Q&A / 

Home Security System

DEAR TIM: I'm in the market for a home-security system. What can you tell me about home-security systems in general, as there seem to be so many aspects that it's rapidly getting confusing. Should I be looking at a wireless home-security system? If the price is too high for what I want, should I consider a do-it-yourself home-security system? Marty V., Hartford, CT

DEAR MARTY: I have a home-security system in each of the two houses I own. Over the years as both a builder and remodeler, I oversaw the installation of home-security systems in many of the house I built and remodeled. These electronic monitoring systems can bring you tremendous peace of mind plus the added benefit of alerting you to other dangers beyond burglars, thieves and bad people.

My first experience with a professionally installed home-security system was over 25 years ago. It was placed in a custom home I was building. The owner and his wife were very paranoid about the woods behind their home. Even back then, the quality of the internal motion detectors as well as the sound-attenuation devices was impressive.

This is core of my home-security system. It has a computer in it as well as a modem to dial out . PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

This is core of my home-security system. It has a computer in it as well as a modem to dial out . PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

A sound-attenuation monitor is a sensor that can detect specific sounds while ignoring others. A popular sensor is one that can recognize the sound of breaking glass. This is helpful when you want the alarm to go off the instant an intruder shatters glass to gain entry. This is not uncommon as the bad guys know that a typical home-security system will have the doors and windows monitored for movement. If you have a large window or patio door that is switched to make the alarm go off when it's opened, this will not do much good if the burglar just walks through the broken-glass opening!

It's also very common for home-security systems to have motion detectors. These clever devices are almost impossible to fool. I've tried in my own home by attempting to slowly sneak past them. I've yet to succeed. Motion detectors allow you to provide great protection at a lower cost as you don't have to worry about monitoring each door and window. If a bad person is indoors and moving about, motion detectors placed in the right places will trigger the alarm.

Suffice it to say that modern home-security systems will almost always go off when you have someone enter your home that's not supposed to be there. There are many different types of sensors that can be installed, even those fancy ones you see in spy and thriller movies.

But be aware that a home-security system needs to alert you or the authorities of other dangers. Fire, carbon monoxide, excessive heat, loss of heat, flooding, etc. are all threats to you and your property. There are many different sensors that can be installed that will automatically alert you or someone else that there's a problem at your home.

The vast majority of home-security systems use a telephone line to communicate with a monitoring service. These companies then make the call to the police, fire or other other agencies. But there is a time delay with this method. Some communities offer radio communication from your home directly into the police or fire department. If you have interest in this nearly instantaneous-response system, you need to check with your local government to see if they offer this service. It's available at one of my homes.

The home-security systems can be enhanced greatly with security cameras. There are both wired and wireless cameras that allow you to see what's going on whether you are there or away. The cameras record the images to a computer where they are stored in case you need them. Many of the cameras even record in the dark as they emit infrared light that illuminates anything that comes within range of the cameras.

I've seen do-it-yourself home-security systems, but feel they are just part of the package. One of the critical aspects of a system that you may want is for it to communicate with a monitoring service in your absence. You need to make sure the monitoring service will accept your installation, equipment and take responsibility for your work. My guess is that you'll discover few services will do that. If they are going to assume security liability, they most certainly will want to use their equipment and have it installed by their employees.

I'm really intrigued with a wireless home-security system. The systems in both my home are hard wired. Tiny cables had to be extended to all the doors, windows, sensors and then back to the central control panel. This takes lots of effort and time, but there are distinct advantages to a hard-wired system.

If you can find a wireless home-security system that is foolproof and has great reviews, I'd give it serious consideration as it will be very easy to install. I just tested a wireless home-security camera that worked very well. It was able to transmit the things it saw to a website that allowed me to view what was happening at the house via the Internet, even though I was one-thousand miles away.

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