Finding equipment for the DO-IT-YOURSELFer is a tough task. Today the majority of professional (licensed) home security dealers use Honeywell (formerly Ademco) brand alarm panels and devices. Unfortunately Ademco only sells their equipment to security "dealers", not direct to homeowners because of their lack of knowledge how to properly design a home security system, how to install detection devices such as magnetic door/window contacts and motion sensors and more importantly how to program the main alarm panel. On the other hand, SimpliSafe is targeted for serious DIY homeowners, but just need a little home security design help.
Vanguard Security Corporation has spent the last 25 years in the residential and commercial security installation business designing and implementing hundreds of custom systems. With the right up-front knowledge it's not difficult regardless of what local dealers claim. We become your "virtual" alarm dealer, supplying the equipment, the DIY know-how, as well as manufacturer warranty support.
Self Exam There are six primary questions in the alarm system design process that must be answered before jumping ahead and ordering equipment:
What are you attempting to protect? Are you protecting people or property or both? Remember that insurance will replace most of your belongings with the obvious exception of family heirlooms and other personal keepsakes. We generally recommend home security systems to protect the family (people) versus property. As mentioned insurance will cover, for the most part, all personal property.
How much time and money is budgeted to this project? Will this be a wired system, wireless or combination of both? 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 is higher. Since "time is money" make sure you weigh both options carefully. Regardless of which direction you go doing it yourself (DIY) will save you hundreds of dollars upfront and annually if you choose our UL Central Station Monitoring!
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 type of detection sensors that 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 alarm sensors you will use. Standard PIR motion sensors can only be used in areas that will not contain cats or dogs. However Ademco now offers special motion sensors that are "pet immune" to 80 lbs. As an alternative to motion sensors interior "Acoustic" Glassbreak sensors are available and many times used in conjunction with PIRs.
Who will be using (arming and disarming) the system normally? Yourself, wife, kids, house keeper, a baby sitter? All of the panels offered contain multiple "passcodes" allowing every family member to have their own unique arm/disarm code. While we believe that just one primary passcode is necessary 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 if that code was used to arm. 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 not be used to disarm the system. You may want to consider using wireless keyfobs for their convenience and simplicity (no passcodes to enter).
Will this be a "local" alarm or Central Station monitored alarm? A local alarm means you will have an outside siren and will be depending upon your neighbors to call the police. How many times have you heard a siren in your neighbor hood (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 may remain "open" all day until you return if the intruder took off running which is just an invitation to another. 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) Central Station Monitoring is a must! Don’t forget the safety of pets while the home is unoccupied but filling with smoke. Also consider whether you we be using a hardline telephone line or cellular (GSM) to contact the central station. Cellular provides additional security since the line cannot be "cut" by an intruder.
Security System Configurations
There are three main home security system (alarm) configurations to consider:
Perimeter with Backup (motion and/or Glassbreak)
A Perimeter Only system is just that - only the perimeter entry points to your home are protected. Every door and window is protected by magnetic contact intrusion sensors and can be wired, wireless or a combination of both. Generally all openings within easy reach would be protected. This certainly means the ground floor(s) plus any basement windows or doors as well as selected windows on the second floor. A good rule of thumb for second floor openings is that if there is a roof overhang, etc. that a person can be boosted by a helper to reach a second floor window then that opening should also be protected.
Perimeter with Backup is doing all of the perimeter openings as above but also including some backup intrusion detection devices. Normally this would be Passive Infrared (PIR) motion sensors but could also include audio glassbreak sensors. The issue that is being addressed is "what if someone breaks the glass at one of my windows and crawls through without actually opening the window?". This is a valid concern. While statistics show that the vast majority of break-ins occur at doors it is still possible to bypass your magnetic contacts by simply not opening the window. Of course this means that the intruder now needs to crawl over jagged glass and creates a more visible sign that something is wrong at your home. The reason burglars come through doors is that it is relatively easy and fast entry - and more importantly a fast exit. Many homeowners have invested in expensive keyed (two-sided) deadbolts which unfortunately are installed in wood frame doors. A simple crowbar held under a coat and then just a little pressure right at your front door splinters the door right open - and it’s extremely hard for neighbors to see that anything is wrong. One other thought I'll mention here that you need to consider. I hate deadbolts for two reasons:
They create a dangerous safety hazard at night in the event of fire (do you keep a key in your pajamas?)
If you or your wife come home unexpectedly and "surprise" an unwelcome visitor you trap them inside with you. Better for all to allow them a ready escape.
An interior motion sensor is used to “backup” the magnetic contacts on the doors and windows. PIR motion sensors sense a moving heat source (such as a human body) with a room. The range of these sensors vary but most are rated to detect intruders 40 – 50 feet from the sensor. It must be line of site with no blockage such as glass in between the protection area and the motion sensor (PIRs do not detect objects moving beyond your windows nor through walls). Ademco has two Pet Immune models that also accommodate pets such as dogs or cats. While they do work pretty well they do accomplish this by reducing the detection sensitivity of the unit somewhat. Our professional recommendation over the years has been to only use motion sensors in areas without pets. For instance if you lock your dog in your bedroom at night then motion sensors on the first floor are fine. With the introduction of the Pet Immune models we are starting to rethink that advice. An alternative to motion sensors (especially with pets) is to use audio Glassbreak sensors. These devices “listen” for the sound of breaking glass. Simply just jingling your car keys will not trick these microprocessor driven devices – they look for specific frequencies and impulse signature before tripping an alarm. One Glassbreak sensor can in most cases cover an entire room of windows such as a Family Room even with the drapes closed (this is actually part of the pre-installation testing for proper positioning of the device).
An Interior Only system is the most inexpensive of the three configurations by far yet still provides a reasonable level of protection. In this case you protect ALL doors on the ground floor(s) and use PIR motion sensors to cover all window entry. If you are only going to set (arm) the security system when you go to bed or when no one is home then this system may be adequate. However if you will setting the alarm system at any time of the day or night (such as 7:30pm) then obviously you can not arm the motion sensors in areas you will also be visiting (watching TV in the Family Room). This creates a “hole” in your defenses – no protection at all from entry by a window. Glassbreak sensors on the other hand can be activated while in the area unless you plan to break some glass panes within earshot of the sensors! One other point that is important to consider: You may be detecting an intruder that is now “inside” your home. Better to detect a burglar with his feet on your grass (opening a protected window) than on your Living Room rug via a motion sensor. Whether an Interior Only system is adequate is a personal use question as well as project budget.
Wired versus Wireless Protection Wired protection devices such as magnetic contacts, motion sensors, glassbreak sensors, smoke detectors come in both Wired and Wireless models. There are two distinguishing factors to help judge which is best for your application:
Wired devices are the least expensive (cheaper by far)
Wireless devices are easier to install (faster by far)
Here is an easy rule of thumb for windows and doors. For a wired installation figure a window/door will cost $10 for a magnetic contact and wire plus about an hour of labor. This labor includes drilling the window sill and sash, fishing the wire to the basement, and pulling a line back to the control panel. It’s not really hard once you do a couple but it is time consuming.
For wireless installation figure about $50 (Ademco) per opening or $15 (SimpliSafe) plus ten minutes of labor. The labor consists of pressing an adhesive backed transmitter on the window/door plus pressing the magnetic to the window of door frame. There is programming time involved too but it’s about the same for wired and wireless. If you are not comfortable fishing wire then wireless is certainly for you. Remember that time is money so this needs to be factored in to your cost budget.
You may also want to consider a hybrid system – both wired and wireless devices. Doors and windows in an unfinished basement for instance can easily be wired. The same goes for garage openings. On the other hand second floor windows or windows in a room over a concrete slab are excellent candidates for wireless transmitters. The Lynx controller is pretty much a fully wireless unit (does have one hardwired zone) while the Vista series (Vista-10P, Vista-15P, Vista-20P, Vista-50P) have six or more hardwired zones plus can accommodate wireless expansion via a wireless receiver. Don't forget to check out our low cost SimpliSafe full wireless section too!
Also if you do add a wireless receiver you also now have the capability to use key fobs which make arming and disarming the system a snap.
Security Devices With the answers to these questions you can begin a proper home security design. But exactly how does an alarm system work?
Control Panel A security system starts with a control panel. Usually located in a closet or a basement, the control panel contains the "brains" of the security system, and essentially operates as a central computer. Various sensors connect to the control panel from locations throughout your home. If your security system is armed and the sensors detect a problem, they send signals to the control panel. The control panel automatically dials the central monitoring station, where the proper authorities (police, fire, ambulance) are notified. Keypad You operate your security system by entering your security code at the keypad. Generally located at entry doors, keypads can arm and disarm with push-button ease, and literally put security at your family’s fingertips! Good features to look for include illuminated keys to provide you with greater visibility at nighttime, easy-to-read English displays that spell out your system’s status at a glance, and one-touch function keys that provide single- button operation for arming, disarming or emergencies. Most keypads even offer convenient additional user codes to give friends, neighbors or service people access to your home. Magnetic Contacts Magnetic contacts are two-part devices used to safeguard windows and doors. One part of the contact is a switch installed in the window or door jam; the other contains a magnet and is placed in the window or door itself. Any noticeable shift in contact with the switch results in an alarm. These can be home-run wired back to the main control panel, daisy-chained with other door/window contacts or part of a wireless transmitter combo. PIR Motion Sensors A passive infrared motion detector (PIR) is an electronic security device that detects intruders by "sensing" motion or body heat in the area being protected. Most PIRs are designed to be used when your family is away from home or when no one will be passing through the area "covered" by the PIR. Recent innovations in security technology have resulted in the creation of "pet immune" motion detectors-allowing dog and cat lovers to enjoy the same level of protection they would receive with a standard PIR. These state-of-the-art sensors provide "pet immunity" for animals weighing up to 80 lbs. Pet immune PIRs allow your pet to move about freely but can still detect an intruder’ s movement. Glassbreak Sensors Acoustic Glassbreak sensors, usually mounted on ceilings or walls, work by "listening" for the sound of breaking glass in a window. "Shock" glassbreak detectors are mounted on the window and "feel" the shock of breaking glass. This kind of advanced wireless technology can provide shatter and shock protection for your windows, for often intruders are "sensed" and an alarm sounded while they are still outdoors. This is often enough to send a burglar running! Smoke Detectors You probably already have a battery-operated smoke detector. Do you need one installed as part of my security system? Smoke detectors are highly effective in preventing loss of life and property. However, there are differences between the "stand alone" or battery-operated smoke detector you would buy at your local hardware store and one installed as part of your home security system. “Stand alone” detectors are not connected to other detectors or warning devices. A smoke detector connected to your security system offers more protection when it is monitored by a central station. If fire strikes, the detector sets off an alarm and sends a signal to the control panel. The control panel dials the central station, where the operator notifies the fire department. Only central station monitored smoke detectors provide automatic notification of authorities when you or your family are asleep, not at home or unable to get to the phone. Protect your pets too from fire while you’re at work! Wireless Devices Technological breakthroughs have led to the development of wireless electronic security products, and their effectiveness has been proven time and again over the years in millions of installations. Their rock-solid stability and long battery life make them a popular choice among homeowners and dealers alike. They give installers the flexibility they need to overcome obstacles like brick walls, cement floors and cathedral ceilings; and no drilling holes preserves the beauty of your home and results in cleaner, faster installations. Folks today enjoy the convenience of remote control devices, and the security industry has responded! User-friendly wireless products provide the dual benefits of superior performance and ease of operation. Wireless keypads allow you to activate and de- activate your security system with the touch of a button, and can even be programmed so that a young child can operate it with ease. Homeowners especially love wireless keys! Similar in size to a remote car alarm key, they fit right on your keychain, and the press of a single button lets you control your system, lights and appliances-eliminating the need for codes. This is especially great if you and your family enjoy spending time outdoors. Relax by the pool, garden, barbecue and entertain, or play with your kids in the backyard-enjoy extra mobility without compromising your safety! Remote Control Another hot item gaining popularity is the interactive phone module. By adding the phone module to your home security system, you’ll have remote control access from any touch-tone or cellular phone-from your office, on the road, or anywhere in the world! Conveniently arm, disarm or check the status of your system, turn your lights on or off-you can even control your thermostat and air conditioner!