Can't Afford a Home Alarm System? You Probably Already Have One

By Paul Michael on 30 June 2009 (Updated 17 June 2011) 48 comments

Home alarm systems can be expensive. A basic alarm system can be hundreds of dollars. Move up to the home-monitoring systems of ADT and Brink's, and you're talking big money. Installation can cost over $1000, and the monthly monitoring fee can be upwards of $40 a month. But, chances are, you already own a pretty good alternative. (See also: The $25 Gadget That Keeps My Home and Family Safe)

This tip was sent to me by my mother-in-law, which she found in a copy of a local workplace newsletter called "The Cherry Creek Leak." The advice was given by a neighborhood watch co-ordinator, and it is both simple and surprisingly effective.

Put your car keys beside your bed at night...

Next time you come home for the night and you start to put your keys away, think of this: Put your car keys beside your bed at night.

If you hear a noise outside your home or someone trying to get into your house, just press the panic button for your car. The alarm will be set off, and the horn will continue to sound until either you turn it off or the car battery dies. It's a security alarm system that you probably already have and requires no installation. Test it. It will go off from most everywhere inside your house and will keep honking until your battery runs down or until you reset it with the button on the key chain fob. It works if you park in your driveway or garage. If your car alarm goes off when someone is trying to break into your house, odds are the intruder won't stick around. After a few seconds all the neighbors will be looking out their windows to see who is out there and sure enough the criminal won't want that. And remember to carry your keys while walking to your car in a parking lot. The alarm can work the same way there.

And then, another great tip...

Also, you can extend the distance your alarm will activate by holding the key fob under your chin making contact with your skin. Your body is a natural antenna and will help extend the length you can transmit the signal. Try it and see from a farther range with and without contact to your chin.

This is all great thinking! I have set off my own panic button a few times by accident and it is deafening. My VW Passat sounds like a foghorn on crack, and it causes no end of annoyed looks and stares. But if you're in trouble inside your own home, it will still scare away any would-be thief (or someone even worse). Of course, this is not going to work if you're not at home, but it is certainly a great way to give you a little peace of mind without spending any more money.

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Guest's picture
Cathy K.

A great idea I'd never thought of. Thanks for sharing!

Guest's picture
Josh

1) This only works in nicer areas. In many places the sound of a car alarm is simply an annoyance which won't make anyone look in the direction of the noise. I'm in an area where I hear 3-4 car alarms a night. Something to think about.

2) I have found that there is a much more scary noise than a honking car alarm...The sound of a racking 12-gauge shotgun. It's the loudest sound in the world when you are in the dark, in a place you shouldn't be, doing something you shouldn't be doing. I've never been on the receiving end of the noise, but I've been the creator of it. There is nothing more effective.

If more people would stop honking car alarms and start racking their shotguns, there may be less need for posts about cheaper alternatives to home security systems.

Great site by the way...long time subscriber.

Guest's picture
SimpleLife

To Josh,

That was funny. True, and funny, too.

Guest's picture
Guest

I keep the 12 guage by my bed, too, ready to use. Something that's wrong with society today is that people don't care about what happens to their neighbors... I live in suburbia. If I hear my neighbor's dog barking or his car alarm going off any time of the day, I grab my gun and see what's going on as if it were my home. Whatever happened to looking after people??? It'll be a sad day when someone breaks into my home and dies, but know this... My neighbors heard the shotgun, and they're on their way over.

Guest's picture
Guest

yeah, then you should probably move and not even bother with being on a site about home alarms then!!!

Guest's picture
Wayward

Back when we were dating, my other half showed me that trick to get better reception at a distance. It always worked better in a parking structure. I thought he was crazy, but it works!

Guest's picture
vicki

I figure I have the best alarm system in the world. My five dogs will eat anyone they don't know who tries to come into our home. I feel totally safe . . .

Guest's picture
aa

I bought a home security system with a central panel, a couple motion sensors, and a couple door magnets. It costed two hundred bucks but my home insurance was lowered by one hundred per year. Therefore, it was already paid off after two years.

Check with your insurance agent.

Guest's picture
aa

You can also buy a few ADT stickers at eBay.

Guest's picture
krispee

Guest's picture
Guest

We have a large four-legged early warning device that has a bark that rattles the windows. But if that's not enough of a deterrent, I love the idea of the car alarm. With two cars in the garage, it would set up quite racket. We'll start keeping the car keys on the night stand right next to the Glock.

Guest's picture
Ryan

Two cars, well we have 3 cars(03Buick LeSabre,08 Buick Enclave,09GMC Sierra) AND a moterhome(with an alarm like the cars) And with those loud horned vehicals plus a moterhome it would wake the dead.(but I also have a house alarm) but I think I will try that panic button stuff tonight.

Guest's picture
GCajundweeb

Good if you have a car with an alarm system on it. Not so much if you don't have a car.

Paul Michael's picture

...I did say "probably." Most people own at least one car. And alarms are standard on the cheapest new cars these days. But you're right, it's not for everyone.

Guest's picture
Aeroscarr13

It's a decent idea, but in no way would I consider it a replacement for a home alarm system. First, it requires you to be home to hear the intruder and activate the alarm. Second, it requires someone else to hear the alarm and actually do something about it (identify the intruder, call the police, etc.) if it doesn't scare away the perp on it's own.

Besides, most modern home alarm systems also help detect fires and carbon-monoxide gas.

Guest's picture
J.

I agree it won't work in most urban areas. First, because people are desensitized to car alarms. Second, because the beeping car will not direct them to your home, which could be one of hundreds of apartments within several blocks of the car.

But for suburbia, it's a good idea.

Guest's picture
Annie P.

I keep my keys and cell phone, upstairs, by my bed is so that they're not the first thing an intruder sees, and takes, when they enter the house. The cell is nice for back-up in case power or phones go out in the middle of the night.

But the contact-with-the-chin thing? Unusual. Since the transponder is already being held in the user's hand, wouldn't that suffice? Or to close the circuit, couldn't you just also touch it with the other hand at the same time?

Carrie Kirby's picture

When we moved into our current home, we ripped out the alarm panel and all the sensors the previous owners had had installed. I hate living in a house with an alarm; it makes me feel too jumpy and I didn't want to deal with always enabling and disabling it.

I didn't know the fees were THAT much per month -- it certainly puts the expense of feeding and caring for a dog into perspective! I'd rather have the dog any day.

I blog at www.shopliftingwithpermission.com.

Guest's picture
Beth

Why bother keeping your keys by your bed? Can't you just get an extra remote from your car dealership?

Sadly, this won't work for me because I live in an apartment and I have an older car, but I think it's a good idea.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Our local police said publicly that they will not respond to home alarm systems so it seems pointless to get them anyway.  I second the dog idea.  My parents have a little dog that barks like he's a huge dog, and he was pretty useful in scaring away the door to door people. 

Guest's picture
Ryan

Are the cops for real if they don't answer a home alarm!? Even if it is hooked up to contact them when it goes off!?

Guest's picture

Even though most people are aware that their key fob has a panic button, very few would actually think to use it. Great post to bring awareness.

-Dan Malone-

Guest's picture
Guest

I have serious doubts about this working. Car alarms go off accidentally far more often than they go off with cause. Car alarms are one of the more worthless and obnoxious inventions of the last 25 years. I don't know anyone who would go out and look around on hearing one, and the only time I'll call the cops is if it's been going off > 30 min., and then I'll call the non-emergency line with a noise complaint. Large dog or shotgun are both more effective and affordable, without the side effect of advertising to your neighbors that you're a self absorbed jerk who can't be bothered to learn to operate his car alarm properly.

Guest's picture
FL

Most of you, including the original poster, are missing the point entirely. Any experienced thief will not enter a home with people inside it. If they do and find people home, they usually leave immediately. No "scaring off" required. It's simply too much work to deal with the home's occupants. Only in very rare circumstances a thief will break into the house and wake up the occupants inside. Once the occupants are awake, they have to be subdued, watched, and generally babysat until the thief leaves. Too much of a hassle.

This makes the "car alarm scare-off" trick absolutely worthless. It might work in very rare instances -- when the intruder is bent on bodily harm instead of property theft. And if they really want to hurt you, I doubt a car alarm is going to be more of a deterrent than you screaming.

Guest's picture
Tiffany

I live in an area with a very low crime rate. Up until about 2 years ago, it was very unusual to hear of people breaking into houses. Last year, there was a rash of break-ins occurring where people were home--the thieves were peeking into windows looking for prescription drugs. Within the last month, there have been several instances where people have waken up to find that, while they were sleeping, their houses were robbed.

Guest's picture
Guest

"Most" people do not own a car. Talk to everyone who lives in major cities with decent public transportation.

Guest's picture
Guest

Is that an oxymoron?? Decent public transportation??

Paul Michael's picture

Decent public transportation in America is relegated to just a few big cities. It's only just getting better here in Denver, but it's still not good enough to replace the convenience of a car. And according to nationmaster.com, there are 765 cars per 1000 people in the US. In my humble opinion, unless a large majority of those people own about 4 cars each, it means most people own a car. Am I allowed to stick my tongue out and say "so there" now?

Guest's picture
Jim

I agree with post #19. Ask any cop - most burglars will strike when they believe the residence is unoccupied. It's not the times we're home that I worry about. In the rare case that a trespasser enters while aware that you're home, you really don't want to stick around. The odds are pretty slim, but people who break in while you're home are typically very dangerous individuals. The horn might offer a welcome diversion, but in this case, I'm with post #8, substituting "Sig Sauer" with "Glock." (I love living in New Hampshire) Post #2 had the right idea, too. To each his own. If you find ownership of certain hardware intimidating or morally objectionable, or perhaps you're restricted by the local politicians who clearly know best, think through a plan to hide or escape, just as you would think of a plan to escape a fire. Either way, dial 911 immediately when in doubt. Better to look embarrassed than get hurt.

Guest's picture
Guest

If I heard someone in the house, I think turning on the car alarm as a diversion tactic while you call 911 would be much more effective than doing nothing. Great idea if you already have a car alarm. Nobody is saying, go out and buy a new car to double as an alarm system for your home. It's just, "If you've already got a remote with a panic button on it, why not use it if you have to?"

It's better than going out to buy a dog specifically to use as a guard dog when you really didn't care to have a pet in the first place. They do need care and love too you know.

Guest's picture
Cathy

I have a dog and a 9mm. The dog to let me know if something is happening and the gun in case my yells don't cause the intruder to leave. I'd rather not have the gun, but I live in the country, at least three hundred feet in all directions from a neighbor, and a good twenty minutes for a response from the country sheriff's office....and I live alone.

As I've told friends: "I'd rather have it and never need it, then need it and not have it."

If you have a gun, you need to know how to use it and keep it loaded and ready. And for God's sake, unload it and lock it up whenever children--or idiot friends-- come to the house.

Guest's picture
Guest

DOGS, Dogs, dogs...everyones saying a dog is good. However, toss any dog a bit of meat and its going to be distracted as long as it takes to eat it...Guarenteed. They proved it on Mythbusters with a trained guard dog!

Guest's picture
Guest

Not if you have 4 large dogs. Who are protective of their owner. Im pretty sure no one in their right mind would break into a house with barking dogs. Thats a deterent in itself. If they do actualy decide to break in and are intent on hurting me my dogs would attack. They are not trained to do so but If someone just goes to hit me they get angry. So your statement is not neccesarily true all dogs are different, just like people they react differently in all situations. So the mythbuster thing was not very accurate.

Guest's picture
Guest

I keep the pistol and the 12 guage by my bed and my cell phone in the bed or on a tether like a purse/messenger bag. My husband died recently. I am glad I already know how to use both my firearms and have a yappy dog to let me know if anyone is outside or comes inside without permission or with permission for that matter!

Guest's picture
Christine

That would be okay... IF burglars prefer breaking into your home while you're inside. Most of the time, they wait for you to leave. Also, are you sure you'll wake up when a burglar tries to get in? Some people sleep very heavily.

Guest's picture
Guest

A similar use of the key alarm stopped an abduction in Virginia several years ago. Customers in a fast food restaurant saw a women being abducted in the parking lot. They all hit their car alarms, horns blasted, the kidnapper panicked and ran, the woman was safe.

Guest's picture
Guest

FL: I think you are missing the point. It's not thieves I'm worried about. I have insurance. I can always replace stuff. As a woman living alone, I'm worried about rapists. They WANT to find me home alone. Or else they wouldn't try to come in.

Guest's picture
Guest

Agreed - this isn't going to work for every home break in even when you are present, but how many home break-ins are NOT by professionals who are good at casing a house? How many are done by teens thinking they can get in and out without being heard in the middle of the night? The point is if you don't have other means (alarm system, gun, dogs), this COULD be the thing to scare of someone who breaks in or is in the process. It's a useful tip for some, but true, it won't work everytime. Just as a dog won't work everytime - a good thief will figure out how to sedate or poison the dog if he wants to get in. As for the gun, well, I am guessing that is the best, but on the rare occasion when it doesn't work, and I suspect it's rare, (i.e., it is taken from the homeowner and used against him), the consequences are much more devastating than theft.

Guest's picture
Guest

Even the presence of dogs is enough. It doesn't matter what type or size as long as the thief knows they are there, they are less likely to break in. A number of years ago I lived in a small city. The person on the far side of the duplex next to me, and the person 2 doors over on the other side were robbed. Not me or my immediate neighbors.

Guest's picture
Guest

Fact 1- Most burglars enter when no one is home

Fact 2- The cost of an alarm system is paid off by the savings on your honmeowners insurance.

I hope this was written as a joke. And for the gun owners- that only works if you are home. And for the guard dog owners- hope you have a nice plot for your dog because anyone entering knows you have a dog and can kill your dog

Guest's picture
Guest

Here's a thought, but it needs refinement, I know:

Whoever has a 12-gauge shotgun - how about if you record the sound when you rack it? Make copies of the sound to sell (CD? mp3? whatever else?). Someone else, figure out how to hook up turning on the sound to a motion detector, and place the contraption (player, speakers, motion detector) near windows or doors or whatever items are most attractive to thieves.

Also, figure out a way to turn it off when you get out of bed at night or when you return home after being away, so that it won't scare YOU and give you a heart attack in your own home.

Guest's picture
Cammie

It sounds like you don't own any dogs. If you did, you would probably find that most dogs will bark at the presence of someone outside your home. In order to distract the dog with the meat, the person would have to be inside, coming from the outside. Getting there leaves a good space of time in which the dog would be able to bark to wake you up before being distracted by any meat.

Guest's picture
lizzy

THe dog idea is great I have a chihuahua that sounds like a german shepherd (weird, I know) so she is great for scaring off people. We live in a duplex and she can sense when someone is outside before I can. It is very cool!

Guest's picture
Guest

They make something like the sound recorder but with a dog barking already. Not sure of all the details. Probably the same company could make the other one. I would think it would require a sound delay, unlike the dog barking. It's not like you'll have your gun out and ready when they are barely getting in the door.

I have a chihuahua and he's really loud also. And no treat will distract him as he could care less for treats.... but you could pick him up and stick him in your pocket even if he is going crazy barking!

Stay safe everyone.. There is a robber knicknamed the Kent robber recently breaking into homes in my area that ARE Occupied.
The police say he's very bold and everyone should be on Alert. I am using my car alarm as backup since a friend emailed me this information recently.

Guest's picture
keeper5689

For any of you who plan to use a gun on an intruder, keep this in mind: Use a shotgun, not a handgun.

Assuming that you are woken up by someone in your house, you will have adrenaline pumping through your body as it prepares its flight or fight response. This is going to cause you to be a little bit shaky and nervous as you are approaching whoever it is that caused the noise. Your aim is not going to be very good at all, you just woke up. For this reason, you should depend on a shotgun of some sort, not a handgun. Think about the size of the average handgun bullet. Unless you are a crack shot in the dark, with adrenaline pumping through your veins, you will have a high chance of missing your target completely or just wounding them in the arm or leg. Also, unless you have a .40 or a .45 caliber gun, your bullet doesn't have much stopping power. This is why many police departments are switching from 9mm to .40 cal handguns.

A shotgun however has a much larger spread and is much more likely to do more serious damage to whoever is in your house (just make sure they aren't related to you). Also as mentioned before, get a pump shotgun, for the sound effect.

Guest's picture
AW

For gun owners, three points.

1. Make sure the person you are shooting is actually a thief, not the neighbor's daughter's boyfriend or some such.

2. Make sure you shoot them dead so they can not sue you.

3. If you shoot an unarmed person who is not on your property, not immediately threatening you and not putting you in any danger you most likely will go to jail for shooting them.

I have no problem with people owning guns, but gun owners who nonchalantly talk about killing people are either sick, over compensating and in many cases have never shot at a living person. The military has to train the response to hesitate out of you, because taking someone's life is not a natural thing. If you are ever in mortal danger, do not give a person a second chance, if they move in any direction except away from you pull the trigger.

Me personally I have swords. My house has a lot of corners and makes it easy to jump out at someone. Aside from that, who wants to get stabbed with a sword?

Guest's picture
Jane's Defense

I did a google video search of a "vicious dog barking" and found a great one about 2 minutes long. Nice deep growls and serious barking. I then downloaded it and played it on Real Player very loudly, hit the "continuous play" option, and VIOLA, I am a security dog owner. Obviously since I own my home and am a safe noise distance away from other neighbors, I can do this without upsetting people around me. The only folks who hear it are the ones standing near doors or windows of my house. It makes them think twice. It's free and uses stuff you already have.

Make a regular floor light into a security light by buying a screw in motion sensor adapter for your flood lights in the backyard. Keep the light on all the time, and it will only light up when you need it (when you are out there or Tyrone the Crackhead lurks). These are cheap and easy- screw into the light socket before you screw in your bulb. $10-ish

My local phone company installed a not that pricey security system and monitors it, and my fire alarms for $14.99 a month. That's cheap and it's armed always. I am very safe in my house in da' hood.

I bought cheap ($65) glow in the dark keypad entry bump-proof deadbolts for all my external doors. I type in my numerical combo and I don't have to fiddle with keys (leaving me vulnerable to attack from behind at night). People walking by see the keypad and they are intimidated by the sophisticated looking security; they even comment on it.

I give homemade jellies and jams to my neighbors and try to be very polite to them. Contractors working on my house have reported my neighbors come over to ask what they are doing messing with my house. Never underestimate the power of the social network. You do not have to be best pals and have beers together. Just have each others' backs. Homemade strawberry jam or something else homemade= $5. People you can trust= priceless.

Guest's picture

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