After reading my last two posts, you already know why you need a security system and how to design / install your own. Security systems — even the inexpensive, do-it-yourself ones — can do a lot more than just tell you when someone breaks into your home. With all the news of prowling over on the west shore and the recent activity in the city, it’s a safe bet that more than a few people are looking at security systems. And I hate to see people sucked into those $40-per-month monitoring fees and forced into alarm systems that are locked to one particular monitoring company, so consider this my public service to the community at large.
When something happens, your system makes a report to the central station. Traditionally, this happens over your home phone line. Since I don’t have a home phone (all wireless, baby), I use an ABN Broadband Adapter to send alarm signals over my broadband connection. Later this year I’m installing a GSM backup in case my broadband service gets cut. Once the central station gets wind of an event, they spring into action. Each alarm company is a little different, but the general flow of things is pretty common:
- Call the premises, ask for the designated person, and ask for the password. If the password is given, the alarm can be canceled. If the password is not given, or if nobody answers:
- Contact the appropriate authorities. The alarm company will give them your address as well as what the alarm was caused by.
- Alarm company resumes trying to contact people on your list. In my case, they’ll try calling me at work. Then they’ll try calling my girlfriend. Then they’ll try my neighbor. Then they’ll try a family member.
- If the responders need additional information, or have additional information to report, they’ll contact the alarm company.
In addition, your alarm system will typically call the central station to report non-alarm events such as arming / disarming, trouble conditions, power failures, tamper alarms, and the like. For these events, the authorities aren’t notified — but knowing when something happened comes in really handy. For example, when I came home after work today, I found all my clocks blinking. I logged into NextAlarm to review my log and found that the power was only out for about an hour and a half — my veal (and the rest of my fridge) was safe!
There are a few other helpful tricks that alarms can pull off. The Abbra / Powermax series features a “latchkey” mode, which will notify the central station when the system isn’t armed / disarmed by a certain time. Pretty useless to me, but I can imagine it would be pretty handy to make sure you kid came home from school on time. We’ve also used this feature (albeit with a different name) at my previous employers to make sure our stores opened / closed on time. There’s also a “no activity” mode: If the system doesn’t detect movement for a set period of time (usually several hours), it will contact the central station. This requires a handful of motion detectors but can be very helpful in safeguarding someone with a medical or mobility condition.
In addition to arming in either “home” (only doors / windows) or “away” (doors / windows plus motion detectors), most systems support a wide range of additional features:
- Smoke and/or heat detectors can alert the fire department long before a passerby (or your family) notices the smoke
- Glass break sensors listen for the unique sound of breaking glass (I personally don’t recommend these, especially if you have pets or parties)
- Temperature sensors can protect against a malfunctioning HVAC system and will pay for themselves (around $20 – $100) the first time your furnace fails in the dead of winter
- Flood sensors can detect leaking pipes and/or flooding
- Natural gas detectors and carbon monoxide detectors can summon help even if you can’t
- Wireless repeaters can extend the range of your system by several hundred feet indoors
- X10 / automation interfaces can control lights based on system events, such as turning on your living room lights as soon as you open the door or turning on outdoor floodlights during an alarm
- Cellular backups allow your system to communicate with the central station even if your phone line is cut
- Recessed flush-mount door contacts can provide discreet protection of a closet or room
Once you’ve got everything picked out and installed, your alarm system becomes a digital sentry watching over your property 24×7. And best of all, actually using an alarm doesn’t really require you to change your lifestyle. My system uses a remote keyfob — just like keyless entry on a car — to control system operation. When I leave for the day, I just lock my front door and click the Arm Away button on my remote. When I get home, I click the “unlock” button before opening the door. No entry / exit delays to worry about and no codes to remember. Cakewalk.
Hopefully this series has caused at least a few people to consider a system. If you’d like help or advice on designing or installing a system, or just have questions, feel free to either post a comment below or contact me privately. Rest assured that I don’t work for or get paid by any alarm company, so my advice is purely my own opinion. I wanted to make these posts because a security system is, at its absolute least, a tiny amount of cash to buy a large degree of safety. And if you want to shell out a few more bucks, a decent system can monitor just about every inch of your home from top to bottom.