Thinking about installing your own Home Security System with maybe Home Automation as well?
With all of the new products released recently the “professional-grade” security market for DIY is finally becoming a reality. Historically this has been a “dealer-only” industry. The difficultly purchasing hardware and getting manufacturer technical support, especially for warranty issues, has been a roadblock for DIY projects. But there ARE paths to tackle those concerns reliably. The real issue however is not where to get the equipment but what equipment do I need and why? Understanding DIY home security system basics is the first step. If you are a home security installation newbie then this series of articles are for you!
Home security (alarm) systems are slowly moving to easier programming, 100% wireless devices, and of course smartphone control, from anywhere. Add Z-Wave control and now you can control not only your security system but lights, thermostats, and door locks. Add IP Video and you have a compelling reason to install a system or upgrade your existing traditional alarm system.
Of course installing everything yourself will save you a bundle and provide confidence your family is firmly protected. With the average security system in use for 15 or more years (or until you move) the cost of monthly central station monitoring can add up as well, especially when using a local security dealer. But where to start?
There are six primary questions in the DIY home security system design process that must be answered before jumping ahead and ordering any equipment. Let’s take a quick “Self-Exam”:
What are you trying to protect?
Are you protecting people, property or both? Keep in mind homeowner’s insurance will replace most of your belongings with the obvious exception of family heirlooms or other personal keepsakes. We recommend using a home security systems to protect your family (people) versus property. As mentioned, insurance will cover, for the most part, all personal property.
- How much time and money is budgeted for this project?
Will this be a wired system, wireless or combination of both (hybrid)? Wired systems are by far the least expensive equipment-wise but significantly more labor intensive. Wireless on the other hand is fairly quick to install but the equipment cost can be higher. Since “time is money” make sure you weigh both options carefully. Regardless of which direction you go, doing it yourself will save you hundreds of dollars upfront and annually if you choose an online UL central station monitoring partner.
When will you be arming (activating) the alarm system?
Will you or your family be setting the alarm just when you go to bed, when everyone leaves for work/school, or at anytime of the day or night while the home is still occupied? This answer is important since it drives how many and what type of detection sensors are necessary. Focus on protecting people. At night you need to know if a stranger is roaming your home and bedrooms while you sleep. In the daytime what happens if your wife or child comes home unexpectedly and “surprises” someone who is already in the home?
Do you have pets in the home and what type?
Cats, dogs, birds? Where do they sleep at night and do they have free roam of the house, night and day? This will determine what type of interior security sensors you will use. Standard PIR motion detectors can only be used in areas that will not contain cats or dogs. However Honeywell and others offer special motion sensors that are “pet immune” up to 80 lbs. As an alternative to motion detectors interior “Acoustic” Glassbreak sensors are also available, and many times used in conjunction with motion detectors.
Manufacturers have had pet immune motion detectors on the market for years and have made progress making them more reliable. We however have never felt completely comfortable recommending them to our company installed customers, especially Central Station monitored customers. Pet immune motion detectors are good at ignoring mid-sized and smaller pets but are not fool-proof. Even one false alarms a year is not acceptable. A standard motion sensor turned upside down or lens masked works better and provides less headaches down the road (more install tricks later). You never want to lose faith in your security system!
Who will be using (arming and disarming) the system normally?
Yourself, wife, kids, housekeeper, a babysitter? All security panels offer multiple “passcodes” allowing every family member to have their own unique arm/disarm code. While most customers use just a single primary passcode, we do however recommend programming a babysitter code. This special passcode can arm the system, but the system can only be disarmed with this code when the babysitter code was used to arm. Your normal passcode(s) can always disarm the system however regardless of what passcode was used to activate the security system. For example, you have a babysitter watch your kids while you’re out on the town with your wife. The babysitter can arm and disarm the system while you’re gone, but once you arm the system with “your” passcode, the babysitter code can no longer be used to disarm the system.
You may want to consider using wireless keyfobs for added convenience and simplicity. No passcodes to key in and no need to give an outsider a passcode.
Will this be a “local” alarm or central station monitored alarm?
A local alarm means you will have an outside (hopefully) siren and will be depending upon your neighbors to call the police. How many times have you heard an alarm siren in your neighborhood (home or car alarm)? Did you call the police? An outside siren is still a good deterrent since anyone inside now knows an intruder is around, and neighbors may at least look out their window to see what’s going on.
Unfortunately your back door for example could remain “open” all day if the intruder took off running which is just an invitation to another thief. A Central Station Monitored alarm system will notify your local police and/or fire department of alarms in addition to calling your cell phone, pager, etc. to let you know something important is happening at home.
As far as fire protection is concerned (smoke detectors and/or heat sensors, CO detectors) central station monitoring is a must! Don’t forget the safety of pets while the family is out and the home is filling with lethal smoke or gas. Also consider whether you we be using a standard telephone line (POTS), broadband Internet or cellular (GSM/CDMA) connectivity to contact the central station.
Cellular provides increased security since the line cannot be “cut” by an intruder before entering. The most popular communication method today is broadband Internet with cellular backup. IP communication with the central station over the Internet is lower cost. But what happens when you have a power failure? Is your broadband Internet router and switches on battery backup? Generally the cellular unit (communicator) is connected directly to your alarm panel which has its own battery backup in the event of a power failure. Having both Internet and cellular paths to the central station is best and typical with a professionally installed system.
Next up: What equipment is out there and how do they work to protect your home and family? Read Understanding Home Security – Alarm System Configurations.