Supercharge Your Home Security System

Alarm Panel 1Home security systems are a critical component of any plan to protect your home. Basic home security systems can help to deter intruders and alert the authorities. More advanced home security systems offer increased convenience and greater reliability. However, no matter how advanced your current security system, there are a few inexpensive and easily installed additions that make your home security system even more effective.  In this article, we explore three such home security system upgrades that offer enormous bang for the buck.

Note: This article makes reference to specific products. However, the mention of these products is not an endorsement for them. Alternatives may be available and should be explored prior to making any purchase decisions. Please check with your home security system installer or manufacturer prior to implementing any of the improvements described herein.

Instant Gratification

Many home security systems can be armed in such a way that the alarm will sound instantly upon a monitored door or window being opened, with no delay to allow the entry of a disarm code.  The intent of this feature is to immediately alert occupants to a potential intruder when there is no expectation an authorized person would be entering the abode (for example, when the entire family is home and has gone to bed for the night). When not armed to “instant”, most home security systems will wait anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds for a disarm code to be entered before sounding.

As criminals have become more brazen and sophisticated, they are taking advantage of this disarm delay to perpetrate “smash and grab” robberies wherein they enter the home, steal easily-reached valuables and exit before the disarm delay has expired and the alarm goes off.  Add in the delay inherent to a monitoring company calling to verify the alarm and then notifying the police, and the thieves can be long gone before the alarm has had a chance to do its job.

One way to make a home security system a better deterrent and increase response time by the alarm monitoring company and law enforcement is to eliminate the disarm delay entirely. The recent introduction of remote arm/disarm fobs (similar to that provided with car alarms) has made it possible to disarm the alarm from the outside, making this a practical option.  Many existing alarm panels will accommodate installation of a wireless receiver to allow the use of these fobs.

Image from www.mysafehaven.net

Home security system remote arm/disarm fob (Image from http://www.mysafehaven.net)

In this scenario, each member of the family would have a remote arm/disarm fob and the home security system be programmed always to sound the alarm instantly upon a monitored door or window being opened when the system is armed.  Anyone forcing open a door or window without first disarming the system from the outside would set the alarm off instantly – both deterring the intruder and cutting precious seconds out of the timeframe before law enforcement is notified of the potential break-in.

Lights! Cameras! Action!

Home automation technology that allows lights and appliances to be remotely controlled has been around for a while, the most mature and common being the X10 system. By interfacing a home security system with an X10 (or any similar technology) home automation system, the alarm being triggered can do far more than just sounding a siren and alerting the monitoring company.  There are two ways to accomplish this interface:

  • Some home security systems already incorporate X10 (or similar) home automation technology as a means of controlling interior lights when the alarm is armed or disarmed. If the home security system can be programmed to activate home automation modules specifically when the alarm sounds, no additional interface should be required.  Please note that this may be an optional feature for some home security systems that can be added by the installer or manufacturer.
  • For systems not so equipped, X10 (and possibly other) home automation systems offer an interface triggered by the introduction or removal of current from a circuit. One example of this is the X10 PowerFlash interface pictured below. Such devices can be connected to an output on the alarm panel or spliced into the leads between the alarm panel and a siren or strobe that activates only when the alarm sounds.
PowerFlash X10 Module (Image from www.x10.com)

PowerFlash X10 Module (Image from http://www.x10.com)

Once one of the above interfaces between home security and home automation systems has been installed, there are several very dirty tricks that can be implemented to make criminals’ lives much more difficult.

Lights

Think about your favorite prison escape or heist movie.  What is the first thing that happens after the antihero is discovered and the alarm sirens sound?  Bright exterior lights turn on to illuminate the prison wall or casino parking lot and make the escapee or intruder easier to spot.  Something similar, and equally useful, may be accomplished by:

  • Installing non motion-sensing spotlights or floodlights on the exterior of your home (if you don’t have them already)
  • Wiring these lights to X10 or similar home automation light control switches (with an appropriate rating to handle the necessary current)
  • Programming the home automation light control switch to the same house and device code as the home control system interface installed as described above.
High-intensity halogen floodlight (Image from www.lowes.com)

High-intensity halogen floodlight (Image from http://www.lowes.com)

Many home automation systems allow light control switches to be programmed to flash lights off and on as well.  Doing so will make it very obvious to neighbors and responding law enforcement which house has an alarm sounding.

Note: Installation of lights, switches and other electrical devices should be done in consultation with a qualified electrician to avoid the risk of injury, fire or other damage.

(Interior) Cameras

Many homes already have installed exterior security cameras covering doors and driveways, and recorders to capture suspicious behavior. Many people are (understandably) made uncomfortable by the thought of interior cameras covering living space within the home. However, the evidentiary value of interior camera footage during a break-in or home invasion can be invaluable in the identification and arrest of the perpetrators. 

The home security to home automation system interface described above creates the potential for a “happy medium” by permitting the installation of interior cameras that activate only when the alarm is sounding, regardless of the type of recorder being used.  There are two options for installing such internal cameras:

  • Cameras (wired or wireless) already equipped with X10 (or similar) home automation technology and programming them to the same house and device code as the home control system interface installed as described above.  X10 manufactures such cameras, an example of which is pictured below.
X10 interior security camera (Image from www.x10.com)

X10 interior security camera (Image from http://www.x10.com)

  • Obtain 12VDC camera power supplies compatible with X10 (or similar) home automation technology, install them on other wired or wireless cameras, and program them to the same house and device code as the home control system interface installed as described above.
X10-compatible camera power supply (Image from www.ebay.com)

X10-compatible camera power supply (Image from http://www.ebay.com)

Cameras (or camera power supplies) should not be programmed to flash in the manner described for lights above as this has the potential to damage the cameras and produce unusable video.

Note: Before implementing the cameras or power supplies described above, please make certain that your recorder can accommodate instant-on cameras or devices.

Action

Most home automation systems are able to control more than just lights and power supplies. With the appropriate control modules, virtually any 120VAC device can be activated remotely. Some additional useful actions that might be triggered by an alarm sounding include:

  • Automatic openers on drapes or curtains, combined with triggering interior lights, to make it possible to see intruders from the outside
  • Automatic outdoor lawn sprinkler systems to soak intruders as they approach or flee
  • Closing electronically controlled locks or deadbolts on doors to sensitive areas of the home (like rooms where valuables, home security control panels or surveillance recorders are located).
X10 Applicance Control Module (Image from www.x10.com)

X10 Applicance Control Module (Image from http://www.x10.com)

The possibilities are limited only by what devices can be left in an “on” position and powered from a standard 120VAC outlet.

Loud and Proud

Many home security systems are equipped solely with an interior siren or klaxon, intended primarily to alert occupants to a potential risk or threat.  While such interior alarms often can be heard outside the home, they may not be loud (or annoying) enough to cut through street noise, walls and windows or the human proclivity to “tune out” sounds in the background. As discussed in a previous article on personal alarm systems, a certain volume and particularly annoying frequencies of sound are necessary to make sure your alarm is heard.

Some home security systems offer the option of an exterior siren or klaxon that can be connected directly to the alarm panel and powered directly from the alarm’s power supply and backup battery.  However, these sirens may not be enough to be heard in noisy street environments or neighborhoods where homes are well-insulated.  Using the same home automation technology described above, even larger and more annoying sirens and klaxons become possible.  Also consider the potential of using home automation technology to activate a stereo system playing alarm sounds, klaxon sounds or any other noise that will be interpreted to mean “Alarm!”

Cold War-era air raid siren (This might be overkill...)

Cold War-era air raid siren (This might be overkill...)

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