How much does a security system actually cost?

When buying a security system, decisions often come down to the price tag of cameras, storage, and installation, yet taking this approach can leave the end user with major challenges ahead. Surveillance systems last anywhere from five to 20+ years, so condensing all cost considerations down to the initial expense fails to consider the bigger picture.

In fact, the initial costs to purchase and set up a security system tend to account for just 30% of the total costs experienced during the lifetime of the system – also known as the total cost of ownership. Despite this, many end users may even make their decision based on the price of cameras alone. In effect, they are making their choice with just a 10-15% view of the total security system costs. The reality is that roughly 70% of expenses come after the system has been installed. Sadly, these can come as a nasty surprise for those end users who have not considered the indirect security system costs.

Taking some time to think about how the system will be used and the costs associated with that use can create significant savings in the long run. Initial choices – such as the type of device to deploy –impact future expenses, from power consumption, to monitoring and maintenance. While we’ll focus on cameras specifically here, this principle applies to any device within a surveillance system. Considering the total cost of ownership will help you to identify the questions to ask as you make your decision on which new security system to purchase.

Look beyond the cameras’ price tag

Filtering is an important step in the purchase process: setting out your surveillance requirements and available budget is key to narrowing down your choices. Unfortunately, too many initial conversations around requirements focus in on the cameras alone, without considering the broader requirements of the system as a whole – from energy use to storage needs.

It might be tempting to focus the budget conversation on cameras, rather than where money will need to be spent to operate and maintain those cameras. Yet the security system will need to support your needs for the foreseeable future. It’s worth remembering that the costs to operate, monitor and maintain certain cameras often exceed the devices themselves and must therefore be weighed up before the purchase is made.

Forecasting storage costs

If you’re in the market for a new surveillance system, it’s very likely that you’ll need to consider how to store footage once recorded. On average, legislation requires potential evidence to be stored for a month. Yet in some regions or use cases, this is extended to 180 days – making storage a considerable factor in overall security system costs.

To avoid being caught out with significant server and electricity expenses after cameras are installed, it’s critical to consider the different storage costs associated with each camera model you’re considering. It can be a false economy to purchase cheaper cameras to cut down the initial outlay if they come with vast storage requirements, forcing you to spend more on servers and energy costs in the long run.

Equally, if you plan to reduce storage costs by shrinking the size of the video stored, you will need to carefully choose the right devices to ensure that compressing the video doesn’t compromise evidence quality by pixelating or blurring images to the point that it’s no longer possible to identify a suspect. Ending up with poor quality footage that cannot act as useful evidence can defeat your objective for installing the security system in the first place. Some cameras come with sophisticated technology that can reserve all the important forensic detail you need while lowering bandwidth and storage requirements, and therefore long-term costs. It’s worth checking any claims of high-quality footage with low storage requirements before you install the system to ensure it meets your expectations.

Each set of requirements is unique. For example, you may require high quality images even in the dark. While some cameras might compensate for low light levels by increasing the gain and therefore, storage requirements and costs, other options use alternative light-optimizing technologies that do not have the same large-scale impact on storage costs. They might even help you to save budget by removing the need for additional external lighting.

Anticipating all indirect costs – from monitoring to maintenance

The type of device you choose will influence costs far beyond storage. To forecast the full security system cost, monitoring, maintenance, and electricity use must also be considered.

Once you crunch the numbers, the costs can start to build up quite quickly but crucially, the devices you choose will have a knock-on impact on the extent of these figures. Opting for more economical cameras and devices at the start can result in staggering indirect costs. By contrast, choosing higher quality cameras and devices at the outset can enable you to cut those indirect security system costs in the long-term, introducing savings which you can use to reinvest in and grow your business faster.

As one example, owners of surveillance systems installed in tough environmental conditions, such as a maritime port or chemical plant, may face significant maintenance bills to clean salt water and dust off cameras. By upgrading to more sophisticated cameras that offer remote cleaning functions, or have been designed with self-cleaning materials and components, such as a hydrophilic dome, they can reduce the maintenance – and therefore costs – required.

Turning a purchase into an investment

By considering how your initial decision on which type of camera to buy can impact the chain of future costs, you can shift the purchasing decision into an investment. Achieving this can be as simple as asking yourself just a few questions:

  • What camera functionality do I require?
  • How much storage will I need if I purchase those cameras?
  • How much electricity will be required to run the system in the long run?
  • How do the technologies these cameras offer play into the total costs?

Mapping out the bigger picture costs

The question ‘How much does a security system cost?’ goes far beyond the initial purchase. Making the right choice for you based on the bigger picture can mean a slightly higher initial outlay, but it pays itself back in the long run.

In short, taking the time to ask the right questions at the outset – and finding partners who are open to answering those questions and helping you calculate the long-term costs – allows you to avoid any nasty surprises in future electricity, storage, operational or maintenance costs. Importantly, it will also ensure that you end up with the security system that is right for your specific requirements.

Find out which five steps can help you to make the most of your security system investment.

Find out which 5 steps