.
Of course, none of this is new. A hundred years ago, people were worried about keeping their homes safe. "Perhaps a burglar or a fire has not invaded your home, but if they should, they would get all of your money and valuables," warned a 1913 newspaper ad, touting the benefits of using the Merchants & Farmers Bank in Spartanburg, S.C. What has changed over the last 100 years, of course, is how people protect their homes. If you're wondering what's out there and available, and how much these options cost, here's a sampling of what protections you may want to try.
If you're a traditionalist. You can always get a gun and a watch dog. You can buy a gun (not necessarily a good one) for less than $100, but it's more likely you'll shell out several hundred dollars. The average annual cost of a large dog just in the first year alone is $1,843, according to the animal welfare organization ASPCA.
Something else to think about. But why spend all of that money and risk a tragic gun accident? You could just look like you own a gun, or lots of them, and instead buy a yard sign that alerts visitors that you have weaponry waiting for burglars – CafePress.com has signs for $19.50. For instance, one reads: "Nothing Inside Worth Dying For – We embrace the Second Amendment!"
As for a dog, if you just want a guard and not a furry companion, you could buy something like the Home Safe EWD-1 Electronic Watchdog, by Safety Technology International, which sells for about $80 on Amazon. When an intruder crosses the electronic radar waves, the alarm starts barking – which should send any criminal scurrying for safety.
You could get a home security system. If you've been thinking about getting one, you aren't alone. Chad Laurens, the CEO of SimpliSafe, a company based in Cambridge, Mass., which sells wireless home security systems, says in the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. last December, his security system sales spiked 60 percent higher than normal.
Overall, Americans spent about $20.64 billion on home security systems in 2011, the most recent figures available, according to the business research firm MarketsandMarkets. And the industry is expected to continue to grow to $34.46 billion by 2017.
As for how much of those billions you're likely to pay? Most companies will offer installation specials as low as $99, but start-up costs for all the equipment could run between $600 to $1,200 says Robert Siciliano, a Boston-based personal security consultant and spokesperson for BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com, a home security review. After buying the security system equipment, you'll have to pay for monthly monitoring, which can run from $15 to $100, but the average price is $30. Most home security systems require one to three-year contracts, although some companies, like SimpliSafe, don't require any.
"Just make sure you always keep your alarm on. Always," Siciliano stresses. "When you are home, away, during the day and night. Otherwise, what's the point?"
On the plus side, you may save money on your insurance by buying a home security system; some industry experts say you'll save anywhere from 20 to 45 percent.
Something else to think about. If a home security system is outside of your budget, there are outdoor fake security cameras that look like real ones with blinking lights. Loftek and UniquExceptional are two companies that make them, and the cameras usually cost less than 10 bucks.
Lighting. There are so many variations on how you can light your house at night and different pricing that it's hardly worth mentioning, but obviously, if you want to keep your home safe, you should invest some money in good lighting.
Something else to think about. That said, you may want to avoid going crazy with the lights. According to a study conducted from 1998 to 2000, called the to Chicago Alley Lighting Project, alleys that were brightly lit – approximately three times more than the average alley – actually ended up having more crime than before. It may be that too much light at night makes a house more inviting to a burglar. After all, you've just made it easier for him to see and get around. It's also worth noting that according to FBI data reports from 2004 to 2010, burglaries in the home are almost twice as likely to happen during the day – when there’s plenty of light, criminals are awake and alert, and homeowners are likely to be away at work.
Keeping a home safe from fire. Most smoke alarms cost between $6 and $40, depending on the bells and whistles, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Fire extinguishers will run anywhere from $20 to $80, as you'll see if you look at any hardware store. And if you're really concerned about a possible fire and live in a two-story home, you could get a fire escape ladder; the company Kidde makes a 13-foot ladder with anti-slip rungs that costs $65.99.
Something else to think about. There are fire-retardant gels on the market – generally expect to pay a few hundred bucks – that you can spray on your home if it's threatened by wildfires. There's no guarantee it'll work, however, especially if the fire truly consumes the house. And while you're thinking of fire protection, be sure to get a carbon monoxide detector to protect you from that invisible poisonous gas that emitted from gasoline-powered tools, heaters, cooking equipment and cars. The average price, judging from a lot of online window shopping, appears to be about $30.
Build a moat. Admit it. You've daydreamed about having one, and it does seem like the ideal way to keep out burglars, bears, wildfires and teenage boys hitting on your daughter. If you're tempted, you can rent a small bulldozer for $550 a day, at least in the Midwest, according to CatRentalStore.com, which offers Caterpillar construction equipment to rent. Meanwhile, the fish store, AquaScapeOnline.com, sells a variety of piranhas, as inexpensive as $5 and as high as several hundred dollars per fish. (What? You're going to build a moat and not fill it with a few predators?)
Something else to think about. Check with your homeowner's association first, if you're a member of one, not to mention the merits of investigating zoning laws that may have something to say about moats and piranhas. Also, keep in mind that there is probably a good reason most houses don't have moats. As you do your big dig, you could destroy plumbing, electrical wiring and your home's foundation, especially after a heavy rain. And, besides, bears can swim.